Making the Media S3E06 Guest, Michael Jermey

S3E06:

ITV News has been at the heart of British broadcasting for more than sixty years. How is it planning to take on the streaming platforms with news at its core and deliver a new experience for its audience?

In the sixth episode of season three of the Making the Media Podcast, host Craig Wilson is joined by ITV’s Director of News and Current Affairs, Michael Jermey.

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Listen to Hear:

  • New innovations in how news is being delivered
  • Why ITV believes in the intelligence of its audience
  • How news teams collaborate to ensure efficient operations

Our Guest This Episode

Michael Jermey, Director of News and Current Affairs, ITV

Michael has led ITV's expansion of news programming and investigative current affairs output over the past decade on both television and digital platforms.

Michael is a news industry veteran. Early in his career he worked on location on stories such as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the 1990-91 Gulf War. In the early 1990s he was program editor of ITV's flagship program, News at Ten, and went on to run ITV's international newsgathering, and later all its regional news operations across the UK.

As director of news and current affairs, he commissioned the first UK General Election leaders' debate in 2010 and subsequent debate program at every national election since. He's expanded the channel's broadcast journalism with the launch of political series Peston, the award winning investigative current affairs strand Exposure, and international affairs program On Assignment.

In March 2022, Michael launched a new hour-long evening news program on ITV's main channel. It's currently the best rating commercial news program in the UK. Before the end of 2022, Michael will lead the launch of a bespoke news service designed for ITV's new free streaming platform, ITVX.

Michael is an advocate for strong, impartial public service broadcasting. He is an honorary visiting Professor at the Cardiff University Journalism School and a former Chair of the Rory Peck Trust, a charity devoted to the safety of freelance journalists and camera operators. He has a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from the University of Oxford.

I think any well-established broadcaster needs […] to better combine what we do have done for a long time traditionally, and very well, and not give that up, but also to be able to combine what we do and have done for a long time traditionally and very well and not give that up, but also to adapt and change to the way lots of younger consumers are choosing to consume news.

Michael Jermey, Director of News and Current Affairs, ITV

Mentioned in This Episode

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Episode Transcript

Craig Wilson: Hi, Craig Wilson here, and this is the Making the Media Podcast. Welcome if this is your first time joining us, and for our regular listeners, thanks again for being here.

Michael Jermey is my guest for this episode, and he is the director of news and current affairs for ITV in the UK. He is responsible for all of the regional, national, and international content produced by ITV, who are one of the country’s largest commercial broadcasters.

So, how do they balance the need for high-quality local and national TV services along with increasing demands for digital content in a highly competitive market, retaining existing audiences and attracting new ones? Well, in addition to their current output, ITV have ambitious plans, including the launch of new streaming channel, called ITVX, which will have a distinct news service.

We will talk about all of that, but first I asked Michael to outline a bit of background to ITV itself.

Michael Jermey: ITV was the second channel launched in the UK back in 1955. The BBC were there before us, but we were really the first commercial broadcaster in Europe. It was set up in the 1950s as a collection of regional stations that came together for national broadcasting, evolved over the 50 years after that and then from about 2004 came together as one company. It's now one organization that broadcasts to most of the United Kingdom. It has a big international production business and in fact its production arm is as big now as its broadcast arm within the UK. But that regional heritage that ITV has had right since the beginning is still there with strong regional news programming right across the country, and we produce both network news and regional news and the viewership for those two is very similar. We get millions of viewers in the 6:00 to 7:30 news period and as many people watch our regional output as watch our national output.

CW: So you mentioned there about the strong heritage that ITV has in regions and I want to explore that a little bit. How would you characterize the kind of relationship that your audience has with the staff who work in the regions? One of the things that we've explored a bit in the podcast is about that close relationship that people feel to local news. I wonder how you would describe that within the ITV regions?

MJ: Yeah, no, I think you're absolutely right. My experience of that, and I've worked both in regional journalism and in national journalism is that viewers value both. But it's probably not too strong a thing to say I think that a lot of viewers love their local news broadcast. They feel that it's part of their community. They're much more interested in meeting their regional news presenter than they are a national news presenter. And there's a real affinity between the audience and the broadcast in most regions right across the country.

CW:And what do you think that says about the nature of news that's expected to be delivered in those regions?

MJ:I think people want slightly different things from national broadcasting and regional broadcasting. National broadcasting, they absolutely expect accuracy, due impartiality, high levels of professionalism, news that affects the whole country. They like a window internationally on the world. And they expect a lot of those same things from a regional broadcast. They absolutely want it to be accurate. They absolutely want it to be impartial. They want it to be professional, but they're also looking for a connection that involves warmth, that involves a sense that that broadcast is on their side, that it celebrates the region that they're in.

They also, are pleased when they see young journalists working on that service. Perhaps young journalists who've grown up in the region who are still learning their craft. They're pleased when they see those people's careers progress over time—sometimes very proud when a journalist started perhaps in their early 20s in their region goes on to be a national broadcaster later. And so there's a close connection between the audience and the regional broadcaster. It feels more a relationship of family, perhaps that may be an exaggeration but there is that sort of familial connection and it's a much more intimate relationship. People hear their particular village or certainly their town mentioned on the broadcast from time to time. They like that connection, and they feel a sense of ownership of their local station that perhaps they don't feel and it's much harder to feel of a national broadcasting.

CW: You mentioned earlier on about how ITV was that collection of regions that's come together as one company. How important is it to maintain that sense of a local connection even although it is now ITV PLC as opposed to Carlton? Or Granada, or Yorkshire, or the regions that existed before.

MJ: It is important, and it runs through ITV's DNA. So, we are a big company, ITV PLC, a publicly quoted company with, big international production arm around the world. But we are also a local broadcaster right across, the vast majority of the UK. We have 30 offices in every corner of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, southern Scotland, and the Channel Islands, and we would sacrifice that local connection at our peril. We get big audiences for our local news programming everywhere and I think the advantage nowadays of the combination of all those regions as part of a bigger news division are that they are fully invested in work on the latest technology, are able to learn from each other, but are also still genuinely authentically local. All the decision making about what they cover, the running order on a given day, the stories they're interested in, all those decisions are made locally rather than at a head office.

And in a sense ITV as a whole is able to support all those local newsrooms in making programs with high production values and with proper investment behind them.

CW: So you mentioned. What about 30 offices across the nations and regions of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and southern Scotland. Some of the regions are quite large. I mean, Wales for example is covering an entire nation. So how important or how challenging is it I guess to cover some of those regions? I mean, you mentioned about the southern Scotland, so border, for people who don't know, covers the northern part of England, and southern Scotland… very rural area. Lots of different challenges along the way as the Isle of Man included in that as well. So I'm interested in how you deal with those kind of challenges of covering those kind of areas.

MJ:Sure, I think there's a balance to be struck. In an ideal world, most people would probably want a high production value, expensive-looking television news service about their local town. The truth is though that the economics of that just wouldn't work. And so if you try very local television on the whole it has much lower production values, probably journalism that isn't of quite the same standard, a look and feel that viewers feel doesn't compare with national broadcasting.

But what we've found with regional broadcasting is if you get the size of area right, we can discuss that further in a moment, you can have those same high production values, strong journalism, rich variety of stories, and a program that people feel is sufficiently local but also a compelling and attractive watch. ITV has tweaked the shape and size of its regions over the years, and it's been an iterative process. So I think where we are now with 18 separate and distinct programs, we've got the regionality about right.

So, in the northwest of England for instance you have one service that looks after the area of Manchester and Liverpool and the old mill towns in the northwest and has been doing that since actually since the beginning of Granada Television. And Granada has almost, its name itself is sometimes… people refer to that part of the country is Granada Land. Gave an identity to the region that perhaps didn't fully exist before and he brought it together. Some areas are much smaller than others.

You talk about a big rural region like border television and it covers from the Lake District up into southern Scotland, from Stranraer right across to Iron Mouth in the east of Scotland. But it's an area that has a very rural nature, a lot of issues affect people right across that area in common, and we devote a lot of broadcasting hours to a predominantly rural region. And the share for border television is higher than the share you get for a lot of urban areas. It suggests the viewers, even in a very big region, think we're doing something right.

CW: We've talked a lot about broadcast, Michael, but as we know, the world has moved on, it's not just about broadcast now. So how are ITV News addressing people who want to get news online, they want to get news on their phone. How are they addressing those kind of markets now?

MJ: No, you're absolutely right that consumer behavior has changed over the years. The advent of digital technology means people are consuming news in lots of different ways. And we're trying to, with both regional broadcasting and national broadcasting, reach viewers, consumers, even now readers sometimes about our content in the way they want to consume it.

So, our big broadcast programs are still very well watched, but it's possible to go to our app or to our website and see a similar agenda covered at all hours of the day. It's possible to engage with ITV News or parts of ITV News in different regions through social media. So we are on most of the platforms where our consumers want to see us and we've also in recent times honed our product to work on those platforms and also to go after the particular parts of our potential audience.

So we identified, for instance, a small number of years ago that young people, they trusted ITV News, but they slightly thought that it was something their parents watched. And here I'm talking about a teenage audience. So we launched a program specifically for them called The Rundown. We put it on social media platforms where they were active, our Daily Bulletin, we put out at 3:45 when schools were letting their pupils go home, and it's had a massively positive response. It has the same public service values as all our programs, which is presented in a style aimed at appealing to 14 to 17 year old’s. And the way we know that it appeals to them is we went out before we launched it and asked them what style they wanted that broadcast to have and have checked in with them subsequently.

So that's an example, if you like, of values that we hold dear around public service broadcasting—being impartial, being inaccurate, covering stories of some consequence, but very much doing it in a style that different parts of that audience want to consume. And I think that's one of the great benefits that digital technology gives you is that you can target specific bits of the audience.

You know, we launched on TikTok probably only a year ago and we've now got 1.3 million followers on TikTok. It's has a completely and utterly different style from our main programs, but again, the same value in the same content, the same essential content.

And one of the things we've actually found, perhaps a little bit to our surprise, is that elements of our traditional work can work very well in that different context. So, half hour program like news at 10 the top leading, written distinctly by Tom Bradbury, that really sort of sometimes cuts to the essence of the story, when you put that out as a 40-second TikTok, you can get an awful lot of young people who perhaps don't want to spend half an hour watching a program, but like a personalized take on the story, and that can really cut through in that new environment.

CW:That's really interesting, Michael. I'm interested in how you try to coordinate I guess between you the broadcast side of the business and that digital side of the business. Are your newsrooms trying to organize where it's about creating content and regardless of the platform or does one have sort of primacy over others?

MJ: It's really interesting question, Craig, because I think lots of news organizations over the last 10 years have tried different things in that regard. And I think what I would describe it as now is that our newsroom has a number of teams within it who are very conscious of the particular audience that they're trying to serve, but they work very well across the team. So, when we haven't got just a set of people who are putting out news at 10 and creating digital content and looking after the lunchtime news and trying to create TikTok, but we've got teams that are looking at each of those sorts of platforms and cross pollinating, looking at material that's gathered for news at 10 and how could that work in social media or how could it work on this platform or that platform. And also a lot of our colleagues work across those services. So you might be a producer who spends a time working on news at 10 but also wants to work on digital at other points. So it's a combination of dedicated teams but very much working as one team overall.

And in the sense I'd expand that to think about the relationship between our regional newsrooms and our national newsroom. Our national newsroom turns to our regional newsroom for a lot of material but also often a local take on a regional story and in the opposing direction some of our national journalists, perhaps on a big international story, will provide feeds to our local newsroom.

We are an organization of some size but small enough to better get that really cooperative environment going across all our services.

CW:And are you finding as newer journalist joined the organization there is a blurring of lines between the platform, which is seen as the most important one because I think our own experience in journalism, I came from newspapers and then moved into television. A lot of people now they're coming through colleges and universities, they're very much being trained as multimedia journalists, and that ability to work in that way. Do you see that with staff who are joining you now?

MJ: Absolutely Craig. I remember a good number of years ago now being used to the fact that I would sometimes be trying to persuade older colleagues of the desirability of journalists picking up a camera or operating various forms of technology and working across platforms and realizing that there was a degree of advocacy required to do that as we tried to move in that direction. And then talking to younger people who were coming out of colleges and realizing that they didn't need persuading, they thought we weren't multi-skilled enough. We weren't giving people enough opportunity to work across different platforms. And I think the young people who've come into our organization in recent years have been enormous catalysts for change we try to give them the opportunity to work on every platform and not to not use the skills they've learned before joining us. And we tried to add to those skills and give them the ability to operate across all our output and all our platforms.

I was talking yesterday to a young colleague who said she didn't own a television set and consumed all her media through her iPad and her phone and got an awful lot of her news from TikTok and other social media, and I think any well-established broadcaster needs to be very open to that and to be able to combine what we do and have done for a long time traditionally and very well and not give that up, but also to adapt and change to the way lots of younger consumers are choosing to consume news.

CW; We've spoken a lot about the regions, Michael. Perhaps let's talk about network and for a little bit if that's ok, how does ITV try to be distinctive in its news coverage? And what I'm thinking about here is not just the news programs, but what you do in current affairs as well. What's the kind of… I don't know if agenda is the right word, but what's sort of approach that you take to the program that you want to make?

>MJ: Well, we've expanded what we do in current affairs in recent years and expanded on what we do in in national news. And I think what I would say the theme of that expansion and adding titles is almost, I think the best way to describe it is the opposite of dumbing down. We think we have millions of highly intelligent viewers right across the country who want. To understand how the world works, want to understand the implications of government decisions and so forth, and that we have a responsibility in a completely [inaudible] way, in a way, to explain those issues, make them really accessible to our viewers. And we think of our viewers in a sense as friends we want to communicate with on a level. We don't see ourselves—as some, perhaps some national broadcasters do—as handing down tablets from the mountains about what the news is, but want to have a well-informed, intelligent conversation with our viewers and with our news broadcasting on television.

We've expanded the duration of our main Early Evening News from half-an-hour to an hour because there was an appetite we felt from our audience for more news, particularly news right around the UK rather than being London-centric as some of the other broadcasters perhaps are. And news at 10, which we thought a few years ago that news at 10 comes at the end of the day, when nowadays so many viewers are very conscious of what's gone on through the day because of what we've seen on their phone or on social media or what have you. But news at 10 in a very distinctive style adds value to an explanation to what those big stories are at the end of the day, rather than just reporting the news. And so on television, we've invested in a sort of smartening-up process of the news on a belief that our viewers want information, but they are highly intelligent, sophisticated, and we don't need to dumb down at all.

I think that television 15-20 years ago probably across Europe and in the United States thought that you should do the opposite way to get viewers, was to make it simpler, to not deal with challenging subjects. And I actually think that what we've done, have become more challenging, and at the same time enormously accessible, and that's for us has been a successful format.

And as when we were discussing digital earlier, doing all those things not just on television but in digital versions, we've been doing quite a lot of podcasts, quite a lot of discussions on in an audio off the back of our television programs often related to our television programs and there's an audience for that. And we are before the end of this year launching a new service on ITV’s Player, which I think will move news reporting into an area that haven't really gone there yet. So ITV before the end of 2022 will be launching ITV X, which is a free player with 10,000-plus hours of entertainment, drama, not only ITV's back catalogue but original productions, big UK-based dramas launching there before they're on the main channel box sets, a number of fast channels where true crime or a drama channel will be available to people. So it won't just be a catch-up destination, it will be somewhere you can spend the evening discovering what you want to watch with some really high-quality material.

Similar, if you like, to some of the other big streamers that are available, but the big point of difference is that this is free to air, that people won't have to pay for it, and within that, and this hasn't to date been done I don't think on any other stream or at least not in this form, a prominent rail in there that is a ITV News, and you will be able to see an up-to-date video on-demand bulletin and coverage of all the main stories of the day, made for a TV X, made for the platform.

So we've taken on 20 new journalists working as part of the overall team, we're investing several million pounds in the news product on the rail. And at the moment, if you want to consume news, there are lots of ways of doing it. You can go to a news channel, you can wait for one of the big news programs on one of the big channels, you can go to your phone, you can go to your tablet. You can't at the moment see on a connected television set in the corner of your room news on demand that allows you to select what storage you want to be of high quality and constantly updated, so it's not repeat television, it's up to date news. That doesn't currently exist, and we think that's a service that our viewers will appreciate and want to use.

CW:And I think it's an interesting approach as you mentioned there, are we here in the UK, there are, of course, 24-hour news channels that have existed and since we’re in fact going back a long time, ITV of course, had a 24-hour news channel many a number of years ago. But I'm interested in that kind of approach Michael about is that trying to reflect the lives that people lead today where I've got 20 minutes free, I wonder what's happening, and I have taken try and take advantage of that, as opposed to appointment to view television, which is something like the news at 10 that you mentioned.

MJ: It is absolutely that and I don't want to be at all dismissive of other forms of television news.

There are times when you want to go to a news channel and you want to spend an hour watching a live event or even an hour just catching up on all the news of the day. I don't think appointment to view news programs on the big entertainment channels will disappear anytime soon either. Sometimes I think that's a great way of consuming news. You watch the 9:00 o'clock drama, then you can watch news at 10, and then you can watch what's after. And millions of people still choose to do that.

But I think you're right that consumers want to do what they want to do in the in the mood they're in. And I think that there will be an audience that wants to be honest streamer watching perhaps a live program on ITV through ITV X, perhaps planning to catch up on a new drama that dropped exclusively there a few days before that they haven't seen yet. And in between we'll think, oh, I haven't caught up on the news in the last few hours. I haven't seen the news at all today. Let me see what's on the rail, which of those stories of my particularly interested in, I'd like to hear all the news of the day, but summarized in two or three minutes, and all those options will be there. So this is about increasing choice for consumers, increasing choice for news viewers. It's not going to replace any of the other forms, but it does add something that's distinct and doesn't to date exist.

CW: So, we obviously, viewers consumption habits have changed, but also the technology has changed around the delivery of news, as well. So how does ITV try to take advantage of those kind of changes as well?

MJ: Now you're absolutely right, Craig, I think, it's interesting, I've worked in television news from the days when you would go out to do a live broadcast with a big crew, you might have to wait for permission from the post office or British Telecom to use a satellite dish. I'm talking about the rules in the 1980s…

CW: …I remember those days.

>MJ: …a world in which our journalists are equipped with mobile phones, can shoot on them, can feedback, can edit in the field on their laptop. And we've adopted every form of technology and try to use it for its correct purpose. So there will be high-end documentaries that we will still film on high-end cameras that use the latest, quite-large state-of-the-art editing equipment to produce an almost filmic feel. On other occasions we will use a single camera operated by a regional journalist who will turn that around on their laptop feedback over the 4G or 5G network and get it on the news within an hour.

And then I think most interestingly in a way is that middle space where you actually find some of that lightweight technology that doesn't slow you down, doesn't make you obtrusive used on some of our films. For instance, the documentary we're putting out this week on human rights in Qatar, where you make great use of that lightweight technology to tell a story that would have been very hard to tell with big traditional television crews. So it's finding the right technology and using it in the in the right way.

think technology is helping us link up our organization so that a journalist working in Newcastle can see instantly material shot in Bristol that might have relevance to the story that they are working on. That all our journalists can use planning tools where they see what every other bit of ITV News, whether it's elsewhere in the UK or internationally is working on that day. Accessing video from anywhere across the organization, being able to edit it and get it to where in different forms for different audiences. And I think technology over the time I've been working in television has just enabled better and better journalism. And I see that trend continuing.

CW:Is also a part of it about enabling people to work more efficiently?

MJ: Yes, it is. And I think liberating people to spend their time on the journalism rather than getting around the difficulties of old-fashioned, clunky technology. I think that the costs of television production in a sense have come down through the use of technology. But so in the opposite direction has gone the ambition. You can be much more ambitious about what can be achieved. And I sometimes think when people talk about a golden age of television journalism, which is normally, the decade in which they entered the industry, I think that's a myth. I think television news and visual news on whatever platform actually has gone from strength to strength, I think it's possible to reach more places, to tell more stories, to do it in more interesting forms than it ever has been before. And I think that's been enabled by two things. One, lots of new, younger, brighter people coming into the industry with new ideas and… it's a form of journalism that has existed for a bit over half century, but it's still developing in terms of the intellectual power that's being put into it, but also absolutely crucially in terms of the technology and the ability to take lightweight newsgathering or lightweight production tools, better move video around an organization and around the world quicker than ever before. All of that has driven our ability to an aged our ability to tell stories.

CW:Michael, I mean, it's great to talk to you. I agree. I mean I think it's a hugely exciting time to be in journalism. Lots of challenges along the way, but I do think it is and it's evident talking to you about how passionate you feel about it. What do you think the future holds for ITV News?

MJ: I think the future TV news is continuing to build on the great legacy that we've established over the decades of bringing to our audience stories that matter to them, stories that affect them, people, often people-centered stories to do that in a way that adds real public value to our society and our democracy. I think that we brought stories to people that matter, that have helped change the world, that have helped allow our viewers and UK citizens to hold power to account. And that in the future, it is continuing to do that, but always doing it in a changing context using new technology and new equipment that comes along to help us do that. And finding ways that younger audiences who choose to watch and consume news in different ways, that we adapt to that, but we don't get stuck in a view that the way we do things is the only way of doing it. That we learn from other bits of the industry, we learn from other content creators outside of the new sphere, that we continue to evolve and continue to be relevant to our viewers on whatever device or platform they want to watch. And I think ITV news does have a great history, but I also believe that our best years are ahead of us.

CW: Yeah, that's a great, great thought to end things on so. So Michael, there is one question I ask everyone who's on the podcast. So I will ask you. So, what is it, if anything, that keeps you up at night?

MJ:I sleep pretty soundly. I don't worry too much about things. I think there are important challenges that we need to be aware of. I think there are more people than there were ten years ago who try to question the veracity of honest journalism. I think that some of the things you've seen in the United States where there there's a lack of sharing of a common set of facts which makes democratic debate really quite hard. And I think the importance of public service broadcasting has never been greater and I very much hope that in European democracies, in the UK, sensible things are done to ensure that that continues to exist going forward. I think in the UK we have a number of public service broadcasters and a competitive news environment, all of which help underpin free debate, freedom of speech, democratic politics under the rule of law. We are one of the institutions that reinforces that and allows that to be healthy, and I think all of us involved in that and also why the wider political world and the wider citizens should recognize the value of that and ensure that we preserve it for the next decade and beyond.

CW:Really fascinating thoughts from Michael there on so many different topics and a lot to digest from the way they are delivering news to the changing habits of consumers and beyond.

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Check out the show notes to find out more information about how broadcasters are dealing with the challenges of remote working. Avid is enabling both rundown-centric and story-centric ways of working with our new solutions.

Get in touch on social, I am @CraigAW1969 on both Twitter and Instagram, or e-mail us at [email protected]. You can of course also follow Avid on all of our social channels to get the latest news on our products and solutions and other podcasts, too.

Thanks again to Michael for sharing his thoughts with us. Thanks to our producer Matt Diggs and thanks of course to you for listening. My name is Craig Wilson. Join us next time for more in-depth behind-the-scenes chat with the people making the media.