Huffpost UK's pop-up Birmingham newsroom has been 'positive' week of 'shoe-leather reporting', says head of news Jess Brammar

At the beginning of this week Huffpost UK temporarily relocated their newsroom to Birmingham in a bid to escape the “London media bubble”.

Jess Brammar, the news website’s recently hired head of news, told Press Gazette the week so far had been “one of the most rich, story-getting newsgathering experiences” of her career.

The former BBC Newsnight acting editor said it had given the news team the opportunity to gather stories that would have otherwise remained unheard.

All 45 members of the Huffpost UK’s editorial staff have relocated to a pop-up newsroom in the Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham. They are due to return to their usual base of operations in London come Monday.

Brammar said: “It’s been a week of shoe-leather reporting that’s been a really good experience for our journalists.

“The doors open at ten every morning and people come in with real stories. Our lead story on the site on Monday was from a women who walked in to  the newsroom.

The story Brammar is referring to involved a 22-year-old student who was turned away from working at a temp agency because she had dreadlocks.

“It was a great story about casual discrimination and it’s these kinds of stories that people might not have called into a newsroom to share otherwise,” said Brammar.

She said she sees the work in Birmingham as part of Huffpost’s “mission”, as described by Huffpost UK’s editor-in-chief Polly Curtis to Press Gazette’s Journalism Matters podcast.

“The mission of Huffpost is to reach the un-newsed, people who don’t seek out news themselves, who would never have a subscription to a paper or pay for articles behind a paywall.

“So the best physical way of finding those people is to rock up in a place like a shopping centre where they’re going about their normal daily lives anyway.”

Brammar said that although it’s been “logistically challenging moving 45 people to a pop-up building in a shopping centre for a week” the experience so far has “exceeded expectations”.

“Our journalists have so enjoyed going out and talking to people – and people have been so receptive to them that we’ve been getting loads of brilliant stories.

“Everybody wants to be out and about chatting all the time and obviously, for all journalists, there’s that tension between the newsgathering part and the part where you actually have to sit down and transcribe the stuff you’ve heard and convert it to a written piece.”

She added: “It’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience but actually the most challenging bit has been finding the time to do the backroom stuff when there’s so much to actually be gained from going out and having those conversations.”

On Thursday Huffpost UK took the opportunity to present some of the issues raised in the week’s reporting to West Midlands Mayor Andy Street.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street takes part in a Q&A hosted by Huffpost UK politics editor Paul Waugh at the pop-up newsroom in Birmingham. Picture: Adam Fradgley / Exposure Photography

Brammar said: “We’d gathered all these great stories and issues that people hear and we wanted the chance to put that to somebody in power.

“As well as having an audience of people inside our pop-up newsroom physically asking questions, we also had questions from our Facebook audience and we were also able to put to him some of the questions and issues that we picked up from our mobile ‘listening posts’ during the week.

“We fed in some of the quotes we had from individuals that we’d spoken to out and about around Birmingham and asked him to respond to those, so it was really great.”

Although the newsroom will be leaving Birmingham on Sunday, Amardeep Bassey, Huffpost’s newly appointed Midland’s correspondent, will be following up the stories the team gathered in the city.

“Amardeep has worked as a freelance journalist in Birmingham for years and people here recognise him,” said Brammar. “It’s great that we have a reporter here that is able to follow up the story leads we got this week.”

Brammar said Birmingham was chosen specifically because it has gone “underrepresented” in the media and is “the youngest city in Europe”.

Although she would like to do something similar in another area of the country there are no plans to do so at the moment.

Brammar said: “It’s important we take some time to debrief and look at what we’ve learned from the experience.”

Brammar joined Huffpost from BBC Newsnight in February and explains that she was won over by editor-in-chief Polly Curtis’s vision for the site.

“I really loved working at Newsnight. It was a really extraordinary place to work,” Brammar said.

“I think I’d been there for about four years and then when Polly first started to talk to me about the possibility of joining [Huffpost UK] I was just completely won over by her incredibly focused vision of the sort of news she wanted to create.

“I was also really inspired by Lydia [Polgreen], who’s our editor-in-chief in the States.

“I was completely won over by the idea of trying to create something which is a little bit new, which is a digital news organisation that is really rooted in solid old-fashioned journalism.”

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