Briefing Notes: Channel 4 News
Liliane told us about her own background, she is from Cuban-Arab parentage, brought up largely in the Arab world, with French as her native language. She spent more than 20 years at the BBC World Service, first working in the French language service and ultimately rising to head of the language services, managing 1,400 people, 40 language services and 60 overseas bureaux. She was one of those responsible for enabling WS reporters to report for the main UK bulletins, something that some in the BBC fiercely resisted at the time. Liliane left the BBC last year and joined Channel 4 News.
Liliane spoke about the different cultures. Channel 4 News had more attitude and because it had far fewer resources, needed to be much more selective about the stories it covered. C4N has two bureaux, Washington and Bangkok, and 4-5 foreign correspondents. Most of the correspondents can be sent anywhere. Jonathan Miller is in Bangkok and he covered the Rohingya story. If there is a story in China it’s likely that Lindsey Hilsum will do it. Jamal Osman is Somali and often covers African stories.
Liliane gave examples of some recent foreign stories and explained why she had chosen to commission them.
Save the Children pitched a story in the DRC camps. Liliane had already been watching the DRC, wanting to cover it. What clinched it for Save was that they could provide access to places that the C4N team could not get to on their own. Nevertheless this was a big investment. £18K for a 6-8 minute piece. There were some tensions at one point during the shoot with the Save team wanting the film crew to go somewhere and the producer preferring to do something else instead.
Liliane was keen to point out that if you wish to collaborate with C4N you cannot expect them simply to focus on your work, they will use their journalistic judgment to decide on the editorial focus, and they will not necessarily name check the organisation that has given them access.
For another recent foreign story, Jamal Osman went to Kenya to look at sex tourism. Men from the UK and the US are going to Kenya, finding themselves a wife, marrying, and then leaving her behind, often pregnant with a child on the way.
C4N has a big online presence – many reports from the programme are run at 2-3 minutes on Facebook and achieve a high number of views. On YouTube they sometimes show longer cuts, running to 8-10 minutes. They have a big following on Twitter and many reporters – like Alex Thomson – engage extensively with comments.
Liliane was clear on the best way to pitch to her: short emails, to the point! Don’t bother with ‘hello, how are you?’ When you’re emailing be very clear on the story, saying why it is important, on the contacts and access that you have, and what the new angle is. Every story they commission should have a strong character and an unfolding trajectory. Liliane understands that when you pitch initially you may not yet have the character in mind.
At the moment her main focus is the US mid-term elections, Afghanistan and the continuing violence there, India and the rise of Hindu nationalism, and the disintegration and rise of the far right across Europe.
There are a number of areas that she is watching and would like to cover in the future: South Sudan, Palestinian territories, Rohingya (looking for the right moment to return to the story), Myanmar, North Korea, Yemen, Syrian girl refugees in Jordan/Lebanon. There are also plans to do a story on the ivory trade.
Liliane has a strong interest in resilience – she doesn’t want to keep running stories that show people like the Rohingya as victims.
She has a report in the pipeline from the refugee camp in Lesbos. One of the things C4N will do is to return to important stories after the rest of the media has moved on.
Liliane was asked about the lead time – with a special feature like DRC it needs to be several weeks, as there is a lot of setting up involved.
C4N does not cover elections although it is currently doing a piece from Brazil on race.
Liliane Landor, Head of Foreign News Liliane.email@example.com