How I plan Brexit news coverage when there is no Brexit plan

Irishwoman Carol Jordan is head of planning with ITV News in London

Carol Jordan: ‘I’ve been speaking to people up and down the country, finding characters who can give a voice to the views of those on all sides of the Brexit debate.’

Carol Jordan: ‘I’ve been speaking to people up and down the country, finding characters who can give a voice to the views of those on all sides of the Brexit debate.’

 

“So what’s happening with Brexit then?”

It’s the question I field several times a day, the dreaded question I can never answer.

I’m a television journalist. I came to the UK the day after I handed in my thesis to UCC in 2000. I’ve been in journalism for more than 15 years, and have worked at CNN International and NBC News.

Since last summer I have been the head of planning at ITV News. I plan coverage for three of the UK’s most-watched daily news bulletins, with an average audience of 6 million across the day.

Planning news coverage is tricky. There’s no crystal news ball, yet I am expected to lay the foundations for the stories we will cover over the coming days, to tap into what will be the talking points of tomorrow while adhering to the highest editorial standards.

Brexit is without a doubt one of the most divisive stories I’ve ever had to cover.

While my Westminster colleagues follow and analyse the high-stakes chess game between London and Brussels, I focus on the bread and butter stories; what the realities of Brexit mean for our viewers. But it’s essential to get that delicate balance between being accused of promoting Project Fear and backing the Brexiteers.

Opinions are fervent and a quick look at Twitter after a news bulletin shows how strongly people feel about any Brexit-related content. It’s probably one of the best litmus tests to figure out if I’ve achieved that balance.

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Objective view

I really think being Irish helps. Not being from the UK gives me a more objective view, and I can be quite dispassionate when evaluating what makes a good Brexit story. This is vital as we live in a time when facts can get overshadowed by hysteria. Myths spring up on social media, and can be shared by thousands in a matter of minutes.

Ironically, by reporting responsibly, by sticking to the facts, we run the risk of being accused of being part of the “mainstream media”. While I was at CNN, this became a real issue, especially when President Donald Trump persisted in labelling us “Fake News”. The term is used here in the Brexit context too, by those for whom facts become inconvenient truths. It’s incredibly important for me to ensure we look beyond the headlines, beyond the politics to find the real stories that are in the public interest.

Carol Jordan: ‘I plan coverage for three of the UK’s most-watched daily news bulletins, with an average audience of 6 million across the day.’
Carol Jordan: ‘I plan coverage for three of the UK’s most-watched daily news bulletins, with an average audience of 6 million across the day.’

For the last few months I’ve been speaking to people up and down the country, finding characters who can give a voice to the views of those on all sides of the Brexit debate. Hearing their stories has helped me to understand some of the reasons behind Brexit.

Over the last decade, people across the UK watched as huge banks went bust and the government used the people’s money to bail them out. Those people then suffered the ignominy of seeing those institutions roll back into profit, paying out huge bonuses, while even in the present day, communities live with the ripple effects of a drastic austerity programme which continues to cut frontline services.

Austerity

If you live in London or affluent parts of the country, one would be forgiven for thinking that austerity has passed, but for many parts of the UK, that financial crisis has never really ended.

This leads to the most confusing dichotomy. While many are convinced the UK is staring into the Brexit abyss, there are millions of others for whom Brexit means a new start, an opportunity to take power back, a move which they hope will revive the UK’s fortunes.

For those who voted Leave, Brexit signifies hope.

One person told me he wasn’t afraid of what would happen in a no-deal Brexit scenario, because he believed, like most people he knew, that he simply had nothing more to lose. Brexit doesn’t threaten disaster like it does for Remainers. For those who voted Leave, Brexit signifies hope.

Every day when I plan my Brexit coverage, it’s about digging beneath the political drama. It’s about ensuring we tell the stories of those who feel forgotten, those who live with the pressures of economic hardship, those who believe Brussels has undermined the UK’s way of life.

But it’s also about telling the stories of millions of people who believe that Brexit is disastrous for business, agriculture, for all society.

Brexit was a wakeup call. It made us to look around us and acknowledge the views of others. It forced us to have tough conversations about the shape of our society, and not just here in the UK.

Democracies across the world are having their own Brexit moments.

But this story has not ended yet. Nor will it end with the extension of Article 50, or a no-deal Brexit, or whatever will be thrown at us. It will only end when leaders succeed in creating a fairer society where everyone’s view matters…

And where everyone’s view is valued.

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