Briefing Notes: Channel 4 News Digital
Georgia.Graham@itn.co.uk deputy head of digital
Daisy.Ayliffe@itn.co.uk editor of Uncovered
Liliane.Landor@itnc.co.uk head of foreign news
Alex.Thomson@itn.co.uk leading on Emergency on Planet Earth strand
Jack.Parkes@itn.co.uk for Rated queries/pitches
Sarah.Gough@itn.co.uk for Ways to Change the World and Politics: Where Next?
If you are contacting any of the above please note what Georgia has said: Can I please make a plea to your colleagues to think hard about whether pitches are relevant / new / have the right access rather than just adding us to mailing lists and bunging things over. We are a small team with very limited resources and time and if people are overwhelmed with millions of pitches it will be hard for them to answer any of them.
Georgia explained how the digital output of Channel 4 News has evolved. Initially, they just focused on short 2-3 minute films for Facebook. These were mainly cut downs of longer pieces that ran on the main TV news. They learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t. These short films usually focused on one character and had a clear narrative. They often opened with a moment of high drama that pulled you in and kept you watching. Many of these went viral and Channel 4 News started to develop a following online.
Georgia was there at the beginning – having trained as a journalist, she then moved into digital. Many of the present team have also been there for a number of years. They approach stories and storytelling in a different way from their colleagues on C4N. Initially the two operations – news and digital – were very separate but now there is much more overlap and digital pieces will run on the main bulletin.
Digital has a different audience from the TV bulletin – it is younger than the TV audience and much bigger in terms of numbers. The digital audience have not migrated to TV so C4N viewing figures have stayed the same. Roughly half of the digital audience is in the UK, a quarter in the US and the remaining quarter from other countries. When an international story runs online it usually gets a spike in the country that is featured in the piece.
C4N digital has now expanded and has a number of different elements:
- Cut downs of TV reports for Facebook – these could run up to 2 minutes and are the bread and butter of their output
- Longer pieces for YouTube – up to 8 minutes
- Backgrounder animations explaining Brexit and other topical issues – could be longer, up to 10 or 12 minutes
- FactCheck Explained – C4N’s fact check unit looks at topical issues
- Rated – a new strand on Instagram which also features topical issues such as maternity leave
- Uncovered – weekly 10 minute international reports for Facebook Watch.
- Podcasts which run as videos and audios – Ways to Change the World with Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Politics- Where Next? with Gary Gibbon
- Cut downs of Unreported World for Facebook
They always shoot their own material. Georgia said she would rarely be interested in using NGO footage unless it included access to somewhere that C4N could not get to – for example during a humanitarian emergency. If you are planning a content gathering trip she said, get in touch before you go, not afterwards.
Georgia is the main contact person for most of the different strands apart from Uncovered which Daisy commissions. Uncovered is a great opportunity for IBT members to pitch stories. Pitches can go direct to Daisy. A few are shot in the UK but most of the 52 episodes are shot abroad and shot specifically for Uncovered. If they like the story they will send a reporter and crew and they have the budget to do so. The editorial content is decided by C4N alone – Facebook do not get involved in editorial. They seem happy with the strand it looks like it will continue.
If you’re pitching to Uncovered, it helps a lot if you have a character or case study, but it’s not essential. Special access and a compelling story are key. They are also keen to see people resisting rather than just stories of helpless victims. Whilst the TV news sticks to a narrow international agenda, Uncovered has much more freedom and in particular brings reports from South America which are often made by freelancer Guillermo Galdos. Recent stories that have featured in Uncovered include leaving the west for a warzone (Somalia), Syria – trapped in Idlib, amputees in Gaza, trans coffee pickers in Colombia, oil drilling in the Arctic, climate stories from Greenland and Norway. They have a new climate strand Emergency on Planet Earth which Alex Thomson is leading on.
Georgia showed a clip of a very popular early episode of Uncovered which featured Yousra Elgabir reporting on the protests and repression in Sudan. They are trying to use younger and more diverse reporters and Yousra is a good example. Georgia said her style of reporting fitted well with what they were looking for. The two dedicated reporters on Uncovered are Ayshah Tull and Kiran Moodley but others from C4N team will often do reports.
Uncovered is broadcast in a vertical format specially designed to be viewed on a mobile but it is shot conventionally with a professional crew. It is not shot with an iPhone. Georgia said they were broadcasters at heart and picture and sound quality were important.
Georgia and her colleagues are constantly reinventing their output. Last week they launched their latest venture, the Rated strand on Instagram. They have been given the freedom to experiment but their overriding ethos is to produce public service rather than commercial content. Rated runs short Instagram stories every Thursday that feature interactive polls, interesting facts and topical issues.
The FactCheck Explained also looks at topical issues. Recent examples include carbon offsetting, plastic recycling, the House of Lords, fast fashion. You can see more on the C4N FactCheck strand here https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck
Georgia advised that if you are pitching to her then make sure you watch their content and work out for yourself what works and what doesn’t. However, beware that nothing is set in stone. Digital is constantly evolving so things may look quite different in six months’ time.