Graeme Whitfield: Why I don't recognise Andy Beckett's picture of the North East

After Andy Beckett speaks out to defend his comparison between the North East and Detroit, Graeme Whitfield urges him to take a closer look

Durham Cathedral - one of the historic and beautiful locations in the North East ignored by Andy Beckett

First things first: fair play to Andy Beckett for having the guts to face up to his critics and offer a defence of his article.

The shame is that, but for some slightly shoddy journalism - and people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, so no-one at The Journal is pretending to be perfect - he could have produced a pretty good piece.

There is much in Beckett’s piece about the North East that is right: we do get a bad deal from the Government, there are many communities that are suffering terribly in the current economic climate and many of the jobs we have are low skilled, low paid and with low security.

He wasn’t unremittingly bleak either, pointing out the good work being done by our universities and the thriving offshore industries taking root on the River Tyne.

But what has angered so many people - from writers from the North East, from two of the main people interviewed for it, and thousands of others in the region - is the far-fetched comparison to the American city Detroit and the meltdown that followed the collapse of the city’s motor industry.

Some of the people he chose to interview were odd, to say the least. I count myself as being reasonably well-informed about the North East, having lived here for most of my 42 years and worked as a journalist for nearly 20, but I had no idea who “left wing writer Alex Niven” was until he was extensively quoted in Beckett’s piece and I Googled him. With respect to Mr Niven, I think there are more informed people to quote.

And then there were the simple mistakes: Tory peer Lord Howell did say that the North East was desolate, but pointed out the next day that he meant the North West; local enterprise partnership chief Ed Twiddy is not “off”, he is taking another job in the region; the East Coast mainline service to the North East was not affected by Tony Blair not being Prime Minister any more.

As for the choice of pictures, which included a run-down shop and a vandalised road sign, my guess is that you can find such hackneyed images anywhere in the country if you look hard enough. If you want an accurate picture of the North East, it might include our two world heritage sites, our National Park, the areas of outstanding natural beauty and some of the finest architecture in the land.

Beckett is right to say that the North East has some deep-rooted problems. But if he thinks that’s all we have, he should come up more often.

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