So you want to write a generic ‘Birmingham isn’t that bad’ feature for a broadsheet…

Spaghetti Junction at night

Spaghetti Junction: subs… to the photo library. CC by: Chris Gin

We know that a lot of local journalists look to us for, ahem, inspiration but we were wondering what we could do to help out the hacks on the nationals. Now, the national press do like to show a passing interest in our welfare, but they only really have limited frames available for their stories. We’ve parsed that through our computers to come up with the basic boilerplate you, the national newspaper hack, need to write about the second city*.

To start, lower expectations: Of Birmingham, not your article, silly. The best way to do this is point out that someone ‘right thinking’ said something bad. You could try doing a Google Books search for Birmingham to see if there are any literary quotations, or you could just use the Jane Austen quote. You know the one:

“One has no great hopes from Birmingham, I always say there is something direful in the sound”

And if you like you can forget that it’s not Jane Austen who said it, but a character in Emma. A Character — Mrs Elton — that Jane Austen wrote as a voice of the fashionably stupid.

And talking of fashionably stupid, you could maybe quote Jeremy Clarkson “There are signs directing you away from Birmingham but nothing enticing you in.”  But quote him ironically while you agree with him really (a joke like on Top Gear), which ties neatly into…

Now you mention concrete: Because it’s out of date these days and that’s funny. There are no concrete or brutalist buildings outside Birmingham.

Roads and cars are a thing that media people know about Birmingham, your readers have probably seen Spaghetti Junction as they are driving their lexi (lexuses?) up the M6 towards the Lake District. Or indeed they may have seen the ‘Spaghetti Junction from the air’ photo that you’ll use at the top of the article. They’ll probably have seen it at the top of the last article about Birmingham that this paper ran. You can check that one for inspiration too, if you like.

Say something about European money and other attempts to make Birmingham better: They failed, apart from the ones you like. You like the ICC, as the council will pay for free booze when you cover the Tory party conference.

Or curries: You can get them in Birmingham you know.

The accent: Crossroads, even the Nottingham-based revival, hasn’t been on TV for over ten years, but it still has cultural currency. Benny in his hat, or famous Brummie Timothy Spall are your cultural touchstones. If you can’t think of a reason to talk about the accent phone a PR person, they will all have a ‘survey’ from a client that will put it at the bottom.

Turn that shit around:  The phrase you’re looking for is “But when you GO THERE” (doesn’t matter if you actually have).

Wait. What is the article actually about?: A handbrake turn into whatever the hell this article was about is your next step.

Let’s face it the reason this has been commissioned is probably Arts Council pressure about something they’ve funded and no-one is going to, or maybe you’re writing something to sit alongside an advertorial paid for by a local tourist body?  Either way, be light touch and generic: this may run and run. Or get bumped till next week.

Talk to someone from the council: If you can understand what they’re saying, through the thick vowels. They will give you a quote, it will be so lacking in actual meaning it can be used in any context you like.

Add some other stuff to back up your point: What you need is the sort of stuff that will make your audience think that, as long as there were enough bagel outlets nearby, they could probably survive a weekend in this cultural desert. Basically you need to find things that are a bit like what they like about London. Not the things they actually go to, like Nandos (although Birmingham does have a lot of fried chicken outlets), the arty stuff they only read about in Time Out while squashed into a tube train sneezing black snot over each other.  Hopefully your examples here should be smaller so they can be patronised, whether they’ve been going for 10 years without your help or not.

Perm any three from this list, but not more than two from one column. You’re after diversity of culture here.

Big ‘proper art things’, a bit like they might have in London. Flashy new ‘iconic’ buildings, the sort that the might have in London. ‘Quirky’ art things, you know like they have in the cool parts of London.
Royal BalletBirmingham OperaCompanyThe HippodromeUm… New Library (you are duty bound to do the ‘Prince Charles quote’).Selfridges (though you mustmislabel this ‘Bullring’)New Street Station (mention how grotty it was)

HS2 thing at Curzon St that’s planned (you know the one like a giant polytunnel – will get you home more quickly)

The NIA now it’s been sold and painted up

FlatpackSupersonicStreet food where it doesn’t come from an ice cream van and costs £10.

Some photos or something

What’s the point?: No, not of life itself, although you may ask. We mean ‘what’s your conclusion’? It goes at the end*. It should be the same as the headline, which we knew you don’t get to write. It’ll be written by another person at another desk in London and based on even more wide-ranging prejudice. But you can help…

Puns for your headline may include: Go make yourself look like a big man at the sub editor’s desk by pitching these…

  • SECOND SHITTY? (No question mark if focus is on Manchester)
  • OSBOURNE AGAIN (Only works for ‘heavy metal is back’ stories.)

BUT! Don’t forget the audience:  You can double the web traffic to your article by snaring the Brummies. To do this successfully you must get this online early in the day and tweet it to one of the many agencies charged with making Birmingham seem interesting to the national press. Job done. This is called seeding. It’s the future.

*If you don’t have a conclusion, the second city debate is a great backup.

Follow all the above and you’ve written the perfect ‘Birmingham isn’t that bad’ feature for a broadsheet. You’ve made it! Stay by the phone for a call to be on the Radio WM Drivetime show!

Author: Howard Wilkinson

Director of Satire, Paradise Circus. Howard adds stability at the top, taking a strategic overview of operations whilst also stepping in from time to time in a caretaker author role.

5 thoughts on “So you want to write a generic ‘Birmingham isn’t that bad’ feature for a broadsheet…”

  1. Timothy Spall is from Battersea London, he isn’t a Brummie, just famous for doing a not very good generic Brummie accent.

    1. Hi Mick, thanks for dropping by. We operate a buddy system here at PC as we don’t always have time to work a mixed ability Internet. Please try to find a partner.

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