Thanks very much to our panel of expert local journalists from around the country. You can watch the recording above, or read our summary below of their excellent top tips for thriving in regional journalism.
Chair: Laura Collins, WiJ committee member and editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post.
Panel: Maria Breslin, editor of the Liverpool Echo; Lydia Hamilton, Programme and Digital Editor at ITV Border; Eliz Mizon, freelance writer for publications including The Bristol Cable, and founder of the newsletter Chompsky: Power and Pop Culture; Abigail Rabbett, audience editor for Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, and soon to edit Reach’s Norfolk Live and Suffolk Live sites, set to launch later this summer; and Catherine Salmond, the breaking news editor for The Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News – who will next month take up the role of editor of Scotland on Sunday.
The pandemic has contributed to the ‘rebirth’ of regional journalism, making newsrooms ‘more vibrant, exciting and relevant places to be than they have been for an awful long time’, Maria Breslin told viewers.
Here are the panellists’ ten top tips for securing a place in your regional newsroom and thriving.
For a standout CV
Lydia Hamilton said: ‘I look for someone who could bring something different to a newsroom, who could help us reach an audience that perhaps we wouldn’t reach before. Do you have some really interesting life experiences that would make you really well placed to deal with a certain issue? A lot of people apply with a traditional set of journalism skills. What do you have beyond that that you can bring?’
Pitch tailor-made stories
To get a foot in the door the Liverpool Echo’s Maria Breslin says journalists should start by pitching well-considered stories written specifically for the publication they hope to work for. ‘We recruited someone at the beginning of June straight out of a course because he’d been very savvy and wasn’t just wildly pitching stories, he was pitching them to the Liverpool Echo. They weren’t perfect, he was still in college, but you could see he had the makings of a good journalist. We’re always on the lookout for good content.’
Build trust within your local community
Maria Breslin said: ‘Trust breeds loyalty and loyalty results in newspaper sales and good audience figures and a really good chance of a fighting future, so we should never underestimate it.’
Lydia Hamilton said: ‘During the pandemic for a lot of people living in our patch we are their first source of what the restrictions are. So there is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. We see the benefits of the trust that we have with our viewers in the kind of stories that people bring to us. That’s how you get people picking up the phone and saying yes I want to speak to ITV Border because I know that they’ll do my story justice.’
Let your readers be your eyes and ears
Abigail Rabbett said: ‘During the pandemic, the readers were the ones that were seeing things if something was happening, if there was a fire or a big police presence. We weren’t necessarily able to be all over everywhere like we were before the pandemic, our readers were almost on the ground. Everyone had a bit of their own buy-in to their local paper and to their local websites so we definitely saw a surge of tip-offs- people emailing in, people sending us Facebook messages. Or someone will tell us so and so was breaking the Covid rules and it enabled us to build a rapport with our readers in a way that we never had the opportunity to do before.’
Get back out there (if Covid-19 restrictions allow)
Catherine Salmond told viewers ‘I think that’s absolutely vital that reporters are visibly present [in the community]. ‘I think [ending home working] will develop the quality of what we can get, the breadth of it, and the two-way stream of loyalty.’
‘If your gut tells you it’s a good story, it probably is’
Catherine Salmond: ‘If you’ve heard something and your gut tells you that it is a good story, it probably is. So find out who’s on the news desk or find them on Twitter, give them the tip-off, and you have no idea how much you will stick in their mind as somebody who can gather news – because that is what it’s all about.’
Make sure the people you use as case studies are 100% onboard
Lydia Hamilton said: ‘Obviously in television news case studies are often a very important part of the story, so make sure that if you’re speaking to someone that they know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to brush them into something that they might not be 100% sure about, because what you don’t want is for something to go out and them not be happy about it, and any future follow-ups will disappear.’
Offer your readers light and shade
Catherine Salmond said: ‘People have never needed so badly a trusted local source, but I think with wanting to know the bad news about the pandemic they wanted the sort of light and shade, some uplifting tales as well the human tales behind the bad news. So we were very focused on that balance.’
Absorb your editor’s knowledge
Abigail Rabbett said: ‘Absorb your editor’s knowledge as much as possible, have those discussions, take their lead. Really make use of your news editors as well, there’s an enormous wealth of knowledge there from people that are very experienced.’
How to deal with Impostor syndrome
In response to a question about this from an attendee who is about to start a traineeship on a local paper, Catherine Salmond said: ‘I would rather have somebody who’s conscientious enough to have a bit of Imposter Syndrome than somebody who is really cocky and overconfident. My experience has always taught me that those people can be a bit lazy or a bit haphazard or loose with some of their legal stuff.
‘The ones who are really keen to prove themselves will get their head down and that confidence will naturally develop. That imposter syndrome will go as they prove themselves. The exclusives come, the contacts get built, the better stories develop each week. Go easy on yourself and just do the job to the best of your ability and sort of ignore that feeling.’
Kindly sponsored by Tesco.