ONE of the first things they used to teach in hack school was to get names, where possible, for your story.
It’s probably not these days, the way journalism has changed, the first thing now is more likely to be how to meta-mingle a thousand web page impressions using a story zap app, or working out the best clickbait headlines about the best pictures of dogs helping cats to use telephones you will see today and how Stephen Fry broke the internet with a single tweet.
It used to be, however, something a little more basic, like if you are sent on a vox-pop, it’s not so good coming back without names. If you do, you are left with an unnamed man or woman hauled off the street, speaking for a community when they could be anyone.
I’m not a basher of the Beeb, not one of these folks who sees bias at every flick of Robert Peston’s new hipster hair or thinks every rally in Trafalgar Square is being deliberately kept off the News 24 airwaves. It must have been the heady rush of a ballot day deadline, all that excitement, that meant the names got left off Nick Robinson’s train station platform vox pop from Rochester on Thursday. There are no captions for the people he is buttonholing ‘on their way home’. Take a look.
Take a squint at the second person he interviews. The guy in the glasses is Camden’s former Conservative leader Piers Wauchope, who later moved away and defected to UKIP. In fact, he is soooo UKIP he is standing for the party at the next general election in Thanet. So the man being vox-popped, uncaptioned, and unsurprisingly, now you know who he is, moaning about the resolutely deaf ears of the three main parties, is a fully paid-up and locally prominent UKIP man.
Now, of course, nobody expects the BBC to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every local councillor in the country and what party they represent. But with Piers’s name – and it’s a pretty distinctive one – a tiny check on the internet reveals where his very out-there allegiances lie.
Some stolen air-time in a BBC vox-pop wasn’t going to influence the result of the election. UKIP was always going to win and this report was broadcast after the polls had closed. But it’s still a little odd, isn’t it?, that most people watching would have fairly assumed that these were all views of ordinary punters on their commute home, rather than parliamentary candidates. Piers was no doubt in town simply to help get out the vote.
Press play again below, and Nick Robinson was back on This Week for the by-election special later again that evening. Again, he was very happy with his “random” platform vox-pop. “What I’ve been very struck by just doing a random canvas of opinion on the station platform in Rochester… was the real breadth of support,”, he tells Andrew Neil. “Yes, you’ve got the rather posh guy from the city saying we’ve got to get on dealing with Europe and immigration, you get the much more lowly paid black woman – I only mention her colour because its often said of UKIP that they can’t appeal beyond the angry white working class – saying she thought it was worth giving people a try. And then you’ve got a traditional, northern Labour figure saying to me that he could no longer vote for Labour any more… Now that is a pretty impressive coalition that they have managed to assemble here and will give them victory in this seat.”
The point is fair, that UKIP has managed to appeal to a wider range of voters as the year has gone on, especially at by-election time. But again, we did not learn that the ‘rather posh guy from the City’ is an out-there UKIP parliamentary candidate who sits for his party on Tunbridge Wells council. It’s ol’ Piers of Hampstead.
No, I’m not sure if there’s such thing as a story zap app…