Radio Vox Pop: "The Voice of the People"

What is Vox Pop?Vox populi is the voice of people, or "man in the street" interview. It's a different kind of interviewing, but the use of the opinions of "ordinary" members of the public adds a useful dimension to the coverage of a topic that might other

Vox populi is the voice of people, or "man in the street" interview. It's a different kind of interviewing, but the use of the opinions of "ordinary" members of the public adds a useful dimension to the coverage of a topic that might otherwise be limited to a straight bulletin report or a studio discussion among officials or experts.

The principle is for the broadcaster using a portable recorder to put one, possibly two, specific questions on a matter of public interest to people selected by chance, and to edit together their replies to form a distillation of the overall response. While the aim is to present a sample of public opinion, the broadcaster must never claim it to be statistically valid, or even properly representative. It can never be anything more than "the opinions of some people we spoke to today". This is because gathering material out on the streets for an afternoon magazine programme will almost certainly over-represent shoppers, tourists and the unemployed, and be low on businessmen, motorists, night-shift workers and farmers! Since the interviewing is done at a specific time and generally at a single site, the sample is not really  even random- it is merely unstructured and no one can tell what views obtained actually represent. So no great claim should be made for the sample "vox pop" on the basis of its being truly "the voice of the people".

It is easier to select a specific grouping appropriate to a particular topic for example, early risers, commuters, children or lorry drivers. If the the question is to do with an increase in petrol prices, one will find motorists, together with some fairly predictable comment, on any garage forecourt. Similarly, a question on medical care might be addressed to people coming out of hospital. Incidentally, many apparently public places-like hospitals, shopping malls, schools and even railway stations- are in fact private property and the broadcaster should remember that he or she has no prescriptive right to work there without permission.

As the question to which reaction is required becomes more specific, the group among which the interviews are carried out may be said to be more representative. Views on a particular industrial dispute can be canvassed among the pickets at the factory gate, opinions on a new show sought among the first-night audience. Nevertheless, it is important in the presentation of vox pop material that the listener is told where and when it was gathered.

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