Media: Double Standards - 'We know we need ads so we can cover news'

Two heads of news at commercial TV channels reveal that they don't mind ad breaks at all and how it's not only the viewers who find politicians boring.

CLIVE JONES - chief executive, ITV News Group

- What sets news on your channel apart from news on other channels?

Good stories well told.

- What news story are you most proud of breaking?

I thought our reporting of Beslan and the tsunami were exceptional. ITV had the courage to break into the schedule as events unfolded following the ending of the siege. We also scheduled our tsunami specials in peaktime.

- Who do you think is the best news reporter out there at the moment?

We have a clutch of great reporters in the ITV newsroom, with some close rivals in the Channel 4 newsroom. It would be invidious to pick out one.

- What was your strategy on election coverage? And why?

To try to make the election relevant and interesting to voters, because the politicians were not.

- How did your election coverage ratings score?

We had excellent campaign coverage and were often ahead of the early evening BBC news with our show at 6.30pm. But, we were well beaten on our coverage of the results themselves.

- Do you get involved in the sales side? And if so, how?

I work for a commercial channel, of course I do. - How do you feel about having news programming interrupted by advertising?

It pays my wages and those of my colleagues.

- What ad do you find most irritating?

A cheap one.

- What other media do you use to consume news? What do you think is the most effective?

Newspapers (six or seven a day), radio (particularly Radio 4 and Five Live), the internet, magazines, other TV stations. If it's news, I gorge on it.

- Where's the best place you've ever travelled with work?

The Millennium Stadium (well, I am Welsh) and for very different reasons, Hiroshima.

- What do you do in your spare time?

I drive my children to football, concerts and parties and some evenings I steal away to the theatre with my wife.

DOROTHY BYRNE - head of news and current affairs, Channel 4

- What sets news on your channel apart from news on other channels?

We don't follow the establishment's agenda. We give our journalists the freedom to state the truth as they find it. Our lead story might not even feature in the bulletins of others. We're not afraid to lead the news on Uzbekistan - we respect our viewers enough to believe we will hold them if the story is sufficiently important. And we have the extraordinary advantage of an hour in which to investigate and develop stories.

- What news story are you most proud of breaking?

The attorney-general's advice on the legality of the war in Iraq. This was not just the biggest story of the election - it was a story of historic importance. - Who do you think is the best news reporter out there at the moment?

The Channel 4 news team which got the attorney-general's advice scoop. Jon Snow himself played a key role in getting the story - even the most senior members of our editorial team are still out there getting stories themselves.

- What was your strategy on election coverage? And why?

In our current affairs programmes, we went beyond the agenda of the politicians. Instead, we went to some of the leading thinkers in Britain and asked them what were the big issues facing this country. Their priorities were quite different from those being debated so drearily by the politicians. They said we needed to examine alternative sources of power, taxation to cut waste and car use, dealing with the pensions crisis and the long-term funding of the health service. Within days of Labour's victory, those were the issues everyone started talking about.

- How did your election coverage ratings score?

Our news ratings held up very well - probably because we went for stories rather than formats and gimmicks. Viewers want content not helicopters.

- Do you get involved in the sales side? And if so, how?

From time to time, I offer the sales team a round of stiff drinks and tell them which of our major advertisers I am about to upset. A wise advertiser takes it on the chin!

- How do you feel about having news programming interrupted by advertising?

I love it because it helps pay for the news! And that's also why I love programmes such as Big Brother - the higher their ratings, the more money there is to spend on news and current affairs. Channel 4 is being very successful commercially at the moment and a lot of that money is being pumped back into our output.

- What ad do you find most irritating?

"Are you thinking what we're thinking?" But I think political advertising in general probably contributes to voters' low view of politicians. I really wonder if it does them any good at all?

- What other media do you use to consume news? What do you think is the most effective?

I devour newspapers, magazines and internet sites. The Economist and Heat magazine both serve their markets admirably.

- Where's the best place you've ever travelled with work?

South Africa. I come from Paisley but I felt I belonged there.

- What do you do in your spare time?

My daughter's homework.