Halfway through my interview with Jim Gray, the editor of Channel 4
News, I get a taste of the man in action. We’ve been chatting through
his early years in radio journalism when the programme editor pokes his
head through the door and says calmly: ’Mandelson’s resigned’.
Gray leaps to his feet with an excited expletive and rushes from the
room to sort out a newsflash. There’s an ever present sense of adrenalin
about Jim Gray.
It is this energy which has resulted in the new look Channel 4 News,
which moved in to its hi- tech digital studio this week. The new studio
will allow for more on-screen visuals, including virtual reality
technology and a new pounds 750,000 mobile production studio which will
allow Jon Snow to anchor bulletins direct from the scene of a major news
The dynamic new visuals and more casual presenting style has laid Gray
open to accustions that he’s following rival Channel 5’s news style.
It’s a charge he refutes utterly. ’We’ve done this on our own agenda and
not on anyone else’s,’ he says. ’We retained the contract to do Channel
4 News last February and we’ve been changing things ever since. We’ve
switched the agenda around so that we don’t start with the big stories
and then run them in order of decreasing importance to the end of the
show. We now maintain the energy throughout the show. In fact, the old
studio was holding us back as the programme had changed so much so I’m
glad we’ve moved.’
Always a maverick, Gray started his working life in a Paisley foundry
after refusing to go to university. A year there removed his distrust of
the intellectual easy life and he studied psychology at Stirling.
It was at Stirling that he decided to become a journalist, although he’s
still not sure what made him decide. Years on BBC radio led to
television which he’d been wary of initially as it seemed flashy and
insubstantial to him. Now, however, he’s very much at home and champions
the investigative journalism that Channel 4 News is still pioneering.
’The investigative nature of our programme means we can rub PR people up
the wrong way,’ he says. ’Their job is to put a spin on a story and our
job is to remove that spin. That’s not to say we can’t work together. If
a PR person is prepared to let us have our head and understands the
programme, it can be a great way to secure a good interview. However, if
we get rung up as number X on a huge list we’re far more inclined to put
a very harsh angle on the story.’
Former colleagues of Gray at the BBC find his attitude to the PR
industry to be reminiscient of the man’s attitude to many things. ’Jim’s
the kind of man you don’t want to get into an argument with,’ said one.
’He doesn’t have any fear when it comes to a row, whether you’re his
boss or not.’
Gray’s combative approach ought to stand him in good stead. With all his
rivals changing their own news formats, Gray’s going to have quite a
fight on his hands.
1991: Senior producer, Newsnight
1994: Deputy editor, Newsnight
1997: Editor, Channel 4 News.