The Art of the Vox Pop

Posted on: April 5, 2012

A ‘Vox Pop‘ is journalistic jargon and would probably be better understood by the everyday public as a street survey for a newspaper – an abbreviation of vox populi, latin for ‘voice of the people’.

But what are different types of Vox Pops used for? And just how important is fairness and honesty when you amplify the public voice?

The main purpose of the vox pop is to test public reaction to news (like a new law) or an event (such as the Olympics). Stimulating public debate, recognising concerns or forecasting results are the most common reasons – but of course, the word on the street can be as light hearted as the reporter wishes.

On a local level, questions asked could pick up on an issue in the community or perhaps highlight opinions on a new building, campaign or scheme being introduced. It might be as little as one word or as much as several paragraphs – but hearing what people like us think is often the most engaging part of a story.

Vox Pop’s will often dissect controversial talking points that everyone is likely to take an opinion on, meaning the more opposed that people you interview are, the better. I went out onto the streets of Winton to try it out myself for a story I was writing in the Bournemouth Rock newspaper, after my editor asked me to create something for their lead feature (not just your regular news story). Since the piece highlighted the infamous Gordon The Tramp as a representative of Bournemouth, I figured that the best thing to do was reach out to the community who may have interesting viewpoints or had experiences with the story’s subject…

Sue Matthews, 38, Moordown Resident
“I’m Gordon’s friend on Facebook and I’m completely behind the campaign for him to be an Olympic Torch bearer for Bournemouth. He’s not actually a tramp which many people find interesting. He might not conform to what we expect, but he’s a sweet enough guy and a landmark for the town. I’ve grown up in the area and I have seen him around all my life, he always seems to look the same!”
Holly Bidwell, 21, Bournemouth Student

“I think he is a local legend. He is a big supporter of Bournemouth FC team so he must know 
his sports, I think he would be a good representative for Bournemouth”.
Wayne Sheppard, 47, Shop Owner in Winton
“He needs to get a job frankly! Gordon isn’t worthy of the honour of bearing the torch for Bournemouth, he makes no contribution to society! There are many others that are far more deserving, such as the unsung heroes that do work for charity because they want to. As former Vice President of Bournemouth Chamber of Trade and Commerce, I was quite aware of what Gordon had been up to and what other people thought about him”.
Harriet Elsom, 22, Bournemouth Student
“I once saw Gordon in town after a night out and he was standing by the taxi rank chatting to the drivers and passers by. I asked him what the time was because I’d heard about his talent. He’s a really friendly guy!”

It was no easy task – I found so many people were reluctant to stop and chat and even when they did they refused to have their photo taken! Mr Sheppard’s opinions are quite strong and not only make for an effective contrast with the others but make an argument against the ‘legendary’ local personality. Initially I (somewhat naively) considered not placing his comments into the article because they may come across as fairly offensive to certain audiences, but then I came to realise that’s the entire point of a Vox Pop – not to anger people of course, but to document real views from real individuals that may challenge the Status Quo (another brilliant Latin word).


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