"I think the industry as a whole has moved away from clickbait"Jess Brammar

In such singularly volatile times of post-truth and fake news, it’s never been more imperative to consider carefully the way we consume our information. The Internet has made the very latest stories accessible in real time. We have more news at our fingertips now than ever before, but while headlines clamour and clash on our Twitter feeds, the sheer amount of noise can threaten to distract audiences from what’s most pressing.

So how can news channels go about building strong reputations for honest reporting that will ensure their followers keep coming back for more? What does the future hold for digital newsrooms, given that a brief glance at social media is quickly becoming the primary source of information for everyone within sight of a screen or in reach of a smartphone? These are questions which Jess Brammar, Executive Editor of HuffPost UK, says are being grappled with every single day by anyone who works in journalism.

Brammar has been at the forefront of the news industry since starting out on BBC Question Time; since then she’s worked as News Editor for ITN, Deputy Editor for Newsnight and as Head of News for HuffPost UK before becoming Executive Editor in July this year. I begin our conversation by asking what’s changed for journalists since she was Features Editor of her student newspaper at the London School of Economics. “We simply did not have digital journalism, so in that sense it’s completely transformed,” explains Brammar, adding with a laugh that the university paper’s lack of online presence “now seems kind of crazy.”

Today, she can’t imagine doing anything else: “I’m still very close friends with the team that I worked with at university. It was great fun – working so hard for such long hours because you want to be around those people is definitely something that I’ve carried forwards into my career.”

Although the Internet has brought huge, and often problematic, changes to patterns of news distribution and consumption, it’s too easy to simply “rue the downsides about what’s happened there”, in Brammar’s opinion. Yes, she acknowledges, “skimming through news stories by headline alone has obvious implications for people’s contextual understandings of stories.” But there comes a point when we have to accept that this is what today’s media landscape looks like.

“There is no such thing as journalism that isn’t digital anymore,” Brammar continues. “Even the big blue-blooded print organisations are using social media to contact sources, to get ahead of stories. Nobody is sealed off from the digital world, so I think you sort of have to look for opportunity in it. And you absolutely have to keep old-fashioned journalistic news gathering methods at the heart of what you do.”

This has been central to Brammar’s approach to inspiring trust among readers in a crowded news market. “Building up really solid on-the-ground reporting, getting out into communities, making an effort to talk about the kind of stories they would like to see covered…”

In June last year, HuffPost made an extraordinary move in celebration of these journalistic conventions by temporarily relocating their entire newsroom to Birmingham’s Bull Ring shopping centre.

When I ask about Birmingham, Brammar says the biggest lesson for her was “seeing what getting out of the newsroom did to our team”. In the familiar hustle and bustle of a shopping centre, “we’d actually come into a place in people’s lives where they weren’t expecting to consume news. That was really useful for us because it came at a time when people were saying that they’re losing interest in news.” Here, Brammar pauses. “But I believe they’re just as interested in stories as they ever were. It’s our job to pop up in their lives, whether it’s on their mobile phone or in that extreme example, in a shopping centre, and make a point that stories and news are just a part of discourse, they’re part of everyday life.”

“Journalism will only survive if we make newsrooms look like the rest of the population”

And yet I’m curious to ask more about this risk of news fatigue amongst audiences. Full-time social media coverage means that we’re constantly awash in a deluge of digital content which stresses the “unprecedented”, the “first in history”. Whilst I in no way wish to suggest that today’s events aren’t urgent enough to merit this kind of language, its ubiquity on so many different platforms has left many feeling detached.

How can digital news channels address this? “It’s a really tricky line to tread,” says Brammar.

“But it’s important that we maintain a completely reasonable level of outrage. If we stop reminding people that some of the events that are happening with the British government or with Donald Trump in the US are unprecedented, then I don’t think we’re doing our jobs properly as journalists. I do think the industry as a whole has moved away from clickbait; as an editor, I am always careful to remind my team that just because we’re covering this stuff all the time, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a lot of what we’re covering is, frankly, outrageous.”

I ask if Brammar has any advice for young journalists, particularly in relation to social media. Is there a danger that increased pressure on journalists to cultivate personalities in the public eye and to build up followings on social media will open them up to online abuse? “First of all,” says Brammar, “it’s important to say that social media is a fantastic platform when you’re starting out. I advise every young person to have a profile and to make it look engaged. You’d be mad not to; it’s like a shop window. Having said that, I and many of my colleagues have experienced a lot of abuse on Twitter. It’s often very gender-based and can be incredibly unpleasant.”


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When it comes to students using these platforms to voice their opinions, Brammar recommends a degree of caution, whilst making it clear that she’s not telling young people not to get involved with politics or campaigns. “Just remember that your career might move in different ways down the line.”

Entering a newsroom for the first time, she says, is above all an opportunity to learn: “Young people can teach people of my age and older so much about how to consume and think about journalism. And on the flipside, if you’re a young person in a newsroom, you’ll learn from all the people around you.”

And what about the future of HuffPost UK and Brammar’s goals for the platform going forward? Increasing diversity is absolutely a priority, she tells me. “The lack of diversity in journalism is a crisis. Diversifying is about enriching newsrooms and making them better, producing better content.

“Journalism will only survive if we make newsrooms look like the rest of the population”, she says.

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