You can’t win over readers by bashing out story after story and hoping for the best

Alan Woods

Alan Woods, Brands Editor, Essex Live and Hertfordshire Mercury will remember 2018 as the year that slow news showed it could work online…

Which story from your newsroom will you remember most from 2018 and why?

My Essex Live 2018 Awards (solely voted for by the newsdesk and reporting team, presented after dinner at the Christmas party) undoubtedly crowned this as our best story of the year; it walked away with story of the year award, front page of the year and Alasdair Hooper won reporter of the year.

This sort of journalism is what we stand for. A long, detailed story that holds the reader throughout and is of interest to a huge number of people.

It is a fantastic, ground-breaking way to tackle a hugely emotive — but also widely covered — issue [of homelessness] and I am thrilled to say that this was an idea Alasdair came up with himself, rather than a hand out. No one here will forget this story and it will undoubtedly be Alasdair’s legacy. What’s more, he isn’t even a senior yet.

Looking around the regional press, can you point to something from another newsroom which stands out to you? What was it and why?

Leeds Live. I appreciate it’s far from the biggest site in terms of page views but the professionalism of the launch stood out for me. There was never a typo, digital publishing standards were at the highest and the content did just what I believe it meant to do — engage a new audience in Leeds that was previously served poorly online. I learnt a lot from it and took several ideas away myself.

What did you learn in 2018 about local journalism which you’ll remember?

The best stories take time. In 2017 everything was too fast. There was an incessant need for story after story after story. This year as a newsroom we took a step back.

We now look at news lists. We consider every story on them. We talk about what the sell is. We talk about who the audience is. If the newsdesk agree it’s a story worth covering, we commission it and if it takes a day or two, we wait and we have faith in the reporter and our decision.

The decision usually pays off, but it doesn’t always. When it doesn’t we learn. And in 2018 I have learnt that the best pieces or journalism can’t be ‘smashed out’ on 45 minutes.

Secondly — headlines are key.

I have said this to so many people, so many times. ‘That’s a clickbait headline’ someone says. ‘No, it’s a headline to engage you with the story we have written, in the same way that we have written headlines in the newspaper for many years.

You clicking on that story is no different to you reading the story below the headline in the newspaper.’ But if we write shit headlines — or publish a story with a shit picture — the story bombs. Just like you’d turn the page in the newspaper and move onto the next story.

If you had one tip to share with other editors about being an editor in 2019, what would it be?

Look after your people and your people will look after you. If you want reporters to go above and beyond, make them want to.

If you want reporters to log on after hours and cover the next big story, make sure it’s worth their while.

If they do either of the above, make sure their brilliance is widely-known so they feel like what they did was worthwhile. Look for talent among your team and nurture that in the direction that you want to, for the better of your newsroom. The key to a happy news team is having fun — if you can make people want to come to work then you’re half way to hitting target.

What do you hope will happen in 2019?

I’d love the opportunity to employ a journalist tasked solely with creating brilliant, brand-boosting and engaging video for our Facebook audience. Native videos are without a doubt the best way we have improved the ‘image’ of our brand online this year and I would love the opportunity to do more, as we are far from short of ideas. Our readers love them too.

What will you be looking for in new reporters when recruiting in 2019?

Enthusiasm. Charisma. Personality. It’s great and all that if you have 100wpm, can edit in Premiere and can hold the local authority to account, but I have those skills in the newsroom already. I want someone who will stand out from the pack, who is prepared to push boundaries and can have fun whilst they write excellent stories.

How would you sell your newsroom to someone thinking about applying for a job in 2019?

Come and work for me if you want to have fun, write brilliant stories that really matter to people, work with a flamboyant and creative team and get fat on Domino’s and Nando’s. Don’t apply if you’re afraid of random bangs going off from party poppers as and when I feel like it.

What’s the most memorable thing to have happened in/around your newsroom this year?

Well this was a category in my awards as well and the winner was when Alasdair was tasked with setting off a confetti canon (those huge long ones that cost about a fiver) to mark someone’s last day and their leaving speech. Alasdair twisted the barrel to unleash the confetti… and fired it at the floor rather than in the air. All caught on video and the best moment by a long way.