News Without Borders

60 million stories: the power of diverse voices, and getting out of the London bubble.
Tyto speaks to Jimmy Leach, new Editor in Chief of HuffPost.

Last month, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham blamed “London-centric decision-making” for the Brexit vote, claiming that England can often give the “sense of two countries” creating an us and them feeling which divides the nation.

It’s not just him who thinks this way. It was something we were highly aware of when we created Tyto’s location-agnostic model. The UK PR industry suffers from an acute case of London-itis, with the vast majority of agencies located in Shoreditch or Soho. A London-base, while convenient, can reduce your field of vision and produce narrow-minded thinking that risks overlooking the wider population.

Someone else who shares this view is Jimmy Leach, new editor in chief of the HuffPost UK, an outlet that has undergone dramatic changes over recent years since parting ways with founder Arianna Huffington, and has been busy carving a niche for itself as a national publication, with an increasing focus on news outside, as well as in, the London bubble. We spoke to Jimmy as he completed his first month in the job to find out why he believes looking beyond London is vital for the future of news and the future of the UK.

Tyto: Congratulations on your first month in the role! What’s been keeping you busy?

 Jimmy: “It’s been interesting – there’s a lot that’s right, and the team here are very good – as evidenced by winning the Drum Award for ‘Best site for news-led journalism’ last night. The site is already delivering, so I’ve been spending time working out what the organisation needs – what the strategic needs are, how we can improve traffic, commerce, profile – and working out the best way to achieve those through great content.”

Tyto: What do you foresee as some of the biggest challenges you’ll face over the next six months?

 Jimmy: “The same issues you face in any media business – the financial challenges. One option increasingly used by the online news industry is subscription. That’s problematic for me, because if news is only delivered to people who can pay the subscription, if we’re constantly delivering news to the same people, then you end up with a whole cohort of people who are outside that media bubble. Therefore, we’ll have electoral and political surprises sprung on us because there’s this whole group of people thinking outside what you might call the metropolitan bubble.

“HuffPost has long been less about the bubble and more about the people.”

Tyto: What do you mean by that?

Jimmy: “What that means for us is not just reporting on the news out of Westminster, but really shining a light on the stories that matter straight from the source – for example, recently there was a stabbing in a youth club in South London. One of our reporters used to go to that youth club, so she went and met the guy who owns it, spoke to people in the community, reported directly from there.

“We also recently asked one of our reporters in the north of England to report on the real impact of NHS issues – she sat by a hospital bed in Blackburn for two days and reported what people in that bed said about the NHS, about health, obesity, poverty, deprivation. All these stories were symptomatic of other things – the strain on the NHS, the strain on public services, but instead of just reporting what the Health Secretary tells us, we look at it from the point of view of the people it affects.

“They sound like small stories, but then they’re symptomatic of a bigger picture. So for example, if justice is taken out of your community, and it’s centralized, you have to go to Manchester Crown Court, after the Magistrates’ Court to get justice, it affects people on a personal and community level.”

Tyto: Do those stories resonate well with your audiences?

Jimmy: “They do, yeah. What we’re trying to do is reach people who are otherwise being turned off the news. Which is happening a lot. There’s a certain group of people who will find us anyway, because they’re highly-news literate and consume the news every day, but it’s our job to make sure that as broad a range of people can be informed. Otherwise you get entire communities cut off from the news. That creates all kinds of issues where decision-making is being held by a smaller and smaller cabal of people.”

Tyto: What do you think your obligations are to your readers?

Jimmy: “To be accessible. To get the right tone, not patronise them. To make sure that what we’re doing is making things clearer for our users, rather than boasting to our peers. We’re not anti-London, but London is not the UK.“

With technology increasingly giving people access to news wherever they are, it’s vital that the UK news industry remembers their audience isn’t all be in London. In fact, a 2017 MediaCom report, found that demand for localised content and advertising is increasing all over the UK. After years of crippling decline in local reporting, this should be a rallying cry to the UK media industry. The HuffPost is definitely one media outlet that’s listening.