Channel 4’s Ciarán Jenkins has outlined how changing public tastes are driving a challenge to London supremacy in the news media sector.
Opening the third day of Leeds Trinity University’s annual Journalism and Media Week, Jenkins said that ideally, it should not be “London looking out at the UK, but rather the rest of the UK looking back at London.”
Drawing on his experiences working in Wales, England and Scotland, he related how expectations from the public were changing regarding where and who was producing their news.
“I felt a keen sense of people almost wanting you to be from the North of England in order to report about the North of England”, he said.
He has often been an ‘outsider’ during his career himself. “An outsider status can be helpful, but I think that help is very context specific” he said.
Jenkins is currently the Data Correspondent at Channel 4’s new state-of-the-art studio in Leeds. Both their data and fact check teams are now based in the city. During the lecture he said he was the least “’out of London’ newsreader in news at the moment”.
London has long dominated the media landscape of Britain. Jenkins described how this London-centrism has declined and is now less desirable in the jobs market. Once stigmatised ‘regional’ accents are now seen very positively. This was especially true for the publicly owned, but not publicly funded, Channel 4.
Merthyr Tydfil born Jenkins’ first foray into journalism was as a ‘blogespondent’. He self-produced the Blamerbell Briefs blog series, whilst studying for a degree in music. It was an amateur, and outsider, passion project about the world of Welsh politics.
After breaking some big stories whilst working for BBC Cymru Wales, Jenkins moved to Channel 4 in 2012. Then following a year as North of England correspondent, he became Scotland correspondent at a particularly ‘febrile’ time in Scottish politics.
In Scotland, his accent, and outsider status, helped him.
He said: “Clearly it was useful in that context to be seen as somebody who does not have a ‘dog in the fight’, in either camp. Because people are labelled, rightly or wrongly, as being sympathetic to the Unionist or the Nationalist cause.”
But he also revealed that he endured abuse from both sides of the issue.
In September 2020, he was defended by, the then-First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, after a series of xenophobic tweets.
His experiences in the North of England were markedly different to those in Scotland though. Here he found more parallels in his own background that he could use to relate to interviewees in his journalism.
“Now I’m from the South Wales Valleys, a post-industrial town. You know, incredibly neglected. Do we see those places in the North of England? Of course, we do. Everywhere. And that I can relate to, and so too can the communities.”