Breaking news: uncivil war breaks out at Channel 4
Journalists divided by plan to turn selected presenters into stars – and relegate others
Channel 4 News was in turmoil last night after a leaked letter revealed that the programme's staff were furious at "incredibly erosive" plans to turn some correspondents into star "brands" while relegating others to obscurity.
Changes to the flagship news bulletin have created a top table of 15 individuals dubbed the "News team", including presenters Jon Snow and Krishnan Guru-Murthy, alongside chief correspondent Alex Thomson, political editor Gary Gibbon and international editor Lindsey Hilsum.
But about a dozen other on-camera staff, who previously had equal footing on the website's "Meet the team" list of staff, have now been tucked away at the bottom of the website in the "About Channel 4 News" page. This group includes the presenter Samira Ahmed, the home affairs correspondents Simon Israel and Andy Davies, social affairs correspondent Victoria Macdonald and reporters Carl Dinnen and Katie Razzall.
A letter to the programme's editor Jim Gray and his deputy Martin Fewell, signed by 21 of the bulletin's best-known on-camera staff (though not Snow or Guru-Murthy), complains of a "them and us" culture.
The letter states: "We believe that we need to feel that 'we are all in this together' as opposed to the 'them and us' culture that has now developed in this newsroom."
In a reference to the changes to the website, it said: "We still want to hear from you how you will address this sense of a two tier newsroom – where some reporters are more important than others – which has been incredibly erosive and divisive for on screen staff."
The letter, leaked to Broadcast magazine, also complains of communication failings by management, and staff shortages. "What is your responsibility in ensuring that we have adequate staffing levels?" the journalists ask.
One on-camera reporter told The Independent last night: "I think the programme wants to be pushing its big name reporters in order to have more impact. But those not included in that have naturally felt concerned for their positions. This is about the decision to promote some as big name journalists and other people feeling anxious if they don't see themselves on that front rank."
Among the signatories are the presenter Alex Thomson and economics editor Faisal Islam, both of whom are listed in the main "News team". But Mr Snow and Mr Guru-Murthy are not among the complainants.
The programme has undergone a troubled recent history losing its lunch time bulletin and the news show on its sister channel, More 4, as well as cutting staff numbers.
The programme is recruiting a third full-time presenter to work alongside Snow and Guru-Murthy, and a social affairs editor and science editor. But several experienced on-camera reporters have recently left.
Channel 4 News last week won an unrivalled 13 nominations in the Royal Television Society's television journalism awards, and Mr Fewell expressed surprise at the unease. "There's a tremendous sense of team spirit here," he said.
Mr Fewell said that the growth of digital media increased the need to raise the online profiles of the faces of Channel 4 News. "Personal brands are really important in a crowded news market online. People want to read Jon Snow's blog and Gary Gibbon's blog. It's more important than it has been in the past to emphasise the personalities and characters of your presenters and your key editors," he said.
"You want to promote your big TV people but there are also some people that have particular traction online. We've explained this to the team but of course it's a bit unnerving for people."
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