John Ray: My Life In Media

'The police stopped us filming in Tiananmen Square 16 times in the space of an hour. And we had all the correct permits'
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The Independent Online

John Ray became ITV News' first ever China correspondent this summer based in Beijing, reporting on one of the world's most rapidly changing regions. As UK editor Ray covered the 7 July 2005 attacks on London and the continuing terror threat to Britain. As senior political correspondent he covered stories ranging from the Hutton inquiry to the 2005 general election campaign. Ray joined ITN in 2000 from Sky News where he was political correspondent. He lives in Beijing.

So what inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

John Pilger was the first journalist to make an impact on me. I was motivated by grand ideas of righting wrongs and uncovering corruption. Fortunately I found I was nearly as happy writing the Golden Weddings column in my first job at the Warrington Guardian.

When you were 15 years old, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

The Daily Express for my mother and The Guardian for my dad. In the end, they compromised on The Daily Telegragh and a daily row over its political coverage. I sought sought solace in the NME. So anorak-like was my knowledge of depressing new-wave music that I could complete the crossword in 10 minutes.

What were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

Match of the Day for Manchester United. John Peel for Joy Division.

Describe your job

This is my first posting abroad, and the first ITV News bureau in China. At the risk (indeed, in the certainty) of sounding pompous, it's to report on the historic changes under way here. Television does well when history is made at the point of a gun, but in China, news doesn't fall into your lap.

What media do you turn to first thing in the morning?

The midnight news on Radio 4 via the internet. Beijing is seven hours ahead of the UK. The rest of the day we have CNN and BBC World Service.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

Depends where I am. Outside the big cities, there is no English-language media.

In Beijing, I read as many of the British daily newspapers as I can online, along with The New York Times and The South China Morning Post, which is based in Hong Kong and still gives a more interesting and independent take on events than the government's China Daily.

What is the best thing about your job?

I get paid to travel China, an extraordinary country with extraordinary people - like the young migrant worker who took us back to her home village she left to work six days a week in a shirt factory the size of a small town - and the internet millionaire Jack Ma who's bigger here than eBay and who's just taken over Yahoo! China.

And the worst?

So far, Chinese officialdom in general. In particular; the police who stopped us filming in Tiananmen Square 16 times in the space of an hour. And we had all the correct permits.

How do you feel you influence the media?

I can hardly claim to influence the media. What I would like to do is help to explain China to ITV news viewers in the UK and clients around the world.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

Honestly - and this isn't an attempt to arse-lick the boss - it was the day I joined ITN. I thought: Sandy Gall, Michael Brunson, Trevor McDonald ... bloody hell!

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

Conducting a long radio interview with Michael Howard and forgetting to press play and record.

At home, what do you tune in to?

The Archers online. Everything else I've had to give up. I really miss Michael Parkinson's Sunday morning show on Radio 2.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

The Observer and the News of the World. One for work, one for pleasure.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire

For six months, I haven't been able to think beyond the launch of ITV News' China bureau. But there's an urgent need to add to my 10-word stock of Mandarin.

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

In an ideal world I'd mend dry-stone walls in the Lake District. My family is originally from Lamplugh and it's where I return to relax.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Nick Robinson, ITV News' former political editor, was the sharpest political journalist I've ever worked with.

The CV

1997: Joins Sky News as Midlands correspondent after previously working as a reporter on the Warrington Guardian and the Western Morning News

2000: Joins ITV News as political correspondent

2003: Appointed senior political correspondent ITV News

2005: becomes ITV News UK editor

2006: Moves to Beijing after appointment as ITV News' first ever China correspondent