Friday, April 29, 2005

vox populis

When Sid Vicious was asked whether he made records for the man in the street, his apocryphal reply was: "I've met the man in the street and he's a c***".

I think with election fever sweeping us, this is an important point to remember. All the news channels and papers feel like they have to saturate us with election coverage - a rare way for them to feel like they are performing a public service at little cost to themselves. So what to do when they're running out of ideas, don't want to shell out for a Michael Crick-style helicopter or something similar. The answer is simple: vox pops.

They are everywhere now. I know this is a contentious issue, with some people thinking that it's snobbish to believe "ordinary people" (i.e. the usual media suspects) don't have anything to say. I'm sure that most of them are very interesting and yes, everyone has a right to their opinion, and yes, the media should stop being so navel-gazing... But the very nature of the format means that this is never going to come across.

First of all, there's the problem of selection. Just because someone is morbidly obese doesn't necessarily mean that they have any insight into the West's obesity epidemic. If they were asked about the personal side of being overweight - the problems and discrimination they face - that would be valid and useful. But too often they're not, and media types desperate for a soundbite (and usually, one that blames someone or something, so the story can be called a 'row') ask them hugely inappropriate questions.

A classic example on CNN on tuesday night. As part of their election coverage, they are seeking the views of the man in the street. Their choice: a lorry driver. Fair enough, he might have interesting things to say on fuel tax, or motorway charging. But no, they ask him about Iraq and the EU. He doesn't care, and repeats a few opinions parroted from some newspaper. So really, they might as well have asked the Sun (or whoever) because that's whose opinion they're getting.

News organisations need to learn that vox pops need to be about a personal viewpoint, gained by someone's life being affected by wider events. They shouldn't just be some ill-prepared, ill-informed random, whose views are privileged just because he is one of the few people left not to have a newspaper column.


Blogger Artegall said...

Absolutely...regional papers are the worst. In fact, a bit of praise for The Mail - it hardly ever resorts to this kind of space filling. I can see the point of vox pops at a demonstration, say, or any other big event - but to have this going on throughout the election tells you nothing about the mood of the nation.

5/01/2005 4:19 pm  
Blogger galatea said...

but admittedly, the Mail still injects a "real people" quota into the paper, it's just that their man in the street is probably a woman, and she's probably got a hideous medical complaint.

5/02/2005 12:12 am  

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