2 Nov 2012

Channel 4 News: 30 years on

I wasn’t here 30 years ago. I joined seven years after Channel 4 News was born. Working on ITV’s News at Ten, I do remember that birth. It was messy, let’s be frank. I mean there seemed to be a myriad presenters who all talked pictureless-ly for what seemed hours: Godfrey Hodson (great brain), Peter Sissons – an ego nearly as large as mine – Sarah Hogg, a fine financial intellect, but perhaps not tailor-made for television.

I’m afraid we ITV oiks laughed up our sleeves. “This will never work,” was one phrase I heard in the ITN bar. I sighed with relief that I hadn’t been dragooned into working for it.

But then in 1984 the miners’ strike hit, and Channel 4 News came of age. The programme achieved what no politician, no Minister, no journalist even, had achieved. It managed to stage a debate between the miners’ union leader, Arthur Scargill, and the coal chairman, Sir Ian Macgregor.

By the time I was invited to “do the odd shift of presentation”, in March 1989, Channel 4 News had found something of a niche in the market.

When I joined then, I was a deeply inexperienced anchor. I took a long time to settle – maybe I’m still settling. I still think I can get better, each day.

My high spot came in 2010 when we uncovered the ridiculously secret legal advice for going to war with Iraq. The real advice had been verbal 10 days later. But we had all that had ever been written down. It caused no end of trouble!

We have transmitted the programme from Delhi to Sao Paolo; from Tehran to Kampala. I think our week in Iran remains one of the greatest achievements of any news programme anywhere in the world.

These days our team attracts the best in the business – producers, technicians, managers – yes, presenters even!

Because we have never wavered from 7pm, we have become a guaranteed moment in the day. Nursing mothers have told me that the music and the bright colours act like the bell in the experiment with Pavlov’s dog. Babies respond – it’s feeding time, and then by the time we play ourselves out, time for the cot!

And now we are in the multi-platform age. We are on Twitter, Facebook, and the web. We are highly active on all. I blog two or three times a week, Tweet every day, indeed I can claim one of the biggest followings in the UK TV news world – 230,000 and counting!

So happy birthday Channel 4 News, I can honestly say it with love.

Follow Jon on Twitter via @JonSnowC4

Tweets by @jonsnowC4

20 reader comments

  1. Woman says:

    I remember those early days! Cringing at Sarah Hogg’s wavery voice, and the relief when Elinor Goodman came along. There were so few women on TV news then, especially in non-auto cue roles.

  2. dalecooper57 says:

    Thank you for remaining the most informative, balanced, and above all intelligent news show on TV.
    Keep up the good work.

  3. Nathan Pledger says:

    “maybe I’m still settling”

    That’s why we love it, too. Deliciously quirky, contradictory and often looking where few others bother. I just wish I could watch it live every night, but at a time convenient to *me* ;P

  4. Britt_W says:

    What a striking difference between that first show and today’s show – when you even get presenters fighting Star War style at the end… (You missed that one!)
    To me, Channel 4 News remains the last bastion of independent, non-sensational, compassionate and honest news, with a splash of colour, healthy madness and humour thrown in for good measure. Not too much, not too little. Just right.

    Happy birthday, Channel 4 News. May you live forever.
    Love, from one particularly devoted Pavlov dog.
    Woof, woof.

  5. Gary Day-Ellison says:

    Great content. Great presenters. Humanity as the agenda. Often the first to break major issues. Respect to all the team.

  6. Andrew Darling says:

    Yes indeed to all of that – happy birthday.

  7. adil says:

    News and current affairs tend not to be popular, but they are necessary. I do hope that Channel 4 realise what an asset the news programmes they broadcast are and continue to improve and expand the coverage (byI supporting all mechanisms of broadcasting). Channel 4 news is worryingly, increasingly becoming an island of hard news reporting.

    I must admit I am very much against personality and celebrity. For me I think as long as the person knows their stuff and is able to explain the point and dig out the facts (initially I put down truth, but that’s really subjective). I would not care what they look like. Choosing people because they have good TV appearance is frankly missing a large pool of capable, talented people.

    I take issue with the ‘televisionisation’ of programmes where appears necessary to have the presenter uttering sentences in different parts of the globe. We should go back to the AJP Taylor style or even B. Russell: pipe, arm chair, carpet slippers and 2 hour long monologue.

    C4News: keep the standards high, don’t sensationalise, don’t trivialise and don’t stop.
    Happy Anniversary

  8. Anthony Martin says:

    Wow! I never knew what the starting date for Channel 4 News broadcasting so, that was very interesting.

    We’ve watched the news over the decades and, like most people, rarely veered from the BBC because it was ingrained from parents and limited channels during the ’70s, ’80s. Plus the fact that the licence was forced on us to watch TV, when in fact, it was an enforced fee for BBC! (what I now call the British Brainwashing Corporation propaganda machine, for the manipulating wealthy elites).
    Gradually, during the ’90s, we started seeing alternative ‘news’ via Channel 4 that had been denied us by the BBC and other laimstream media. We realised that it wasn’t what you saw on the BBC news, it was what you DIDN’T. With that, we moved more and more towards viewing Channel 4 news and, Channel 4 in general. It was the peoples channel that aired reality and honesty. Despite the fact we could guess that Channel 4 would face constant critics and, immoral people who hated the fact Channel 4 News represented ALL the citizens, we’ve been very pleased with C4s roll model broadcastings ;)
    Over the last few years, I’ve posted very blunt comments relating to the UK Gov fraud, inequality, civil rights erosions and down right media bias. I’ve been banned by The Daily Mail (no surprise there) and, I’ve challenged the corrupt scum. All the time I’ve faced censorship, apart from Channel 4 News blogs and Youtube, who have held true to freedom of expression, in the face of an ongoing onslaught of civil rights repression in UK.
    Channel 4 Newsa and, Channel 4 general, have become the peoples upstanding, moral guiding light of hope, alongside The Guardian News, Youtube & previously Twitter.
    I wish you all a well deserved HAPPY BIRTHDAY and a very BIG THANK YOU!

  9. Toby Howard says:

    Happy birthday all. Superb show, suberb journalists, usually bonkers graphics, fantastic sense of humour, and slightly mad at times too. The best programme on telly!

  10. Philip Edwards says:


    I have long considered C4 News relatively the best on British TV.

    But it is only a relative observation and there are many flaws in current programmes. Sometimes I think you all get lazy and lapse into the easiest route of information clerks. At such times C4 News is no better than any other Brit TV broadcaster. Nevertheless, I think most of your presenters are good, decent and honourable reporters who do their best. I always try to see the seven o’clock broadcast.

    The big exception is C4 “reporting” on the Middle East. For the most part this has been utterly disgusting, worse even than Sky News – and that’s saying something. Ms. Hilsum and messrs. Rugman and Miller could have been working for Fox News out of Libya, Iraq and Syria. I find their work little more than sickening propaganda. I except from this your and Krishnan’s reports from Cairo, which were guilty only of naivete.

    You now have major competitors in Al Jazeera and Russia Today, both of which I consult if I want to get more detail and an alternative view. If C4 fails to deal with this wider new world it is likely you will become just another CNN or Fox News. And that would be a pity.

    Happy Birthday! :-)

  11. Meg Howarth says:

    Happy birthday, indeed! The only TV news show I watch, Twitter being other main news-source. Warm congratulations all round. Democracy needs you!

  12. billy bong says:

    many happy returns to the mighty mighty channel four news!

    big shout out to all those who used to regularly post on the forum… forked tongue, horace, torquemada, thesingularity, chairman al, lucian deville, capriboy, fatdave, natural mystic, anonimouse, hirvi, psychonaut, winston smith, beecher, spidermam, baron von lotsov, louboutin, lost world, sampanviking, makodragon, tauceti, mugatu, amber nectar, concertpianist, spirituel, tension span, azathoth, uefa81glory, madworld, jester, mrtibbs, empiricist, mable, pff, greying blonde, voodu… and the rest x

    love :wink:

  13. Stephen Ibbs says:

    Refreshingly independent, seemingly less corporate-minded and not afraid to go where others fear to tread.

  14. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Happy Birthday C4. I remember Harriet Harman commenting that C4 had an agenda that was not strictly news ‘objective’ a few years ago. I found that strange for a supposedly red channel.You Jon have always acknowledged your blue roots and your own pinko liberalism, but the love I suspect is mixed in with success and a good salary and not love for loves sake.

    You were made to stand out before a crowd:genetics predominated in that respect.Psychologically speaking we could say that due to the fact you were physically head and shoulders above everyone else, then what you needed to display was your lack of tatty difference.I know where you could improve,but I don’t want to bring attention to it.

    The women on the show have mixed talents , but I am still sad Samira has gone. Krish with his side looks at the camera where the light glints in his cheeky eye as he is winding up a victim ,will always remain kuddly Krish.

    As far as news items in Iraq etc are concerned C4 and its journalists always provide a high standard of realism and insight. I particularly like Lindsey Hilsum, but then Jon Rugman and his intellectual stance is also very good, The younger reporters out there are brill.

    I can’t remember when it was that I said .” I like C4″. I was always a BBC person,but it was somewhere in the 80’s and actually can’t remember Jon Snow, however your ability to be different without being corny or tacky has kept my attention. Even the most cringeworthy moments are not truly cringeworthy .The personal touch via twitter and blog which Krish introduced us to have boosted the viewing population and it is this inclusion which makes you popular.

  15. Mudplugger says:

    The best-presented news programme on any channel, long may it flourish.

    Every one of the on-screen presenters brings a personal style without evident vanity – their diversity, in every sense, is a model – not token placements or glamour recruits, but every one adding quality to the product. (OK, Kathy provides glamour, but that’s a by-product, I trust she’d still be there if she didn’t.)

    It’s about delivering the facts, providing an interpretation with a deftness of touch and leaving the viewer with more to ponder. That’s what we need, particularly in these troubled times.

  16. Kate says:

    Lucky my mum is no longer around to hear criticism of Peter Sissons – back in the day,she had the hots for him! :)

    Yes, my hubby is home from work,we’ve done the “How was your day?” routine and it’s a rush to prepare the evening meal (on trays in front of the box!) before the WHOOSH which precedes the leading news item of the evening.
    It’s 7pm. It’s Ch4 News.
    It’s as habitual as cleaning my teeth.

    The other news channels are insipid by comparison while CH4 asks the questions we all want answered and isn’t afraid “to boldly go…”
    I admire the restraint and professionalism of the team, particularly when interviewing obfuscators/the deluded/liars and realise how unsuited I would be for the job. How easy it would be to lose it and call them for what they are, as I often do!

    So – much respect.

    And Happy Birthday, Ch4!

  17. Jon Snow says:

    Some great comments..very uplifting..thanks everyone..particularly Andrew Darling..one of the great newsmen who helped build the programme behind the scenes but with huge effect

  18. Ian says:

    Sitting here in a coffee shop in Los Angeles it is gratifying to see that you can still get a streaming of the programme here in the US. C4News has been in my life since I was a teenager and its commitment to in-depth reporting was what I have always loved. So many great journos I remember from the show – David Smith, Andrew Veitch, the late Gaby Rado, Elinor Goodman, Laurence McDonald, Nicholas Glass – and of course presenting how can anybody forget the lustrous Zeinab Badawi who everyone in my form at school had the hots for, and the equally wonderful Sheena McDonald. Happy Birthday C4 News from LA!

  19. Zimmer Man says:

    Why American elections are so important to this country than other Europeans countries? We know the reasons why Katty Kay she is on the Republicans side even when Bush was in White House both her and her Co, German British born Matt Frei right wing media they hate Obama and Democrat. Despite Bush caused war in Iraq, bank crisis, Catherina, Iraq war million people die as a result he couldn’t capture Bin Laden he used Bin laden video tape to scared Americans people in other to win second term.
    Obama – he created 5 million jobs, ended Iraq war, Bin Laden killed, etc.? Why Matt Frei chose to go after Republicans instead Democrat because he’s negative towards Democrat and Obama but he forgotten that he’s immigrant.

  20. mic says:

    Mr snow is one of thsoe tyeps whos looks more photogenic with age.
    Is it the whitening of his hair? and was this a natural biological process?.

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