Monday, September 17, 2007

Winifred Robinson and Norris Green

You can take it as a given that tabloid journalists are useless, drink-sodden, foot-in-the-door, cheque-book-journalism hacks. They don’t even take themselves seriously and just compete for the Lunchtime O’Booze Award. If you expected better from the ‘quality’ newspapers think again, most articles are poorly researched and they faithfully regurgitate everything that is fed to them by company PR departments. The press barons never interfere with editorial freedom and the fact that Rupert Murdoch owns 174 papers worldwide, all of which supported the Iraq war, is entirely coincidental.

There are of course exceptions, some journalists are prepared to ask awkward questions and offer their readers original insights. In my naivety I used to think that Radio 4 had higher standards. Winifred Robinson grew up in Norris Green ‘a decent hard-working place’ in the 1960s, after the murder of Rhys Jones she returned to find ‘a community in thrall to teen gangs, drugs and guns…’

Norris Green was built in the 1920s as one of Liverpool’s first ‘over-spill’ estates. It also provided homes for workers at new electronics factories like GEC on the East Lancashire Road. The estate had three and four bedroom houses, bathrooms, hot running water and gardens front and back. As late as the 1960s when the main alternative was the Rachmanite private rented sector there was a queue of families waiting to get into Norris Green.

So what changed? Take a walk down the East Lancashire Road and all the factories have gone, land is being sold for ‘redevelopment’ – retail parks, used car lots and warehouses. There was the great council house sell off during the 1980s that left the poorer stock for social housing. Council rents rose and with mortgage tax relief it was cheaper for young couples to buy. With councils squeezed for cash housing repairs were the last priority. All that left some council estates as ghettoes composed mainly of the retired and unemployed.

What stands out in Robinson’s article is the lack of any basic research, if she’d taken the trouble to look at Neighbourhood Statistics or Liverpool Council’s ward profiles she might have gleaned some information. Out of 32,428 Super Output Areas (SOAs) half of Norris Green is in the most deprived 1%, the rest is in the bottom 5% and one small area (the ‘posh end’) is in the bottom 10%. 0.29% of housing is in Council Tax Band ‘C’ or above against a Liverpool average of 20%. 40% of the working age population are unemployed. The average income in 2004 was £17,115 for Norris Green, £22,511 for Liverpool and the national average was £23,244.

Robinson reminisces about the past ‘standards of good behaviour’ and the need for ‘authority to be restored’. However, as one of her interviewees notes a big police operation a year ago led to many being jailed but “a younger group has come up to take their place.” I wonder why? Of course people in Norris Green want security but they also want jobs, better housing and leisure facilities.

Presumably Robinson was given the job to add some ‘local colour’. Who does she interview? Bob Croxton a 43 year-old ex-convict who runs an agency to rehabilitate young offenders, Allan Devon who was a professional musician during the 1960s, Linda Beiri a middle-aged tenant, Councillor Colin Eldridge, 82 year-old Margaret Hignet, Angela Williams the retired Infant School Head and finally she talks to some mums waiting outside the school. So here is this article on the youth drug gangs of Norris Green and whom does she fail to interview? Got it in one – young people. Of course given the circumstances people might not want to speak on record to a Radio 4 reporter. I wouldn’t have expected interviews from the front line of the drugs war, but to go there and not report any comments from young people? Not to include any facts about deprivation?

Words fail me.


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