The Oxford & District branch is trying to build up a picture of how Oxfordshire residents use local news services – and what they think of local news provision. We’re carrying out a series of interviews and publishing the write-ups on our website. Here, Anna Wagstaff interviews a mental health nurse who lives in East Oxford and works for the Oxfordshire Mental Health Trust, who opted to remain anonymous.
This interview was done on the day of the latest changes to the Oxford Mail and Herald series.
Where do you go for your local news?
I get the Oxford Mail most days and watch the BBC for local television news. We love Geraldine Peers – she supported the scouts! I go to the BBC rather than ITV because it’s more local. ITV’s Meridian is all about Southampton and Portsmouth. And I listen to OX105.1FM [now off air]. It’s local music with local people running it.
How well does the local news serve your needs?
I like ‘What’s On’. I want something that keeps me up to date with what is happening in Oxford here and now. It’s really good at that, and giving feedback on what happened and how it went. My kids read it because I have it in the house, and there are local things they have a connection with. I’m not asking for intellectual debate. It’s a local paper.
It could be more political; it’s very neutral. It needs to take up local issues that actually matter. The Mail does have opinion columns, but they tend to be views on very politically correct and Green issues – like cycling and the development of Warneford meadow, gravel pits, house building in rural areas. Personally I’m pissed off with planning permissions given in places that are already residential. I’d like the Mail to start questioning, for instance, why are all these sheds being built at the ends of gardens? My garden now floods all the time because there’s nowhere for the water to go.
It shouldn’t be a political paper, because it’s a local paper, but it should take a stand more on issues that affect local people, and not just middle-class campaigns.
I like the ‘Scales of Justice’ in the Oxford Mail, naming and shaming. It’s good to be able to see who has been done for what. But I think they may be doing too much about crime. They could do a lot more stories about what’s good about the community. There are a lot of good neighbourhood initiatives, like the Barrack’s Lane garden.
They need to find out who the Oxford population is. They stereotype the population. They think it’s all Green because they have a strong voice. And it’s lovely they still report on the Aunt Sally, and they have that sense of history, reminiscences about the Cowley Works and bell ringing and so on. But if you buy news around here it is from an Asian news vendor. They sell it, but they don’t read it. I don’t know how you make it more relevant to Oxford of today. The Mail readership is 50 years and over – people who have lived here for ever. Also it is very focused on East Oxford, Barton, Blackbird Leys and Cowley. You rarely get North Oxford, or Marston or Hinksey.
Of the reporters, it’s mostly white men, very few women and no African Caribbean or Asian reporters. I do think it needs to be more diverse, properly diverse without being tokenistic or patronising. The Irish community, for instance, is enormous, but it has no voice, except for one programme on Oxford [BBC] radio on Sunday night. A lot of the inter-racial stuff is negative. Unfortunately Bullfinch [the child sex abuse criminal trial], of course, had to be a huge focus, but there are plenty of good stories that don’t get reported.
How effectively are mental health issues – your area of work – covered in local media?
One in three people have mental health problems, possibly more depending on where you live, and that isn’t really reflected. You get the odd article about “I’ve been through depression”, but very little about attitudes to mental health.
There is actually a lot of expertise in mental health in Oxford, and we have a very large mental health group – Littlemore, the Warneford, the Park. There’s a lot of research done here and we have a lot of professors, but they never get mentioned.
Mental health does deserve more coverage. Not just to talk about things that are going wrong, but also the good things. In Oxford there is really good face to face care, and it is not being reported.
There was a good article recently about the Luther Street centre for homeless people, and how they address mental health and health issues generally. That was good. It’s been there a long time unpraised. But there are so many groups doing really good work, and they never get a mention unless they organise a special day. You don’t hear them on BBC Oxford chat shows. No one recognises them for the job they do. The Samaritans is a very strong campaign group, MIND is fantastic, and so is Rethink [a charity that supports the families of people with mental health problems]. The media could take the initiative and ring up these groups and report more on the fantastic work they are doing.
Have you ever used the local media to express your own views or publicise information?
Never, but I probably would write a letter if I felt strongly enough. I was going to contact them about the mental health cuts that happened here about five years ago, but it was more difficult to do then without putting your job at risk. There’s more protection now with all the whistleblowing stuff, there’s a proper procedure for going to the media, but you’re still meant to go through the [Mental Health] Trust.
How important do you feel effective local news services are for a good cohesive local community?
Very important. It needs to be informative, but it should also be political – not party political, but taking a stand on issues that matter.