During Shannon Matthews disappeared ITV helped her family to record their own story

After Shannon was found, the Matthews family wanted the media to respect their privacy. Keir Simmons and his ITV News team did just that – by letting them record their own story

Last Monday, ITV News broadcast the first pictures from inside Karen Matthews' home since her nine-year-old daughter Shannon was found after being missing for 24 days. What made this footage remarkable was that it was shot by the Matthews family themselves and was the culmination of a painstaking process of winning their trust. I hope the pictures provided an accurate reflection of the family.

During the long search for Shannon, I and the rest of our small team had spent much time drinking tea and getting to know Karen Matthews' friends and family, and we took a decision to give them camcorders in the hope that they might later provide us with pictures that we otherwise could not have got.

Shannon was found on Friday 24 March, and the news came through first with a text message, then with whispered rumours from members of the Find Shannon Campaign, and then with a flurry of phone calls. Thanks to the relationship we had nurtured, the Matthews family trusted me, our cameraman, Keith Edwards, and the producer, Matt Williams. They could have simply thrown us out and closed the door, but they let us film some very personal moments. That night, we were able to tell the story in pictures, not just words.

But then the shutters came down, and the camcorders came into their own. The big celebratory family party was due to take place on Saturday night at their home in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, but by Saturday morning a police officer was on guard outside the front door and family liaison officers were apparently advising the family to restrict their involvement with the media.

The effect of this strategy was that Karen and her family were only filmed in the street, looking understandably anxious, surrounded by cameras. It seemed an inaccurate portrayal of their real mood.

Our intention was to try to get more exclusive pictures for the Monday evening's bulletins, so we got a message to the family suggesting that they use the camcorder that ITV News had given to Karen several days earlier, and film the celebrations inside the house themselves – to record their own version of events. Of course, we were concerned whether they would use the camera effectively and honestly – but they had trusted us before, and this time we had to trust them.

When the big party happened on Saturday night, the media was shut out on the street. But indoors, the family were filming it all, even taking shots through the windows of the TV cameras and reporters camped outside.

It was a tense atmosphere when we got the camera back on Monday afternoon. There were some especially nervous moments, such as wondering, as we pressed eject, whether the tape was still inside. We were unsure whether there would be any useable footage at all. In all honesty, it was far from perfect, not least because I had left the night-vision switch on when I gave them the camcorder, turning everything a shade of green.

The filming was a little wobbly, too; this kind of camera work can never replace that of a professional camera operator. But what you did get was the family relaxed and being themselves. It was real. If we had been allowed in with a TV camera, I wonder whether the pictures would have been as genuine: the presence of a TV crew would arguably have distorted the atmosphere.

Trying to portray Shannon's family as honestly as possible was particularly important to us, given the raging debate surrounding the story. Questions had been asked about the fairness of the media in its coverage of a missing nine-year-old girl from a council estate. I hoped ITV News' contribution would be to give the viewer an honest picture of Shannon's world. The audience could then make their own judgments based on what they had seen. For me, television is at its best when it takes you into other people's lives, and I think giving someone a camcorder can help do that, bringing the audience into their world.

That's not to say there aren't real issues with such journalistic techniques. By handing over a camera to a member of the public closely involved in a major story, we handed over some control over what was filmed. They decided what to record – although we retained editorial control over what was broadcast. But then, clearly, on this occasion, the alternative was to have no footage at all. The challenge to us, as journalists, was getting the right balance between gaining the trust of Karen Matthews' family and keeping the trust of the viewers.

There was another issue, too. The camcorder video included many children. Despite the family having filmed it themselves, we took the decision to blur the faces of the youngsters. They didn't ask us to do that. We gave them a camera but we didn't give up our judgment.

Shannon Matthews' story is not simple, but then reality isn't simple. She comes from a council estate where life is hard for many people and where there are quite a number of "dysfunctional families". But then, whose family isn't dysfunctional? It's a close community, where everyone leaves their door unlocked, but also a place where many people suffer from poverty and low self-esteem. I hope that our coverage helped viewers to understand a little more about their lives, instead of just criticising them. But ultimately, that's up to the viewers.

Keir Simmons is a reporter for ITV News

Suggested Topics
News
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Media baron Rupert Murdoch owns News Corps and 20th Century Fox
theatrePlaywright David Williamson is struggling to find a big name to star as the media mogul
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Finance - Media

£80000 - £90000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for an International Mul...

Head of Finance - Media

£80000 - £90000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for an International Mul...

Business Development Manager

£25000 - £27000 per annum + Bonus: Sauce Recruitment: Within your role as Busi...

IT Graduate

£15 - 20k: Guru Careers: We are looking for an eager IT Graduate / Technology ...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?