Image and reputation

This thematic area explores the positioning and repositioning of Liverpool before and after becoming ECoC, looking into how the city is presented by the media, how it is promoted through official marketing narratives, and how it is perceived from the perspective of local residents, visitors and people from around the UK.

A number of methodological tools were employed by Impacts 08 in its examination of the impact of the ECoC on representations and perceptions of Liverpool locally, nationally and internationally. Impacts 18 has placed particular emphasis on the longitudinal analysis of press coverage – a core building block of the original evaluation. However, data here will also be compared with data on perceptions that will be gathered as part of other thematic clusters (see: Neighbourhood Impacts and Tourism Impacts projects).

Press Narrative Impacts

Impacts 08 provided valuable empirical evidence of the impact that bidding for and hosting an ECoC can have on the image of its host city, covering the period 1996-2008. In examining the legacies of the ECoC 10 years on, the Impacts 18 programme is aiming to understand:

  • how frequently, and in what context, the Liverpool ECoC is still referred to in the UK national press;
  • what legacies or after-effects, if any, hosting an ECoC may have on the trajectory of national press coverage on its host city.

The project is divided into two strands:

  • Coverage about Liverpool in general. The aim here is to establish an understanding of how press references to Liverpool have evolved over time, regardless of whether they include explicit reference to the ECoC. This strand covers a sample of 5,783 articles (an average of 10% of all relevant coverage) published between 1996 and 2017. Data on 2018 is still being collated.
  • Coverage mentioning the Liverpool ECoC specifically. The aim here is to understand how Liverpool is referred to in the context of the ECoC programme specifically, so as to identify dominant narratives and ECoC associations that may explain noticeable variations in generic city coverage (above) and thus changes in the ways the city is represented at large. This strand covers all articles published on Liverpool as ECoC, amounting to 1,739 between 2000 and 2017.

Emerging Findings

Early findings provide evidence of a remarkable change in the way Liverpool is positioned and talked about in the UK. Football, creativity and crime have dominated press narratives about the city for decades, but the balance between these areas and the diversity of angles within them has evolved considerably since 1996. By 2018, positive discussion on the city’s character and its cultural offer is as dominant as discussion on social issues, such as crime, which was by far the dominant topic in the 1990s, after football.

Early findings (UK national coverage on Liverpool, 1996-2017)

  • The way the media refer to Liverpool has changed dramatically between the mid 1990s and today, with 2008 marking a before and an after most dominant UK media narratives
  • References to the city’s cultural assets grew exponentially between 1996 and 2007-2008 (over 200% growth) and, within broadsheets, have remained a third of relevant coverage on the city (excluding stories focused on football)
  • Discussion on the image / icons of Liverpool has become a dominant motive for coverage across broadsheets and tabloids, and is treated mostly in a positive light
  • Reporting on social issues (and in particular, crime) used to be the most dominant area of coverage, but it became secondary to culture in 2008 and is, since 2012/2013, is balancing out with (positive) coverage about the image/icons of the city
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