Covering COVID-19 in the North East

January 5, 2021

Here, our business journalist Richard Dawson looks back on his reporting of the coronavirus pandemic and explains his thinking about the new editorial direction of the magazine and what you, our readers, can expect.

I’ve been working on this magazine for a little over two years now and I can honestly say I’ve never been prouder of the publication we are trying to build.

It would have been all too easy when the coronavirus pandemic hit last year to have side-lined editorial and concentrated solely on the commercial side of the business, like many other publishers did.

But we recognised that COVID-19 made regionally-focused, independent business journalism more important than ever.

We also recognised this was a false dichotomy.

The reason people invest in North East Times is because the magazine is well read, because there is real journalism on our pages that gets right to the heart of matters across the business landscape.

I’m delighted our partners and advertisers have continued to support us during this challenging time. It’s their support, which has enabled me to spend the last 12 months reporting on what will probably be the biggest story of my career – coronavirus.

Writing about the devastating economic impact of the virus has been a rollercoaster in every possible sense – both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure.

It started with the Stock Market Crash in early March 2020. I remember watching in disbelief as the FTSE100 index plunged 10.87 per cent in a single session.

Then came the fabled Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), under which the Government paid 80 per cent of the salaries of furloughed workers.

The CJRS coincided with the first national lockdown, which literally brought the whole UK economy to a halt. UK GDP shrank by an unprecedented 20.4 per cent in April 2020.

What came next were a series of eye- wateringly bad economic forecasts, from the Bank of England’s claim in May about the UK having its worst recession for 300 years to the OECD claiming in June the worst global recession for 100 years, with Britain being the hardest hit.

In July, August and September came the false dawn to end all false dawns – PMI surveys and economic data began to point towards a V-shaped recovery over the summer.

But by October, the UK economy was still 9.2 per cent smaller than it was in February, despite the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and Government spending on a scale never before seen.

October saw the emergence of local lockdowns to tackle COVID-19’s second wave, putting all hopes of a quick recovery in the rear-view mirror.

I reported last April that the UK economy might not return to its late-2019 size until 2023 – and that could still be the case. The last few months have seen the coming unemployment crisis gather pace, with the UK headline jobless rate rising to 4.9 per cent.

In the North East, the labour market has deteriorated even faster, with unemployment already up to 6.6 per cent at the time of writing.

Against that backdrop came Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review last November, in which he announced it will cost the Government £280 billion to get the country through coronavirus.

The Chancellor also told of how the budget deficit could reach £394 billion by the end of this financial year – a peacetime record.

As we welcome in 2021, the full economic implications of the coronavirus crisis are still playing out, and I feel a special responsibility to continue to report on them.

It’s a job I think I am well-placed to do, having graduated with an MA in International Political Economy from Newcastle University in 2017.

Back then, I spent a lot of time researching the 2008/2009 Global Financial Crisis and the economic, political and social fall out that followed.

I never thought I’d be writing stories about an even bigger crash just three years later.

What my degree didn’t teach me was much about the important role played by business in supporting economic recoveries.

My academic mind looked at the fact the North East has one of the smallest economies and highest unemployment rates in the country and thought that nobody was doing anything about it.

How wrong I was, and how privileged
I now am to be able to interview the people who are changing the North East for the better and taking advantage of the enormous opportunities that do exist in this part of the world.

At North East Times, we’re here to give those opportunities a voice – to be the voice of business.

That work continues with our new editorial direction, which as you can see, is quite different to anything being done by other regional business publications.

The new North East Times is proactive as well as reactive to what’s going on in the world – it is a business magazine for the North East, rather than a North East business magazine.

For that reason, we’ve made a series of changes to the layout of the publication that you’ll have no doubt noticed in the previous two editions, and which continue in this issue.

Firstly, our Business Briefing pages. These are a series of digestible news items looking at the latest developments, trends and technologies shaping the economic and business landscape.

They provide an overview of what’s happening in the North East and include important news you may have missed.

Then comes our Contributor section. This features exclusive columns written by local business leaders, giving them a
platform to express their opinions and discuss the issues that matter most.

As usual, there are also three feature interviews dotted throughout the magazine.

Here, we tell the story of someone who has made a big impact at a regional, national or international level.

Two of these interviews are linked to our new reports, which delve deep into a sector or subject that has real resonance within the business community. These are informed by expert comment from local people who can speak with real authority.

In this month’s issue, we have also included a long-form question and answer feature with North East local authority leaders and officials, and introduced The Last Word, a new question and answer platform you can find on the last page.

2021 is going to be another huge year for the North East with myriad challenges as we recover from months of coronavirus restrictions, mass unemployment and GDP loss.

It is our job to shine a light on how we can overcome these challenges together.

Our New Year’s resolution is to continue being the number one source of information for all things business in the North East and beyond.

I wish you all the best of luck with yours.

Richard Dawson,
Business journalist

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