Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Merseyside: A Recession-Free Zone

Taking a leaf from the Oldham Echo's book, its sickly sister the Daily Post yesterday published the sort of part puff-piece, part PR noodling which would have been spiked as third-rate copy by the editors even a decade ago ( ).
Its "author" Laura Davis trilled about the "extra one million sq. ft. of retail space and lots of swanky new buildings in Liverpool One, as well as a new museum taking shape just down the river from an impressive Arena".
Yes, Laura, there is so much retail space in the city centre, isn't there? Pity an increasing amount of it lies empty. Still, at least the city's bucking the recession, right? And, of course, there are those "swanky new buildings" at Liverpool One, too. Shame about the growing number of empty retail outlets there also. Still, as you say, we're bucking the recession right here on the banks of the Mersey, aren't we? [Lest anyone protest that Davis can't be held responsible for a misleading headline & that my fire should be focused on the sub-editor, it should be noted that part of the new order on Oldham Hall Street means that the hacks now write their own headlines.]
As for the museum taking shape by the river, well, perhaps it's just as well that Davis chose not to preface it with a gushing adjective, given the fact that it's helped to disfigure the waterfront. Instead, the term "impressive" was wheeled out to describe the Arena. Hmm...OK, if you like soulless, utilitarian venues in which atmosphere is muted & too many punters are allowed to drink themselves senseless. I also note that Davis omitted the Echo's name from the Arena, surely a firing offence on Oldham Hall Street. Or does she know something which has yet to be announced?
Davis' article roped in the odd accomplice for this exercise in parochial self-delusion:
"The situation is better than it could be, according to Prof Peter Stoney, business expert at the University of Liverpool's management school, who believes the city's Capital of Culture status has softened the blow of the nationwide recession. He said: 'It's been good timing. It's mitigated some of the bad effects.' "
Still clutching at Liverpool08, eh? How sad. Moreover, I don't know if Davis reads the papers (the proper ones, I mean), but if she does, she'll find that the recession isn't just "nationwide". Professor Stoney's comment that the slump has been "softened", or, to quote the professor himself, "mitigated" doesn't really tally with the triumphant boast in the headline that the recession has been bucked.
Professor Stoney went on to say that Liverpool One was built "just in the nick of time" & that it would have been scrapped altogether if it hadn't met the 2008 deadline for completion. This will come as news to many, even though such sentiments were privately shared in the council.
Davis' article went on to be little more than an extended statement by Professor Stoney as the Echo hack ernestly & obediently scribbled down his somewhat jumbled & contradictory thoughts:
"Prof Stoney also believes an improved cultural offering and quality of life will also help tackle Liverpool's historical problem of a draining population -- which has halved to around 430,000 in the past 50 years, but is now levelling off."
Pedants may well note that "levelling off" isn't the same as halting, let alone reversing the city's population decline. There was also this surreal gem:
"Many of the likely benefits of hosting a Capital of Culture year, such as residents' renewed sense of pride in their city and Liverpool's improving reputation, are hard to measure."
This is so vague as to be meaningless! In the context of an article designed to act as a feel-good, journalism-lite exercise, it inadvertently gives the game away. When you fall back on ambiguous phrases & cliches removed from hard facts, it exposes your desperation, proof of which was to be found in the figures cited by Davis regarding visitor figures to the Tate, the Everyman, etc. & hotel bookings over the last year. You can prove anything with statistics, they say, & that certainly applies to Davis' piece, as she puts a positive spin on figures which reveal reductions as well as occasional increases.

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