A vox pop (from the Latin vox populi, ‘voice of the people’), known as a ‘man on the street’ (or MOTS) in North America, is, in broadcast journalism, a short interview with a member of the public, seemingly picked at random, to give their views on a recent event.
Everybody's got an opinion...
Frequently used in news coverage of popular topics such as hotly anticipated film releases, local events, or breaking political news, vox pops give news stories the appearance of being a part of public opinion that’s relevant to viewers. These are almost always filmed in public areas such as streets, train stations, or shops, the intention being to create a feeling of authenticity to the coverage.
Because an interviewer, if they’ve selected a genuine person on the street, can’t ever be too sure of the result or how tasteful (or not) the opinion given is, there’s a tendency to avoid filming these segments live, and since they often require editing to be worked into a story, they can skirt the edge of poor journalistic ethics if the editing alters the meaning of the interviewee, and run the risk of being patronising or can be seen as irrelevant by the audience if they don’t appear to contribute anything of substance to the story. Journalists have criticized vox pops for being filler for genuine journalism, as well as being unrepresentative of a community’s general opinion by highlighting one passerby’s opinions.
Some interviewees even gain notoriety for the frequency or memorability of their appearances, such as Greg Packer, a US highway maintenance worker who has appeared in over 100 vox pops by placing himself in visible positions and gaining a reputation with journalists, or ‘Bristol Brenda' (above), whose reaction to the announcement of the UK general election in 2017 resonated deeply enough to go viral.
Vox pops have become clichéd enough that they’ve even become material for comedy programs such as the BBC’s A Bit of Fry and Laurie and the Rick Mercer’s segment Talking to Americans on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes.