Channel 4 News & the Glib Reporting Disaster

Missing the point of news comment
Missing the point of news comment

Channel 4, is a UK-based, “publicly-owned, commercially-funded public service broadcaster“, with an excellent news team, usually.

Recently, however, it sent sports reporter Jordan Jarrett-Bryan to carry out a vox pop in Brixton, south London for a report entitled: “Attitudes towards police on streets of Brixton”.

Before I go onto to explain why this is a particularly nasty, cynical, lazy and worst of all for a news report, misleading piece, you should watch it for yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzU4x8vjDtU

UPDATE: Channel 4 has removed the video apparently in embarrassment since this report was posted – reported by The Independent.

Looks fair enough, right? But then a writer over at the Urban75 Forum (sign-up required) became curious at the uniformity of the responses from what Channel 4 and its reported Jordan Jarrett-Bryan had styled as follows:

As a new criminal offence of police corruption is created after the Stephen Lawrence case, Jordan Jarrett-Bryan spends the day in Brixton to find out how local people feel about the police.

BrixtonBuzz blog picked up the Urban75 disquiet and quotes directly:

“It turns out that the reporter, Jordan Jarrett-Bryan, merely interviewed a gaggle of his friends/colleagues, and passed this off as a reflection of the view of Brixton at large.

It’s difficult enough to find any accurate and non-superficial reporting on Brixton, and this sort of nonsense doesn’t help.”

That quote comes from a Urban75 user called ‘urbanspaceman’ who went on to say that, “I sent the email below to Jackie Long, Social Affairs Editor and presenter. I wonder what she will say.”

Jordan Jarrett-Bryan
Jordan Jarrett-Bryan

What had happened was the Jordan the sport reporter, now news hound, had merely gauged the opinions of a group of reasonably comfortable, articulate and most importantly employed and engaged former colleagues at “Youth Engagement Agency” Livity.

Here’s what Livity says about itself.

We work with young people every day to co-create campaigns, content and communities.

Our clients – including Google, Public Health England, Channel 4, NSPCC, Big Lottery Fund and Barclays – get uniquely deep youth insights and a precious pool of young talent, energy and ideas.

Here’s what The Guardian newspaper said about the agency in 2013 when the “Youth Engagement Agency” won the 2013 Marketing Agencies Association ‘Best Award’ (supported by… The Guardian)

This year’s judges praised Livity’s aim to “make a measurable, positive impact on the lives of young people”. This was demonstrated in their work for Channel 4 on The Stake, which also won them Best Campaign by Agency Youth, and Best Consumer Campaign (in association with the Guardian) for the second year running: it engaged young people with the rather dry topic of financial literacy by offering them the chance to spend £100,000 in a worthwhile way.

So, Jordan is hired by Channel 4 from a marketing agency hired by Channel 4 to market Channel 4. That’s not a huge issue. Maybe Jordan had long wanted to leave the rigours of Youth Engagement, maybe journalism had been his dream career since he was a small lad walking the streets of Brixton. All fine.

I respect and admire Mr Jarrett-Bryan dream of being a news reporter, fearlessly searching out the facts of a story; winnowing the chaff of assumption. Feeding the public with his analysis and critical rigour.

That’s why his Brixton ‘vox pop’ galls me and convinces me of the cynicism endemic in reporting at the moment. Jordan Jarrett-Bryan took the easiest possible route. He interviewed his pals, all of whom shared an opinion. No one at Channel 4’s news team checked this, and Jordan himself did not indicate that (as pointed out by urbanspaceman) of the people interviewed:

  • Naomi Brown was credited on screen as Youth Development Mentor at advertising agency Livity
  • Matthew Peltier. No affiliation was disclosed in the report. LinkedIn reveals that he is Senior Producer at Livity
  • Beulah Lambert. No affiliation was disclosed in the report. Linkedin reveals that she is Account Manager at Livity
  • Henry Houdini. No affiliation was disclosed in the report. Linkedin reveals that he is Junior Assistant Producer at Livity

I find this lack of transparency in the use of source material to be the rough, cynical end of current TV news reporting. Vox Pops are usually pointless exercises in vapid ‘democratisation’ but at least they have a veneer of a wide and varied voice divorced (apparently) from editorialising, and possibly even open to genuine new insights.

They call for the journalist at least to attempt to widen his or her own perspective and knowledge base on a subject by talking to other people who are, ideally, untarnished, no that’s unfair, untrained. This enrichment of the journalist’s information store should enable a richer, more nuanced and informative report: this leads to a more interested, engaged and ultimately informed audience.

An informed public leads to a society less likely to hurt itself via the immense power of ignorance.

Not being transparent about who you are interviewing and why merely serves to cheapen journalism.

Jordan was challenged on this and his responses came – glibly – via Twitter.

Jordan's defence #1
Jordan’s defence #1
Jordan's Defence #2
Jordan’s Defence #2

So, a follow-up vox pop dealing with Met Police corruption and 20 years of pain for the family of Stephen Lawrence becomes a self-serving, smugly cynical, back-patting exercise in doing the absolute least.

— UPDATE —
Channel 4 has now issued an apology and update.

“This was a quick turnaround project, the journalist interviewed people who live, work or were born in Brixton – who also worked for Livity. They all expressed their own individual views.

“We accept we should have been clear they they all worked at the same place, we should have made further enquiries and we regret this oversight. The report was removed from the Channel 4 News website yesterday.”

Erm, if it was a quick turnaround project… why did the lead in say that the journalist had spent ‘a day’ in Brixton?

— END UPDATE —

I was lead to this story by the excellent Tom Philips.

Please leave a comment. Many thanks.