The new editor of 5 News says the programme’s audience is “a lot of people who back Brexit” and that far from trying to compete with the BBC and ITV, it offers a different service.
Ask Cait Fitzsimons who her audience is and she’ll tell you it’s not the metropolitan elite, but rather working Britons whose jobs mean they are usually home for its 5pm and 6.30pm daily bulletins.
“They are the opposite of Channel 4’s audience,” she says.
“Channel 4’s audience are kind of the politicians and the decision-makers, our audience is very much the people out there working, making Britain tick over – that makes our agenda really easy and also it fits in with the channel and what their values are and what they are thinking about.”
While its audience is mostly to be found outside the metropole and it retains a small team in the north of England, 5 News is London-based.
Nonetheless, getting out of London for stories is something Fitzsimons, who is originally from Sunderland, says is important to her.
Fiztsimons is only two months into her new role, but is hardly a new hand. She began her career in broadcast journalism at 5 News in 1997, a few months after it launched. Four years ago she rejoined the broadcaster as programme editor, then deputy editor, after a spell at Sky News.
Although part of ITN, the production company that also owns ITV News and Channel 4 News, 5 News takes its commissions from Channel 5 itself and does not compete for funding with its rivals.
But, as studios for all three are housed in the same cavernous complex on Grays Inn Road, London, it means stiff competition over the news agenda before even leaving the building.
For Fitzsimons though, offering something different in the highly competitive broadcast news market is getting “increasingly easy” as 5 News grows in confidence.
She says 5 News claims about a 4 per cent share and 500,000 viewers a day.
“We are very much about bringing the news to your doorstep, what’s important in the world around you and what’s important for you to know about and that’s kind of how we go,” she says.
“We can cover the big stuff and then go off and do more personal and intimate stories as well. That kind of mix is really what makes us stand out I think – there’s no-one else who quite does that.”
Run entirely by women, the 5 News team – including newly appointed deputy editor Jessica Bulman and presenters Sian Williams (ex BBC) and Claudia-Liza Armah (ex Sky News) – is something of an anomaly.
And yet, in figures reported by Press Gazette last week, ITN as a whole reported the worst bonus pay gap of any UK media organisation and was in the upper third of worst offenders for the hourly wage gap.
ITN’s mean bonus pay gap (the difference between men and women’s bonus pay) was 77.2 per cent, or 50 per cent using the median. Its mean hourly pay gap was 19.6 per cent, or 18.2 per cent using the median.
“I think there are areas where we could definitely do more,” says Fitzsimons.
At Channel 5 itself there is a 2 per cent gender pay gap, which Fitzsimons says shows there are “definite examples of where it’s working”.
“I think it’s an entirely achievable thing for the rest of the industry and I think it’s good that it’s now being focused on and taken really seriously, but as a woman I think it’s really important that we start seeing action.”
She adds: “Everyone from [ITN chief executive] John Hardie down has acknowledged that ITN is not where it should be and there’s real work to be done to make it a better place.
“Throughout the industry, and this is not just to do with my time at ITN, I’ve been aware of the fact that the higher up you go the fewer women there are and that’s something that I’m really keen changes.”
Hardie has promised action on the gender pay divide, pledging to staff that he will “not receive a penny” in bonus pay unless he hits new targets on “strict” gender and diversity objectives alongside existing financial ones.
ITN has also set itself the target of halving its pay gap within five years, saying it is “committed to tackling the root causes” of the divide, including publishing salary bands for all roles and the eligibility criteria for bonuses.
Fitzsimons is part of the ITN pay gap working group.
Outside of this some women have set up an ITN Women group in the wake of the pay gap revelations that follows in the footsteps of the BBC Women, who established themselves after the corporation revealed a 10.7 per cent mean gender pay gap (the first to do so in the UK media).
There have been reports that ITN Women had considered calling for Hardie to step down, rather than be the person to lead ITN into a new era of pay transparency, but Fitzsimons tells me he is the man for the job.
“One thing I know about John Hardie is when he says he’s going to do something I’ve never seen him not deliver on it,” she says.
“So when John says he’s taking something seriously and he wants to achieve something I have very little doubt [that he will].”
She says Hardie “scribbled pages of notes” at the first meeting with women in the group and “followed up really quickly afterwards”.
“He hasn’t got to where he is by being ineffective and I think when he turns his mind to something I have real confidence that there will be change. He’s been very focused on not just words but actions and for me that’s the thing that’s most important.”
She adds: “I think the whole gender pay gap is a great debate, and it’s a really positive thing, and as a woman in the industry there have been points in my career where I’ve been the only woman in a room full of men so I was very aware that there was a balance issue.
“But working at Five, in a way it’s a little bit of a bubble because we function really well and in a very balanced way. I think our gender split is around 50/50, slightly more female than male, but a tiny percentage.
“It’s an example of how it can be achieved and how it can work although we are helped by the fact it’s a relatively young newsroom in year terms – we don’t have some of the historic issues or systems that other newsrooms sometimes have to deal with.”
Fitzsimons says she’s not a “massive fan” of quotas, but places importance on bringing in “good women” and people from diverse backgrounds and helping them to develop into candidates for senior roles.
While the pay gap has made headlines recently, so too has Facebook.
The platform has, along with Google, been taking the lion’s share of digital ad revenue and pays little back to publishers or broadcasters who offer up content for its users to consume.
Press Gazette has called for the web giants to pay more back and “stop destroying journalism” since our Duopoly campaign launched a year ago.
When it comes to digital, Fitzsimons says it’s an area she would like to expand, but as her remit is broadcast it is “something we choose to do and we can opt in and out of”.
She says 5 News, which has about 200,000 Facebook likes, makes no money from the social network.
Channel 4 News editor Ben De Pear recently said the same, after refusing to run mid-roll adverts in news videos. He said the money from Facebook had never been enough to sustain the news content his team shared on it, despite more than 4.3m likes on its page.
Fitzsimons says Facebook is actually a good fit for 5 News’s audience – “slightly older, slightly more female skewed” – but is on the fence about whether it is a harm or a help to the industry.
“We need to go where our audience is and it’s always growing as well,” she says. “I think Ben De Pear’s comments recently about Facebook are really interesting, but I think for us it’s not a black or white matter.
“I think the rights and wrongs of Facebook – it’s an interesting debate, but it’s not quite the same issue for us. We are a much smaller operation and I don’t feel the need to have a row with Facebook about how they are set up.
“For us, we are still trying to connect with people.”
But she concedes that Facebook has “made life difficult for some people”.
When it comes to making money through social media, including Youtube where 5 News also publishes videos, Fitzsimons says it is “still a bit of a gamble for us because our audience is so small”.
“The gamble is if you put an advert at the beginning of something you lose eyes so for us it’s very much a kind of weighing up.
“It’s something we’ve looked at and we talk about regularly, but we haven’t made that jump yet because it hasn’t quite seemed the right time for us – it might be that it’s never quite what’s right for us.”
One thing Fitzsimons is clear on is that the digital revolution has shown that there are “many different audiences for news and that each one is just as valuable as the next”.
She says: “I think all programmes are now moving in that direction, reaching out more to people, understanding that as people diversify and head in different directions you have to try and connect with the people who are watching you.
“I think that’s the biggest challenge coming up, it’s about keeping hold of eyes and making your programme something that people want to watch.”