In 2013 BBC journalist Mark Easton released the online publication “The Unbearable Sadness of the Welsh Valleys”. I felt outraged by the article, who was this journalist and why did he seem so intent on slaughtering the reputation of my home town?
My main issue with this piece of (questionable) journalism was its complete lack of balance. It seemed to me that Mark already had a very specific image of the Valleys that he wanted to portray long before he’d even arrived in the area.
One set of interviews in the article, for example, were held in a working mans club. The punters that were available for interview were all unemployed. The conversations Mark had with these men could have been balanced by then going to interview professionals at various local businesses. However, this didn’t happen.
Mark continues his misinformed tale by interviewing a local woman who tells him she cannot name one single person from her area that has ever been to university. Surprisingly Mark doesn’t investigate this claim any further. Had he done so he would have found many people in our towns that have a university education and the successful career to go with it.
Sadly, this article is only one example of the Medias misrepresentation of Blaenau Gwent – and south Wales.
I remember feeling embarrassed and disappointed when MTV released its reality series “The Valleys”. The young people that were featured were presented as fame hungry drunkards that had never stepped foot out of their home towns.
Trains, buses and direct road links mean that getting to Cardiff is easy. So easy in fact that its where most of us go numerous times a month, whether that is for shopping or socialising. Somehow in MTVs eyes the capital is an unknown entity to us village idiots and they were helping the young people on the series by opening their eyes to the bright lights of the city.
The bad press doesn’t end there. Most recently I fell across “Young, Welsh and Pretty Skint”. Suddenly I wondered if it was only the Valleys that was being ruined by the media or if it was actually Wales as a whole. Everywhere I look young Welsh people are depicted as uneducated and unemployable.
If I didn’t know the Valleys, what would I learn through the media? It definitely wouldn’t be anything positive. What affect does this representation have on the people that live in these areas? My fear is that our young people will be left feeling uninspired, with little ambition because what is the point? No one succeeds in the Valleys after all.
What is most sad about this is that I see my peers succeeding everyday. I see old school friends becoming doctors, nurses, solicitors, teachers. I see people traveling the world. I see people buying houses and having families. There is so much to be proud of in the Valleys, wouldn’t it be great if someone told those stories?
The negative PR created for the Valleys isn’t purely a reputational issue, the image created by the media could have a whole range of knock on effects for the area. Businesses might be discouraged to invest in the area meaning that employment opportunities are lost and people looking to invest in property could be encouraged to look elsewhere. Indeed, the challenges faced by the NHS in recruiting doctors throughout Wales epitomises the impact of a negative image and reparation on the wellbeing of the region.
But whose responsibility is it to fix the bad PR of the Valleys? Could we look towards the Welsh Tourist Board to help promote all of the great points of the area? What about the media? Should BBC Wales be working harder to find those positive stories to broadcast? Or, is it up to the people of the Valleys themselves to start the rebrand? Ultimately, as any PR practitioner will understand, reversing a negative reputation and image will take time and investment. Failing to positively respond to this challenge will, however, result in future generations suffering the consequences of negative image and reputation…a bleak prospect for south Wales and ultimately the UK.