I used to be a journalist (boo, hiss). Am so glad I no longer am. The amount of seriously flawed and biased reporting I see these days disgusts me. I saw an appalling example last night on the BBC. It really struck home to me, since it was about Market Rasen, my old "home town", and featured someone I am proud and privileged to call a friend.
Before I moved out to France, I had a little "grottage" (formerly a grotty cottage) in the Lincolnshire Wolds, in the much sought-after tiny village of Stainton-le-Vale. I started working as a freelance copywriter for Sarah Lamballe Copywriting, and Sarah became a very great friend.
Market Rasen in those days was like many other small market towns - slowly dying the death. A Tesco on the edge of town was bleeding the lifeblood out of the High Street, footfall was dwindling away to nothing, shops were being boarded up. A familiar picture in many parts of rural Britain.
Then Queen of Shops Mary Portas launched the Portas Pilot project, a chance for towns to bid for a valuable cash injection to encourage High Street regeneration. Little Market Rasen, population 3,230, was one of the smaller towns to try its luck, and was one of the first 12 winners to be announced, beating off competition from 370 towns.
My friend Sarah Lamballe was one of driving forces behind Mr BIG, the Market Rasen Business Improvement Group, whose mission statement is "Crack on." Having lived and worked in Lincolnshire myself for more than 10 years, I know it's not always easy to drive change - the local population, known affectionately as "yellow bellies" are sometimes a little resistant to new initiative.
Improvements were quickly under way. Money was spent on a much needed town tidy. More was invested in regenerating the market, with its lovely character-filled cobbled town square and covered market area. Pop-up markets were held, hugely successful, drawing in people from the surrounding areas and visibly breathing life back into the town. The extraordinary pop-up market prompted Mary Portas herself to tweet: "Truly fabulous, guys."
And when Mary returned to visit the town, she announced her delight at what had been achieved.
So I was really excited to sit down and watch Look North last night to see my friend Sarah being interviewed about the success of the project. Instead I saw her trying hard to set the record straight with facts when being hit with data alleging more shops had actually closed since the Pilot project began.
I've known Sarah for more than 12 years. A person of higher integrity would be harder to find, nor anyone more hard-working, and that can also be said of the many volunteers who have put their all behind this project.
The data presented was flawed and out of date. Some shops have relocated, not closed down. Sarah explained as much to the interviewer before filming began. But it was glossed over - in an attempt to create a "better" story? What a sickener for all those involved.
I've been following the Mr BIG blog with envy, reading of all the wonderful things which are now happening in Rasen. I'm in discussion to use the new BIG corner shop as a retail outlet for Sell the Pig - that's how much I believe in the success of the project. It's not just about opening more shops, it's about putting the heart back into a community, which is certainly what is happening in Market Rasen.
I must be older than I thought. When I trained in journalism at the Harris Institute, Preston, back in the 70s, we were actually expected to get facts for our stories and present evidence for our claims, balanced by full right of reply for both sides. This was just gross misrepresentation of the worst possible kind.
As Sarah told me afterwards: "It's crushing, just so sad for the volunteers who put so much in."
So come on, Look North, here's a challenge. Make public your data, in which you say more shops have closed since the project began, and allow Mr BIG to present their data to show why yours is inaccurate. Surely that's fair?