Our newsroom: Always seeking for the next person to write about

Maria Hudd, chief reporter at the Hastings Observer, gives us a guided tour of a busy news patch in Sussex:

The patch

The Hastings Observer series has four editions — Hastings and St Leonards, Bexhill, Rye and Battle. Each town has a different demographic and different issues, which in itself poses different challenges for our newsroom. Hastings, our main edition, is one of the most deprived boroughs in England but is also an up-and-coming hub of arts, culture, entertainment and history.

It has its fair share of crime, but also an incredibly passionate and enthusiastic community which gets behind its unique calendar of events. Bexhill is a seaside town with many tourist attractions. It has an ageing population that cares deeply about its surroundings, and protecting them from development or change.

Rye and Battle are both affluent towns with deep historic roots, and are both surrounded by villages with their own individual voices. It is a fantastic, newsy patch to cover, with plenty of excitement and variety.

The team

Our small newsroom is also full of variety in its characters. We have people who have lived on patch all their lives, and share the same passion for the towns as our readers. We also have people from out-of-town, who can view local stories with a fresh perspective.

Some of our reporters are experienced with a wealth of knowledge and contacts, while others are young and full of desire to learn. But all of our team share the same dedication to the cause, and all care about the product we are putting out to the public, both in print and online.

Our community reporters are committed to celebrating the successes of our residents. They tell people’s stories with care, compassion and heart, and want to shout about all the good things that happen in our towns.

Our sports editor is very much a part of the community he writes about — he plays for local teams and is a very well-known, well-liked and respected member of the local sporting scene. He goes above and beyond the call of duty and our readers are always full of praise for the pages he produces.

In Hasting, the newsroom covers many different communities

Our content sales executive is very much a part of the newsroom, too. She works closely with editorial staff and keeps us informed of how we are performing. She is always out and about sourcing new leads for newspaper sales, and puts 110 per cent into campaigns such as Pub and Salon of the Year.

And finally, our front-line news team. The team are faced with a big patch to cover but despite this, they always have their fingers on the pulse. They tackle stories on a wide-ranging variety of issues, and they have knowledge and understanding of our audience, which allows them to adopt the appropriate tone for each article.

They aren’t afraid of taking on difficult issues, and will go that extra mile to get to the bottom of the story — in some cases, sacrificing their Friday night to attend an MP’s meeting!

I’m incredibly proud of the newsroom we have here at the Hastings Observer series. Every person adds value to the team and without their efforts, we wouldn’t be putting out a product that we can all take a great amount of pride in, each and every week.

Our secrets to success

Despite the variances in our newsroom, we all get along so well. We all support one another and work very closely together across the different departments — it’s not unusual to see our sports editor giving a front-line reporter a tip-off to a great news story, or our newspaper sales executive appearing on a Facebook live video at a local event.

We take part in community fundraisers, including turning the office yellow for the day to support the local hospice, or spending the night in a cardboard box to raise money for a local homelessness charity. Not only does this this allow us to support good causes in our towns, but it provides a great opportunity for the team to bond — both inside the office, and outside of it too.

Two of our front-line news reporters also volunteer for local charities on a regular basis — one for Hastings and Rother Samaritans, and the other for a soup kitchen in Hastings, called Hope Kitchen.

We celebrate everyone’s birthdays in the office and we make sure the biscuit desk (yes, there is a dedicated table for snacks) is topped up on a regular basis!

While we do all get on, we also challenge each other with different ideas and suggestions. Many issues and questions are discussed among the whole newsroom and everyone values the opinions of others.

A bit of friendly debate among colleagues allows us to make a more informed decision, and I often ask the office for their views on headlines or photo choices for the front pages.

In the newspaper, we run campaigns that our reporters are passionate about, such as our Hope for the Homeless campaign that has been going for the best part of 2018, and in previous years, a successful and award-winning campaign to save Battle Fire Station from downgrading.

We have a voice and a platform, and we like to use that to bring these issues to the forefront of public attention — often with success and support from our readership.

We have recently moved into a town-centre office, after decades of being based on an industrial estate on the outskirts of town. It is fantastic to be back in the heart of our community, and we really feel like we are part of the town again.

The story that has had most impact

It’s a bit morbid, but it’s hard to overlook the double shooting from earlier this year. Here’s a short bit about it:

One story that is hard to forget from 2018 is the tragic double shooting in St Leonards in March.

The news broke at around 9pm and reporter James Butler, who happened to be passing through the scene at the time, uploaded the initial breaking news story from his phone while sat in his car at the side of the road. Other reporters then logged on to help with the coverage, launching a live blog and putting in calls to the emergency services.

The national media quickly picked up on the story and were running with rumours that had yet to be confirmed by police. We stuck to our morals and only published details confirmed by the authorities, never sensationalising the story — which proved to be the right decision, as the rumours later turned out to be false.

This story not only sticks in my mind as it was incredibly tragic, but because I am so proud of how our reporters handled it. The coverage was comprehensive — we accumulated 103,10 digital page views that evening — but it was also handled with the utmost sensitivity. We were thanked by our readers for keeping them up-to-date with the incident and, in what was chaotic circumstances, for only reporting the facts.

The future

As a newspaper, I feel like we are really moving in the right direction. Our digital audience continues to grow year on year, and we are embracing new technology and social media platforms. But we certainly don’t rest on our laurels — there are always more people to reach and more stories to tell, and it’s our job to do exactly that.

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The stories behind the stories, from the regional press in the UK

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