#onenorth: How 37m people got to see the North’s anger at a third-class train service
A flurry of conference calls between news publishers in the North led to a united call for a better deal for rail passengers in the North. With millions now aware of the campaign, what happens next? Johnston Press editor in chief Jeremy Clifford on a unique week in regional journalism:
Last week saw an historic collaboration across the north’s newsrooms to bring pressure to bear in a cross-Pennine campaign for better rail services.
Titles from Johnston Press, Reach plc and Newsquest, as well as a number of hyper-local publishers, came together to vent their anger at the way Transport Secretary Chris Grayling had failed to listen to the plight of passengers in the catastrophic rail reorganisation last month.
The editors from more than 20 titles collaborated on a single op-ed piece and sent their reporters out on the same day to capture a day in the life of a rail traveller in the north.
Since Northern Rail, the North’s local services operator, introduced a new timetable two weeks ago, thousands of services have had to be cancelled at short-notice, with hundreds more reduced in length, causing commuter chaos.
The combined effect has been tens of thousands of people struggling to commute to work, widespread chaos at train stations and, as of this week, an emergency timetable which has left some lines with no services at all for the next fortnight.
Spearheaded by editor of The Yorkshire Post James Mitchinson, the unprecedented show of strength from the media has been picked up by the national press, TV and radio stations.
Reflecting on the week, James said: “This has been the biggest and the best thing in my career. Everyone who has taken part in this campaign so far has helped to wake up the North, remind the Government that regional titles do matter and have given our industry a powerful shot in the arm.”
The show of strength would not have been possible without all regional editors working together. A quick succession of conference calls took place and they all quickly came to the conclusion that they were not being listened to.
James said: “So we asked what should we do to ensure we are heard and the result was the day of action on Tuesday.”
A petition has also been launched for passengers to make their feelings known.
Titles who have taken part this week include: The Yorkshire Post, Manchester Evening News, Northern Echo, Bradford Telegraph & Argus, The Lancashire Telegraph, The Bolton News, Liverpool Echo, Sheffield Star, Blackpool Gazette, Newcastle Chronicle and Newcastle Journal joined up to make a series of demands of prime minister Theresa May and under-siege transport secretary Chris Grayling
It has demonstrated that our regional titles can be a powerful force when the act together over single issue.
The titles want the PM to:
- Summon transport chiefs, and business leaders, to 10 Downing Street for an emergency summit to devise an action plan to get this region moving again;
- announce a special compensation scheme for those passengers most affected by the delays and disruption;
- give Transport for the North the necessary policy and financial powers so it can have full oversight of all local, suburban and regional services and work in tandem with Network Rail; it is clear our railways cannot be cared for properly from London;
- commit the Government to a full and fundamental review of rail franchising — the Northern fiasco is yet another example of a franchisee over-promising and under-delivering;
- demonstrate a commitment to fair transport funding for the North, with a pledge that the planned high-speed line across the Pennines — NPR — is an equal priority to Crossrail II in London.
Conservative MPs with constituencies in the north have been made to feel uncomfortable at the scale of anger and have put pressure on Grayling.
Nothern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry, whose Lancashire constituency means many constituents are suffering at the hands of Northern Rail, has been interviewed at least three times in the past week by local titles about the rail crisis — and has resorted to stressing he doesn’t see himself as directly responsible for the trains running on time in the region.
But the campaign has put the issue of trains in the North back on the news agenda. Editors and political editors have appeared on national TV and radio to discuss the issue, as Theresa May has described solving the problem as a ‘priority’ as she announced an independent inquiry into recent events.
Only transport secretary Chris Grayling seems to be failing to understand the anger in the North, which makes the petition so important.
James said: “A newspaper campaign is nothing without the backing of our readers, so I would urge the proud people of the North to add their voice to ours and ensure Prime Minister Theresa May understands that we need her help to unlock the true potential of this part of the UK.
“I believe she could start to rebuild our faith in she and her government by taking Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to task over his part in the catastrophic meltdown of our railway, after repeated broken promises to invest in it.”
The joint approach resulted in more than 5,000 tweets using the hashtag #onenorth last week, from 3,200 people, reaching 7.2m Twitter users and being seen 36.2m times.
There are now 15,000 signatures on the petition.
Andy Richardson, Editor of the Northern Echo said: “It has been pleasing to see other regional media, including BBC TV and radio, pick up on our collective message and give it airtime.
“The campaign has been a powerful reminder that local newspapers are in touch with what matters to their readers and we still have a hugely important role to play in giving them a voice which can be heard on the national stage.”
Mike Crutchley, interim Editor at the Bolton News added: “We have put up with sub-standard service on our railway for far too long.
“By uniting with other newspapers and raising the issue nationally, it is now something the Government cannot ignore.
“This demonstrates the value and power of the media working for the good of our readers, campaigning for something that really matters to them.”