Deborah Turness

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Deborah Turness Powered By Docstoc
					Deborah Turness
Editor ITV News

Young people have never really watched the news so why are broadcasters
so concerned about it now?

Many many reasons, one of them being that young people use multi media so
much more now and if they form a habit now going to get the information they
want, whatever it is, online and never get into the habit of coming onto a
terrestrial TV to watch the bulletins then you can make an assumption that in
later life too they will bypass bespoke programming.

Why are young viewers important to ITV?

I’m very laser guided by what I do, I want as many people to watch my
programmes. Increasingly I want what’s called segment ones to watch my
programmes, who are what we call plugged in achievers, they’ve got a slightly
younger profile, they’ve got disposable incomes, and from a commercial point of
view it’s incredibly dangerous to not have young people watching your
programmes. If all you’ve got is old people or poor people who have got no
commercial spend then the network won’t love you. I’m just being very, very
straight with you; but there’s a broader social responsibility that we need to
engage young people, we need to engage all people in news. The broader issue
isn’t just about young people. Life’s busy, we’ve all become more self obsessed,
there seems to be more going on, we’re working longer hours, more families
where both parents are working, working life is a hassle. Now somewhere in
there we want people to stop once, twice or three times a day for half an hour
and bother to care about what’s happening outside of their lives, which are
increasingly all consuming. So we need to reach out to everybody and get them
to watch the news more in a world where yes they can get news elsewhere and
maybe people feel more disconnected with the outside world. There’s a greater
concentration on the self, the family. And therefore the core job of news is to tell
everybody why stories matter, why they’re important, if they’re going to have an
impact directly on people’s lives, tell them what that impact’s going to be, to draw
them in, to give them a reason to feel the news. I have a catch phrase, which is
‘news is the best drama on TV’, because it’s real and it is about life and death
and about issues that affect everybody’s lives all the time and it’s important to
know about it. But it’s in the telling, it’s how you tell it, that will make people stop
and watch or turn over and walk away.

Young people have always been self obsessed and disengaged and not really
connected to the world outside them but, anecdotally, aren’t there some issues
now that really do interest them? Perhaps they are alienated from politics
because of the way politics is run, and that debate has been raging for a long
time, but issues about the environment, the world we live in, they interested in.
Just speaking to young people, and having young brothers and sisters, they will
go online and read stuff and look at stuff, they care about this, there’s a
sensitivity and sensibility. So in the agenda that we pursue we can reach out to
younger viewers.

A lot of people say it isn’t that hard to create a news programme that’s
more appealing to younger viewers but if you do that you lose older

You do. I was on the launch team of Five News and the news had an absolute
stated aim to target 18-34s and when we first launched Five news were self-
consciously going for the youth agenda. We were doing some new stuff. It seems
very uncontroversial now but Kirsty Young was perching [on the desk], we used
our news room as the place where our correspondents lived, they inhabited the
space, we moved around and talked to them at their desks, we unpackaged the
news, we made it much more casual, we took away the barrier between the
presenter and the viewer in not having the desk. We had Kirsty moving around,
we had young correspondents who were plugged to a different kind of news, we
told stories in different ways. And much of that is now being mimicked and
imitated elsewhere. Although Five news was a little thing it had a big impact and
that was about targeting the younger viewership. And we did get some younger
viewers but actually we found that we were missing out people at the other end
and actually they were probably more available to view. Increasingly young
people are online, out doing stuff. Are they even available to you at the times that
you’re trying to broadcast? If they’re not you are closing off a whole segment of
the population by targeting them and losing out? And we found that at Five the
available viewers, the people that would tend to inhabit the channel around our
news times, were much older, so we were shooting ourselves in the foot saying
let’s target 18-34s in our news when we’ve got a bunch of 45-60 year old women
watching at this time of day. It just doesn’t work. You’ve got to go a bit where
your channel’s taking you. So we did go broader. We did.

I remember, talking about niche marketing and niche agendas for news
programmes, Five News was on initially at 8.30 then at 8, then at 7.30 and then
they did this thing where they had, and they still do, a 5.30 programme before
peak and a 7.30 programme. So you had two news programmes. And we
thought what are we going to do at 5.30 and 7.30? I actually said, ok, at 5.30 let’s
do ‘news for her’ and at 7.30 let’s do ‘news for him’. It was kind of controversial
and it got a lot of attention, but it was because we had more women watching at

5.30 and more men watching at 7.30 because 7.30 was going into a kind of Men
and Motors style programming and 5.30 was around Family Affairs, a soap. We
didn’t’ do it in the end because even for Chris Shaw [head of Five news] it was a
bit too wacky, but we did think about it. We did some running orders. It’s easy.
There’s this great big bucket of news that’s happening and there are a few
stories that everyone needs to know about but the stuff at the middle and the end
you can tailor it. You can tell a story from a female or a male perspective. You
can go with more of the kind of gadget technology, business, or you go more with
health, consumer, family, medical, and without dumbing down in any way – we
weren’t going to do botox news versus sport – agendas can be skewed. You can
do that, but by chasing a niche audience you rule out others and if you’re on a
mass market channel – ITV is the biggest commercial broadcaster – it doesn’t
make sense to court one sector.

But in making sure your shows are vibrant, lively and engaging, addressing
issues of our times that feel now, they need to feel plugged in, and as long as
you’ve got a representative ethnic mix, as long as you feel like you are news from
the streets in that way, not that you’re in some kind of dusty Bush House vacuum
where everyone’s terribly posh and addressing a certain kind of audience of a
certain age, if you go all the way down that route you’re going to end up with the
wrong viewers. But as long as you’re plugged in and it feels vibrant and relevant I
think you’re going to get enough of everybody in and hopefully, within that, young
people who will say, yeah there is something there for me. And maybe they’re
going to go to our new broadband offering and will come with us and as they
grow and get older they will appreciate the value of what I make, which is an
appointment to view programme three times a day where you don’t have to fish
around and make decisions, it’s the world as somebody else has had a think
about it and decided this is our view of the world today, would you like it?

Do you think, particularly in terms of young viewers, with so much new
media news sources that the core terrestrial TV news audience is bound to

The interesting question is…because there’s the sit back experience and the sit
forward experience and I really do believe, not because I’m some sort of deluded
dinosaur, that there will always be a place in the world for the sit back
experience. You know, ‘Jesus, I’ve had a really crap day, I’m really busy, I’m
going out again in an hour, I don’t want to go online and start clicking and reading
and fishing around for the video, actually inform me and entertain me with
everything I need to know about what’s gone on today’. I can either sit back or
I’m stirring the beans and the doorbells going, the phone’s ringing and the kids
are screaming but at least I’ll get an ambient understanding of what’s gone on,
particularly with our 6.30 show. Because, you know, I think there’s room for the
sit forward, go find what you want in the order you want it as well as the sit back.
In order for news to evolve and develop so that it doesn’t become a dinosaur it

may be that our broadband service in three or four years time will deliver to those
who want it a kind of bulletin in the order that they’ve selected. So they might tell
us I like business, sport and whatever and we’ll bundle it in an automated way,
they can chose it and we’ll bundle it and send it to them and because they’ll be
convergent, they’ll walk into their kitchen and they can log on and they’ve got TV
and broadband and they can get their ITV news bulletin in the order they want it if
that’s what they want.

How much pressure is there from your ad sales house to deliver more
younger viewers?

There’s no pressure for a younger audience. The pressure is to lock into the
segments that the network wants us to attract, segments 1-6. [Picks up file on
ITV marketing strategy] This is the new ABC, but it’s far more sophisticated, and
they divide it up like this. Segment One, plugged in achievers, most valuable in
marketing terms and commercial terms. Now it’s not necessarily a particular age.
They tend to be slightly younger but they’re not kids. 6.7 million people in this
segment, 14% of all adults. They’re light TV viewers accounting for 10% of all TV
hours’ viewers. A plugged in generation, confident thinkers, plenty of get up and
go, completely at home with technology, they’ve got broadband at home, they
research, they buy stuff online, they’re well educated, up to date, interested in
things, keep informed, they’ve got opinions, they read books, they’re into the arts,
they go on holiday in places like Croatia or Cornwall and they are very, very
valuable in marketing and commercial terms. And so the Network [want us to
attract them] particularly on our 10.30 show which is the time of evening when we
can give people a bit more to chew on, when they’ve probably got an
understanding of what the news is that day, they might have seen an evening
news show or been online or whatever. So at 10.30, without being Newsnight,
what are we going to give them that’s going to make them feel they’re getting
more depth and analysis but in an ITV news friendly way? So our 10.30 show
ruthlessly targets these people and we are really growing this segment in our
figures. The word we use for it in-house is provocative. The minute the shooting
happened [at the school in America] we wanted Michael Moore on our
programme to talk about Bowling For Columbine. You know, trading up a bit. But
it’s not about youth, it’s far more sophisticated than that. These are grown ups
but they’ve got certain values.

Then there’s segment two, which is fun lovers. They are a bit younger, some of
them are life stylers, the brands they consume, people of all ages, sexes and
social class, their attitude to life is about having fun, they’re aspirational, relaxed,
they graze a lot of TV, TV is a social currency for these people as a topic of
conversation. So they like X Factor, they like….nothing too heavy or intellectual,
they live for today, they’re a bit hedonistic, fashion, entertainment, cars, sport,
they read Zoo, Nuts, Cosmo, they like Peter Kaye, Fame Academy, Eastenders,
Lost, all that stuff. Now they’re quite hard to get into news as well and they are

valuable because they are buying a lot of mobile phones and stuff and they are a
little bit younger.

I can see the BBC would have a very different position on this but in the
commercial world it’s a very old-fashioned stance or assumption to think that just
as a block we need to get in more teenagers. They’re looking at people in a more
three dimensional way than just their age in this [commercial] area.

But ITV also has public service broadcasting commitments too.

These things we’re doing are trying to serve the audience that’s there at that
time. At 10.30, these people they come in late from work, they’re probably
looking for a late news programme, they weren’t around earlier, and you’re
serving the audience that you know is around. For example. Lunchtime news,
1.30, there is no point in making the programme with a provocative Michael
Moore stance at 1.30. You’ve got mostly women at home, older people, so you
make the programme that most likely to draw in the largest number of people
who are available to watch at that time of day. Evening news is a much more
kind of lively, vibrant family friendly programme, it’s family rush hour, people
home from work earlier tend to be less segment ones and more kind of middle of
the road traditionalists as they’re called here, home loving TV addicts, they come
home, kids, tea time. And at 10.30 it’s more sophisticated viewers who are
looking for something extra at that time of night. So I don’t think there’s anything
that goes against our public service remit in targeting those audiences.

If both ITV and BBC news are public service broadcasting, how then is
ITV’s news different, on screen, to the BBCs news?

I think it shows in everything we do that we have to be aware of the environment
in which we live. We reach out to our viewers in a way that the BBC doesn’t. We
try and touch them and bring them. I think the BBC, particularly in the last couple
of years, in a post Hutton, pre-charter renewal kind of period, has really tried to
trade on its analysis, sober reflection. You know the 10pm news has a habit of
having correspondents in the studio talking at length about issues. There’s
always one or two of those on every night. When it’s Mark Easton it’s brilliant,
when it’s somebody much less fluent and interesting and engaging and
challenging it’s really boring. That’s what they’ve done. What have we done?
We’ve put all the money we can muster into our coverage budget, sending as
many of our correspondents out into the world to do eye witness investigative
journalism; because we’ve done a lot of research and that ticks a lot of people’s
boxes, it’s interesting, it’s engaging, it’s dramatic, it’s revealing, surprising
television news. I think actually a couple of years ago the BBC and ITV news
were much more in the same ballpark. I think we’re really kind of moving apart
now where we’re chasing this kind of eye witness journalism, human side of

news and they are chasing the dry sober analysis, more Radio 4 and less Radio
5 if you see what I mean, in TV terms.

Viewers today, particularly younger viewers, are notoriously promiscuous,
constantly changing channels and media sources. Can you develop loyalty
to a particular news service?

We all know it’s really hard to get loyalty in a TV programme. When people are
asked why they watch news…it’s a tragedy to me clearly but the most popular
answer is ‘well I watch the news programme because it’s on after something I’ve
been watching or before something I’m going to watch’. So people chose the
news around what’s been on before, which is why inheritance is such an
important issue for us. The programme that’s been on before needs to deliver us
the right kind of viewers. But what I think is that in this world of ever increasing
choice, whether it’s online news, 24 hour news on news channels or terrestrial
news, there is loads of it around, it’s really about being distinctive and offering
people something…always being able to surprise them or own the story, saying
you’re’ getting an extra service here and that it’s the only way you can attempt to
create loyalty and to create a distinctive edge. If you ask people, you know, word
association, what does ITV news mean to you and what does BBC news mean to
you? I know what people say to me and what comes up on research and what I
like them to say about ITV news – I’m not going to watch that boring BBC news,
I’m going to watch ITV news because it’s far more engaging, relative to my life,
less fusty, less condescending, more exciting, more picture led, more human and
humane, they feel the news, it’s live it’s all out there it’s touching people. So
really by being all those things you might get a bit of loyalty, you get a halo
around your brand and maybe you’re going to bring in younger people as well
because young people hate being bored, right? They don’t want to sit down and

No. This is perhaps heretic to say but I think that we make television, right, it’s
about telly. I’m a journalist, I’ve been a journalist all my life, I’m a trained
journalist, of course I am, I’m the editor of a national news service, but there is no
shame is saying the telly bit is as important as the journalism bit. And just like
they’re not going to turn over Doctor Who I don’t want them to turn over my
programme and I would like to hope and think that last night’s evening news,
which had the video of kid in Virginia, it had a second piece psychoanalysis of
him, another piece on more victims. The BBC has stopped showing the new
photographs of the victims because they’re like, oh, we’ve done that, we did the
first 15, who gives a shit about the next 15 or 18. Well, actually, do you know
what, every one of those people is young, had a life, has parents and every night
we are ‘here’s four more of the victims that have come out today. This is Julie
Simpson, she was 22 years old, she loved skiing, had three dogs and was
planning on becoming a doctor. That’s heartbreaking and that’s the human
consequence of what this kid did. The other pieces in the show we were

outraged, along with Jack Straw, that Bernard Matthews got a payout when he
probably brought bird flu to this country and at the very least has got a rat and
pigeon infested farm. Now the BBC would never…no senior editor at the BBC
would ever sit there and say that he was personally outraged about it. I was
personally outraged, I think it’s a disgrace, and it was up to us to then say well is
there something in this and go and investigate it. I thought it was quite a cheeky
nice piece of telly that Chris Choy, our consumer editor created, with a lot of
attitude in it. There are so many ways to make television news come alive. If I
said to a 17 year old kid, ‘coming up, on the frontline on the attack with the
Taliban, Bill Neligh giving us a first hand account of being under fire and you’ve
got him being strafed with bullets with his cameraman, are you going to turn
over? You might not, you might stick around, and I just think we have to be
conscious of the choice we have now.

I once wrote this piece for the Press Gazette justifying the new set we had and
about why we dumped the old ITV set and why they’re moving around (we do
less of that now, we over did it at first) and I sat and thought long and hard about
the rationale, why we were doing this, and I just called it the golden Gordon
Honeycombe days where there were three channels and people just sat on the
sofa and thought, oh, it’s this time, it’s time to watch the news like you had to eat
spinach along with the nice bit. But it’s not like that anymore, people aren’t eating
their spinach. And I’m not talking about dumbing down. It’s very easy to turn
round to someone like me and say ‘you’re just dumbing down the news’. We’re
spending more on coverage, we’re doing more exclusive journalism, we’re
breaking more stories. Last year we had our war with the MOD, we won more
RTS awards than any other individual news programme on telly, more than Sky
and BBC combined, more than Channel 4 News. ITV won more RTS awards,
and that’s our peers rewarding us for the very powerful journalism we produced
and I believe you can have substance and you can have style and they are not
mutually exclusive, they inhabit the same space, otherwise you’ll lose your

Younger viewers, and indeed all viewers, seem to be increasingly
disenchanted with parlianmentary politics. How do you respond to that in
terms of covering political stories, particularly Westminster based stories?

I think the challenge for us is to make sure that we don’t contribute to that sense
of distance between Westminster and the nation it serves by seeing…I mean, I
think every political story is in some form a consumer story. We are the ones that
chose the politicians to put in there, they’re making decisions on our behalf and a
lot of those decisions will trickle down to impact on our lives or the lives around
us. Decisions about Iraq, decisions about the economy, decisions about mental
health, so it’s up to us to act as the kind of middle-man because people standing
up in the Houses of Parliament, most of the time, is quite dull. People standing
on the green, most of the time, is quite dull. Take for example a few weeks ago

David Cameron was opening the new Tory Party headquarters, which are very
environmentally friendly and he did an environmental speech that day. Gordon
Brown also was making a speech about the environment and trying to broaden
his appeal and say I’m not just the Chancellor I could be so much more to you.
And so Tom Bradby, our political editor, we figured there were lots of things
going on, there was the opening of the Tory Headquarters, there was David
Cameron’s speech, there was Gordon Brown and there was some other green
event going on. So he actually got on a bike and he wore our headcam, which is
a point of view thing with a fibre optic camera, and he cycled from event to event
on his bike and talked about the green issues and the impact of it and then at the
end he wheeled his bike into our virtual studios and got off and did a whole
number on let’s look at the dry numbers of these parties, what are they
committed to? Where do they stand on these key issues, nuclear energy, etc,
etc. So nobody lost out in terms of information, because it was all in there, but it
was packaged in a really engaging way and I think that as long as we do that
intelligently and don’t make ourselves look stupid and always make sure we
include in that package all the elements and information you need to know that
can make that political story really interesting. The alternative would be a GV of
Gordon Brown, GV of David Cameron, soundbite, soundbite, content graphic,
piece to ..Green, sign off – there you’ve lost everybody, including me. That’s how
everybody used to do it.

I think a couple years ago we were doing a lot of that. The BBC I think they are
catching up. BBC first poached Nick Robinson, my Political editor, and then
approached my deputy Craig Oliver to run the 10 O’clock news. So you see a lot
of this stuff. Last night Nick Robinson was doing Scotland, is Labour going to
lose it at the next election and will it be lost to the Union? And he was in a bingo
hall talking to people and making it live rather than doing a piece to camera
outside Edinburgh Castle. I think we’re borrowing from other genres as well,
current affairs and some of those factual TV series and stuff, to make news come
alive, just finding new ways to film it, new ways to tell the stories. It’s all about
stories and how to tell them and you can tell them in the old fashioned and
accepted way or you can innovate, break out of the box a little bit and surprise
people and in doing so perhaps reach out to them a bit more.

Can you talk a bit about The Edit on Five?

The Edit, because it had Sam Deleany fronting it, who is a young, smart, he’s got
street cred, and Anita Rani, who now does a lot of work for Five Live and BBC
Asian network, we were trying to basically sort of sweeten the pill in a way. We
were saying it’s remit for the people watching it was if you’ve been hung-over or
half asleep all week and didn’t see much of what’s gone on we’re going to give
you all the news without the boring bits, all the music you need to buy this week,
all the bling you need to go and get, all the films you’ve got to go and see. It was
a hybrid kind of entertainment show but newsy and at the top of the show we’d

always try and start on the news item that had the greatest appeal to young
people. Sometimes it was politics, and either Anita or Sam would go and try and
do an alternative take on it. One week Ali G launched that film In Da House so
we went to the Houses Of Parliament to see what politicians thought of it and got
them to do a review of it. But it addressed some serious issues about
disengagement of young people and politics through the Ali G phenomenon. That
was quite cool and interesting. We’d always find angles and fun ways of doing it.
I launched that and then I left. I don’t know the reasons it was pulled in the end,
by then I was elsewhere.

Was it a success? None of these attempts to reach young viewers seem to

I saw it as successful because it seemed to me to do the job of news for a
younger audience, the trouble is I’m not the younger audience. These
programmes are often made by people who are 10 years minimum too old to
really know that it is that the kids will want and therefore perhaps it’s ridiculous
for me to look at Liquid News [on BBC3] and say yeah it was great because at
the time I was 35 and it was addressing somebody half my age at the very least.
But it seemed to take in news, entertainment and sport, visually it worked, it
looked very of its moment and it used a certain kind of language, it was straight
to the point, informal, almost casual, didn’t feel to offer up running order – if they
wanted to lead with an entertainment story…they’d do that. So it was slightly
unconventional in that sense. But why did they pull it? I haven’t seen news on
BBC3 for sometime.

But look at Newsround, which has kind of evolved. I think it’s great. Liquid news
was a bit hip. If you were 14 you’d probably think Liquid News was for somebody
who was 16 or 17 and so you’d watch it because it was aspirational almost.
StoryFix [on BBC website], if I was 16 I’d watch that. It doesn’t tell you much but
it’s a great watch.

Sebastian Rich, just sold Princess Productions, was on the launch team.

What about Rise, Channel 4’s breakfast news show?

Rise was a blast and…Channel 4 made a mistake, they took Big Breakfast off
air. If you’ve got a brand like that don’t dump it. They then had a massive gap
where they put reruns of Friends or something for the best part of a year and
then they launched Rise. When it was first on air, I wasn’t involved in the launch,
it’s aim was to be a bit edgy, taking the piss out of everything, very smart and
newsy, seeing news through a younger, edgier prism, and it got into trouble very
quickly. It was panned by all the critics. I’m not sure that was what people really
wanted at that time in the morning. Then they called me and said would you
come and have a go at it? So I left my job at Five News and went to be the

second editor of Rise. The first one only lasted two weeks. I should have seen
the sort of company they were. We tried to inject a bit more fun into it and to mix
news with entertainment. We did ridiculous things like live quiz on a rollercoaster
or…and we mixed that in with an attempt to look at news in a different way and to
keep true to the brand. I can’t think of any examples of how we did that but we
had some young reporters who would go out and ask pertinent questions about
the way stories have been told. Very quickly it turned and the entertainment and
the live OB things took over because I think Sebastian Rich realised it was the
news stuff that wasn’t really working. So by the time Big Brother was on air in
June we were looking at an entire Big Brother programme and it worked, it took
off and we were catching up with GMTV and it was clear that that was the kind of
stuff that people wanted so it was then completely restructured to be an
entertainment show and I left. I don’t read Heat magazine, it doesn’t interest me
remotely. I’m not saying I only read the Economist but I don’t really care about
the battle of the stars and what they’re wearing but that was the kind of show it
ended up being. But I think the truth was that a brave attempt at making an edgy,
newsy show…you know, death by a thousand cuts, bit by bit by bit it just
transformed into an entertainment show.

Do you think it’s possible to make a news programme aimed at young
viewers today? If you were asked to that would you think it was worth
trying again?

Um…I’d think long and hard about it. It’s about platform really. If it was on E4
sandwiched between two shows that were addressing that audience then I’d
have a bash at it. But I’m now 40 so am I too old to do that?

I think it can be done but don’t expect massive audiences. It can be done, yes of
course it can be done. It can be a great show, but there’s a certain age group
that is very distracted and has got other shit going on in their lives, other choices
to make, and they are hard to pin down and are hard to pull in and I think if you
really want to make a news programme for young people you really, really, really,
really have to compromise on what you think is news. And by that I don’t just
mean fill it with entertainment, I mean you really have to subvert news values. I
said to Chris Shaw once that I wanted to make a late night show on Channel Five
called X-rated news, and it’s all the blood, all the gore, all the out-cuts, all the
stuff that you can’t air on regular terrestrial ofcom bulletins. Everyday we’re
making choices. Yesterday we didn’t air the picture of the killer doing that [gun
gesture] but we did do that picture [different gesture]. Then sometimes there’s
bigger choices, like Baha Mousa the Iraqi who died in custody of British forces
and there’s a whole court marshal that’s gone on and his family this week held a
press conference and on the front cover of the catalogue there was a picture of
the Bar Musa with the in…in his mouth, his face black and blue, dead. Too
strong. I know I’d get complaints about that. I know I’d be on the naughty mat at
Ofcom. In my view people should see that because that’s the story. Now I don’t

want to scare children but we still didn’t air at 10.30. There’s an awful lot of
valuable things you could show, very post watershed, very adult niche news
programme, but you’d have to throw away so many of your values and you’d
damage your brand in doing so. So how do you translate that set of choices into
a youth audience? What do you have to do to get there? The programme has to
have such an identity and a clear proposition because if the BBC decided that
Liquid News didn’t work – that seems to me to go quite a lot of the way down the
line. Would you say that when Liquid News went the only news programme that
was trying to address mid to late teens died and from a public service
broadcasting perspective they were reneging on their responsibilities because
they didn’t replace it with anything anywhere else.

What about the representation of young people in the news. Young people
often say that whenever they see stories about them on the news it’s
invariably a negative image they’re seeing, they’re portrayed as part of a
problem, whether it’s drugs, violence or whatever.

Most stories in the news are stories about bad things that have happened so
most stories about kids are going to be about bad things that have happened to
kids. I’m just thinking, the last thing we did that involved kids other than the
shootings in America was about drugs. Two days ago there was a report that
said we’ve got the worst drug problem in Europe, so we actually sat down a
group of 10 young people to ask them about their experience of drug use, what
they thought about it. The piece was made up entirely of their views and their
opinions and their suggestions of how it could be improved and made better and
I would say that that was quite a positive use of young people in a news
programme because we were valuing their views rather than just talking about
them at a distance saying, ‘oh, young people are using drugs, isn’t it terrible’. We
actually go to people and say are drugs as rife today? And we showed them the
various campaigns, the ‘just say no’ campaign, that clearly was rubbish, and then
the Frank campaign, which aims to be more light hearted and therefore more
accepting of drug problems, then we talked to them about Kate Moss and Pete
Doherty and the iconic figures who use drugs and we talked about enforcement
and whether they used drugs or their friends used drugs whether they felt they
might get into trouble for it, and then the mixed messages about cannabis. I
would say that we do try, wherever possible, to consult young people on issues
that effect their lives. Another example, there’s this guy that works for us called
Wayne G Saunders, a young black film maker. So when we do stories about
shootings in East London or wherever quite often we call upon his services and
we sort of say, Wayne G, what’s going on? What do you think? What are people
talking about? Can you go out and make a film for us? I don’t like making news
from the outside looking in, it makes us look out of touch and old on those kind of
issues and distance. I like being really close to things, getting inside the story,
and Wayne has achieved that.

A piece came out about how in Europe British children are the least happy,
Unicef. We actually got a kid from Children’s Express (they’ve renamed
themselves now), a children’s newspaper. We got a kid on from that talking about
life from their perspective.

So, I agree there are a lot of negative news stories about young people because
of stabbings and drugs and everything, but as for our news coverage about that I
think we really do try and be constructive about the issues facing young people
today and to ask them to give us their views and their solutions. So I would say
we really try hard to combat that in all honestly.

When would you decide that a story was not just newsworthy but that you
needed to do more than just report what had happened that day or in a
particular incident?

We did a whole series called Teenage Bodybags of the back of that spate of the
murders…and it was like the accumulative factor was just everywhere and I
wanted to grasp the issue. So we did a whole series called teenage body bags
where we turned it around very fast. Every night on the evening news we looked
at another issue. We bought a [replica] gun and had it converted, we got a film
from Wayne G Saunders about kids in the gangs in the local area explaining the
hierarchy and the situation of what was going on. We’re making a documentary
actually about Mark Prince, the father of Kian Prince, who was stabbed in North
West London. He assembled a load of other parents of kids who had been
stabbed or shot and we did a sit down with all of them. At that point about three
kids in the space of ten days had been shot dead. I’m planning at the moment to
do a kind of snap shot of knife crime Britain where we involve all the regions,
there are 18 Itv regions and on one weekend everyone of them will have
cameras out with paramedic crews and hospitals and police and in clubs and on
the streets to try and capture a picture of every Friday and Saturday night in
every major town and city in Britain somebody is committing a knife crime,
somebody is being stabbed. And if we can capture that then afterwards in that
same show we’ll go and do a big thing on it. We can then address the issues and
what the hell we can do about the problem. So really the answer to your question
is, when it builds up a head of steam I try and grasp the issue and do something
big and meaningful with it and try and get under the skin of it rather than just
report the bare facts that another kid’s been stabbed. When it gets to the point
that people are saying what the hell is going on in Britain then it’s our job to try
and investigate.

Is the main aim to address the concerns that adults might have about
young people?

No it’s addressing everyone who’s watching and I would imagine that series son
teenage body bags was very much…15, 16,17 year olds sitting watching telly
would probably watch that because it’s something that if they live in any urban
centre they’re familiar with gang culture, with the danger of knives being carried,
with what can go wrong. Particularly because the Wayne G Saunders film was
seen and it was young people talking to young people about the issue, it was
real, do you know what I mean? I mean, our social affairs correspondent, Helen
Wright[?], we can use her on certain issues but she’s a white, 42 year old middle
class woman who’s never been into a crack estate and doesn’t know what life is
like for those people. So she can analyse certain stories and give us what we
need on certain stories but I don’t use her on that because it’s completely
alienating the story and it looks stupid, it makes us look stupid. You know, ‘In
council estates like these, young people are being stabbed…’

You’re almost certainly the youngest senior news editor in terrestrial TV at
the moment. Most of the people who make the key editorial decisions are
mid 40s and 50s. Do you think that’s a problem in terms of being out of
touch with what younger people want from news?

I don’t think it’s so much about age really, I think it’s about attitude. I mean Chris
Shaw launched Five News when he was 40 but that really was an innovation in
news. It’s about attitude. I was at ITV straight out of university, because I was at
university in France and I went through the Paris bureau and did my bit, worked
on the desks, became a producer, went to the north of England to run that
bureau, went to Washington to spend four years running the whole American and
South American bureaus and then came back to Five News and was on that
launch team. When I came back here Nigel Dacre had been the editor for 7
years, he’d left and David Mannion had come in. The remit was really very much
to update the news service and there was really a relatively young workforce out
there but it had been instilled in them that news was made a certain way, this is
how it happens, this is the process and these are the words you use. The remit
and the strategy was very, very different. At that point I was really conscious of
my age, being in a very senior role (I was deputy editor then) in a national news
organisation but I was more conscious of attitude. I didn’t have the perceived
required respect for the traditions and the rules, if you like, for television news
and how it should be made because I’d been ‘corrupted’ by being at Five, by
doing Rise and coming back in, and some of the more traditional figures in the
news room didn’t have much respect for me because I was trying to do all these
new fangled things and they thought it was all for the sake of it. The only way to
actually sell it and get it through was to make them realise that this isn’t about
undermining any journalism, quite the opposite, I want you to go out and be
brave and bolder and more in people’s faces and get more exclusives, to drive
an investigative, cheeky, provocative agenda but when you do that you tell the
story in a way that makes it engaging.

It’s about story telling, we’re all about telling stories and if we don’t remember
that then we’re lost. We’re not a newspaper, we’re television news and its
storytelling. And eventually after a while the message got through, people saw
the rewards and the dividends it paid, the programmes got better, the ratings
started going up, we started winning awards again, being talked about, making a
bit of trouble, being respected by peers, people saying ‘did you see that on ITV
News?’ Now it’s in our blood again, it was in our blood, I was an ITV news
person, a lot of those people I knew from when I was very young, 23,24. Now,
you know, in January we became the first to anchor a whole week of
programming out of Antarctica. Mark Austin flew there. When we did our Iraq
week coverage ours was called Aftershock – Life and Death in Iraq and it was
about people’s stories, life and death. I really think some of them are going to win
awards. We went and got into bed with Guardian Films to make a series of mini
docs, three and four minute pieces, that actually were so close up to the pain and
grief of the Iraqi people it was really amazing. It’s the stuff we can never normally
do because we’re standing on some rooftop in the green zone because it’s too
dangerous to go out there, but we used people in Iraq and people from Guardian
Films to do it.

I’m going to have a week called ‘A Soldier’s War’ where five soldiers on the
frontline, Afghanistan, Iraq, are going to film their own stories and they’re going to
film, edit and voice their own pieces. It’ll be a series that we do with the MOD.
Nobody’s done that before. We’re doing stuff like that all the time and that’s not
because I’m younger it’s because, I don’t know, in my DNA I just don’t have
those limiters that other people have. But in my morning meeting every single
day I provoke people because I think even though a lot of my staff now are
younger than me, because I’m not that young anymore…the other morning I
said, right, ok, I want to get under the skin of the story of guns in America and I
want Keir Simmonds who’s a great young reporter we sent out there to go and
buy a gun, which isn’t that difficult, he needs to go with an American with a
address and a driver’s licence and ID. And then should he come [on camera] and
have the gun on him say to Mark, ‘Mark, ‘I’ve just bought this’. And people say,
no way, you can’t wave a gun around on television. I was like, why can’t you
wave a gun around on television, he’s just gone and bought it and that’s the
point, guns are everyday things in America, you don’t have to conceal them. It
really isn’t about age. Chris Shaw could sit down and devise you another iteration
of Five News that would be just as of its moment and just as engaging. So I don’t
think it’s an age thing.

When you’re looking for stories every morning, where do you get the
stories and ideas for young people apart from the usual sources, like the
daily papers?

I think that’s a really interesting question. Because I’m not trying to directly
address young people, I’m just hoping they’re going to be interested in some of

the issues that I think we all care about, that a mass market audience will care
about, I think in that agenda if we’re sufficiently in touch then they’re going to be
interested. Maybe I should be buying Piers Morgan’s newspaper every week or
looking on youth websites or seeing what Newsround is doing online. From a
personal perspective, I’ve got a brother of 8, a sister of 13, a sister of 21 and a
brother of 26 so in the classic British dysfunctional family way. So I talk to them a
lot and I have a sort of understanding of what they care about, what they’re
thinking about, what they speak to their friends about. I sit on sister’s shoulder a
lot when she’s online and I learn so much from her, the stuff that she’s doing, her
Bebo site. How she spends her recreational time is to me so different and so
alien to how I did. She spends probably two hours a day in the evening, rather
than being out playing in the fields or cycling on her bike, she’s in the kitchen,
because my stepmother is very vigilant, but she’s a super user, she builds
friends’ sites and stuff.

But just as I don’t go out looking for stories that effect specifically black people,
Asian people, old people, you know I don’t go out looking for stories about young
people but I think there’s always going to be stuff in our programmes that would
interest them and it’s done in a way that feels plugged in and lively. I find the
BBC so incredibly condescending and so incredibly authoritative in a bad way
and pompous. Bbc television news can sometimes feel like Radio 4 Today at it’s
worst. Today is a good programme, I listen to the 10 past 8 interview like
everyone else does but I also listen to Five Live and I also listen to Radio 1 and I
just find that it’s very aunty and I don’t want to be like that. I think in railing
against that we’re trying to make our programmes a little bit less conservative
and told from the inside, whoever’s effected by the stories.

How important is new media in holding on to and attracting audiences?

Our website now is abysmal but look at it on May 1st. It’s taken me three years to
get the funding and support for this. On May 1st ITV are re-launching their entire
broadband operation and within that there is going to be a major push of a
component on news. And on that day I’m launching a site called uploaded. It’s
the offering but it’s grounded around the uploaded and it’s got a
brand of its own. It’s really new and interesting and I think it’s going to be really
exciting. It’s based around what I call the virtuous circle of promotion, which is, if
you look at Sky, BBC, CNN, all the big news brands, somewhere on their site you
will find a place for citizen journalism tucked away in a little corner. We all know
this thing is growing, it’s the sort of elephant on the internet, if you like, and on
the fringes of our main activity we are sort of saying well here’s a place we can
do that. But nobody’s saying, right, I’m going to own it, I’m going to put it at the
core of what I do, but I’m about to do that. So what we’re doing is every day on
our uploaded site, on the broadband, there will be a debate of the day. Now
yesterday it would have been were NBC right to air those images? Was it too
offensive? Is it going to fuel another copycat killing? Should they have been kept

in the can and given to the police? Was it right or wrong, what do you think?
There will be various bits of video they can look at, previous stories where
questionable video has been aired and come out, martyrdom videos, should that
have been aired as well? All that kind of stuff to prompt and provoke thought will
be on there and what we’re asking people to do is to upload their views on that
story, either via the mobile phone or the webcam, and send them in. And what
I’m going to do on the lunchtime news, the evening news and the 10.30 news on
ITV, where across the day there are between 9 and 10 million people watching,
take the cream of those soundbites and put them on the television and off the
back of the story that we’ve done from Virginia, you know, Mark Austin would say
this has been the discussion all day on uploaded, we want to find out what you
think about this, here is the best of what we’ve been hearing. Then hopefully we’ll
hear some quite provocative stuff. I think using real people is a great way of
getting a bit of edge into your programme because they tend to have views that
we might not express in that form, because it’s not our job, and the people we
are interviewing all the time tend to be from polite society and might not be quite
so blunt, experts and politicians, etc, real people say things in a real way. We’ll
run three of those, probably, and then of the back say well if you’d like some
more or if you’d like to upload your own views, contribute to it by going to
uploaded and we’ll give them the address.

So there’s a kind of circle of promotion and it’s saying we’re going to put citizen
journalism at the heart of what we do because it’s something that you can’t
ignore anymore, the power of the consumer, the power of the news user. I
remember up to even a couple of years ago we were still in the habit of doing
those awful voxpops where some poor young producer has been forced to
accost some poor shopper in the street and say ‘what do you think about the
price of bread?’ and they don’t really care and they don’t really know what they
think about it because it hasn’t occurred to them to think about it and they give
you some meaningless soundbite and you cut three of them together forming a
‘representative view’ of what people think and it fills a package. It’s rubbish. But
now what we’ve got is voxpops with a purpose or voxpops with a meaning
because these people, by definition, are engaged enough to have gone forward
to their phone and computer and sent you their views because it they feel it
matters to them so you’ve actually got something that means something, finally.
So I think it’ll drive debate, I think it’ll be a fantastic news stream of coverage, it’ll
bring in more young viewers I hope, but I actually want to democratise this idea
that citizen journalism and engagement online is for young people because I
think there are a lot of older people, or people who don’t traditionally do that kind
of stuff, that might want to get involved and because we are very mainstream, on
a very mainstream channel, I’m really hoping that they will, that it won’t just be 17
or 21 year olds that do this, that it’ll be a cross section.

There are other things on the sight. There is caught on camera, if you’ve got
some great video upload it. There is News…the top ten news stories of the day
with all the best video attached. You can subscribe to get ITV News on the go,

short mobile bulletins, which will be anchored by Mark Austin or Mary

Is there going to be a market for people’s videos with broadcasters bidding
for them?

I think it already has really. I think there are two types of caught on camera
material. There’s the stuff that people catch on camera like lightening strikes,
stuff that when the right news story is around we want it but it’s not really worth
anything. Then there’s the stuff they catch on camera that is really valuable,
when something incredible happens. I bought the pictures of the 21/7 bombers
being arrested. [£60,000?] Yeah. That’s the price of a really, really big exclusive
like that, yeah, I did a deal with the Daily Mail so I didn’t do all of it. I bought the
only pictures that exist of the bungled terrible raid in East London, where they
shot the guy. It was one 20 second clip and we found the guy and we got it. I
paid a lot less, less than £10,000 but it’s in our library forever and it’s useful. So
on our site there is the caught on camera upload lightening strike pictures here
and there’s another bit that says if you’ve got something truly exclusive here’s a
hot phone number for our news desk because I know the people who have got
something really valuable are not going to give it to me free, they’re a bit more
savvy than that. If they’ve got as far as the website with their picture then they
know it’s worth something.

And all the broadcasters are willing to pay?

The BBC will tell you they’re not but they are because I know they are.
If I get something really good news I just stick ITV Exclusive on it. I remember on
that day we had the arrest footage we sent out a legal note saying you cannot
have but they all did. The BBC with a peg on their nose ran it – ‘a commercial
broadcaster purchased these pictures’. But they have the ITV strap on them,
which is great, you couldn’t buy that kind of advertising. It has everything, so I
never mind buying that stuff.

NBC were criticised for airing the tape they were sent by the Virginia killer.
Would you have done the same?

I would probably have worked a little bit more closely with the police and
probably waited another day, because NBC was so excited about it I think they
suspected that the police might do something that would morally prevent them
from running it. They got this stuff and said, oh my God, this is the biggest
exclusive ever and said, well, we’ll have to talk to the police. So they cut it using
the bits they thought were acceptable for airing and while they were cutting it
they went to the police and said, we’ve been given this stuff, have a look at it,

and they aired it. But they gave it to the police a very short time before they aired
it and they didn’t give the police a chance to..I’m don’t think they ensure all the
families were warned.

NBC but their brand mark on the footage. Is that something you’d do, is
that good publicity?

They put NBC News but not exclusive. I don’t know that I would want ITV News
associated with him in that way. I think I probably wouldn’t have done that. No I
think I wouldn’t have branded it. And I don’t think they waited, I don’t think all the
families were warned. Imagine the pain of being one of those relatives and
turning on the news and you see that. I think there’s a real duty of care there,
you’ve got to respect. They got some of the backlash they deserved. They aired
it on the day they received it.

We are so careful with that stuff. I remember when we broke the Charles
Kennedy story. We had incontrovertible proof that he was an alcoholic, he was
receiving treatment and that senior party colleagues wanted him to go because
they’d had enough of it. We had that for two days and we wanted to debate every
single possible outcome, repercussion, impact on him, on us. If you rush into
these things you tend to regret it because you’ve overlooked something in the
excitement of rushing to air. We involve our compliance lawyer in everything,
absolutely everything we do. He’s a great guide on where we’re going to come



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