Reporting devolution at the NCTJ Journalism Skills Conference

Mike Gilson, editor of the Belfast Telegraph and Betsan Powys, political editor for BBC Wales delivered presentations on the issues of reporting in the devolved nations, at this year’s Journalism Skills Conference in Cardiff.

Mike talked about his experiences of working in not just Northern Ireland but also Scotland, England and Wales. Having previously edited the Scotsman, Western Mail and the Portsmouth News he has some unique experiences of reporting across the nations.

Mike spoke about how devolution presents great opportunities for journalists as more powerful people are based more locally, and the local community can become more engaged and interested in issues close to them.

Speaking about devolution in Northern Ireland, Mike commented that the media has become the effective opposition to Stormont, and that journalists are in a great position when it comes to reporting on important and influential issues.

Betsan, one of Wales’ best-known journalists, delivered a speech about how reporting has changed in Wales since devolution. Referring to Leighton Andrews, Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning, who delivered the opening address of the conference, she spoke about how the story of his Assembly speech about tuition fees was all over the front pages of the UK newspapers. Betsan explained how with more power being given to the Welsh Assembly, the media in London are now much more interested in Welsh programmes and reporters are communicating much better, whereas previously there would have been less coverage.

Continuing her presentation, Betsan commented on the fact that no national newspaper has a reporter based in Wales, only online and bloggers, and that because there is no Welsh edition of national newspapers, many people can still miss out on news and issues in Wales.

Betsan also joked about a recent BBC News appearance where, following Leighton Andrews’ speech, she was given a 6.04pm slot as opposed to the usual 6.25pm ‘devo’ slot, resulting in cries from the crew of “Ooh Betsan, you’re on proper news now!”

With the upcoming referendum, there will be more and more to report on from Wales and the same is true of Northern Ireland and Scotland. The way the UK media covers regional news is constantly changing and there are likely to be exciting developments in the coming months and years.

Following questions from the floor, both Betsan and Mike agreed that students from all over the UK would benefit from having a greater understanding of the powers of devolved governments, given the changes in the way UK media is reporting these issues.

Betsan Powys has been political editor for BBC Wales since 2006 and has worked on numerous programmes for BBC Wales, including presenting election night coverage. In 2002 Betsan won both the BT Welsh Journalist of the Year for her work with BBC Wales’ hard-hitting current affairs programme, Week In Week Out and also BT Welsh News Broadcaster of the Year.

Mike Gilson took over the editorship of the Belfast Telegraph in September 2009, since when the title has won several honours in the Northern Ireland press awards, including the coveted title of Newspaper of the Year and Business Supplement of the Year.