The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Average Person

One thing that really I can’t stand is when they use vox pops on the news. It inflames my ire, it really does.

Why? Firstly, it’s misrepresentative. As anyone who has the most elementary knowledge of statistics will know, taking the opinions of three or four people who happen to be walking down the high street at the same time that the TV crew happen to be there isn’t a statistically valid sample. At best the result is meaningless. The rest of the time it’s not merely unlikely to be representative, it’s perpetuating a manufactured lie.

What sort of people are likely to be walking down high streets during the day time during the week? Shoppers. People with disposable incomes. Not people who are at work. Not people who are stuck at home. Where’s their vox pops?

And look at the people they interview. Nobody too unsightly. Nobody with an incoherent regional accent. Nobody with a disability. Nobody wearing a logo. There’s an insidious process of discrimination going on. Even though the TV crew will try to portray a ‘cross-section’ of people, it’s a United Colours of Benetton cross-section. It’s not as if they pick the first three or four people they see.

Then there’s the process of what quotes they use. Soundbites – they don’t want anyone too well-informed, because that would look suspicious. Instead, and this is the real problem – they are chosen to represent what the journalist presumes the public thinks. Who are voicing opinions that echo the journalist’s prejudices.

Imagine a story where the journalists selected ‘vox pops’ of the most scared people they could find giving voice to their most paranoid, unfounded fears. It would create an impression of general panic. But you don’t need to imagine. That’s exactly what they did with Northern Rock.

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