Jess Austin was recently appointed communities producer at Metro. We caught up with Jess to find out how she is getting on in her new role, why it’s important to provide a platform for people’s voices to be heard, how to scour social media for interesting opinions, working with PRs and her party tricks!
How are settling in to your new role as the communities producer at Metro? What’s a typical working day like?
Really well, thank you. I work on a brilliant team of three with communities editor, Aimee Meade, and her deputy Qin Xie.
We discuss the big stories of the day, first thing in the morning, and then brainstorm unique angles and voices that we would like to hear discuss these topics.
We then approach people to write, publish pieces we already have lined up for the day and respond to pitches.
Largely, we are searching for unique perspectives on the back of news stories or personal stories intertwined with opinion. Consequently, we are constantly on the lookout for people we’d love to write for us.
We’ve also recently launched our ‘Labels’ series – my first project for the site, which is pretty exciting – that hears from individuals who have been labelled – whether that be by society, a job title, or a diagnosis.
Throughout ‘Labels’, writers share how having these words ascribed to them has shaped their identity – positively or negatively – and what the label means to them.
Working on the series has been a fantastic learning experience, and I dedicate some time each week to planning and commissioning for the series.
How did you first get into journalism?
My mum used to be a journalist and as a child I always thought it sounded like the coolest job, although I never thought I’d end up one too.
I went from dreaming I’d be an astrobiologist throughout school (until I realised science wasn’t my strongest subject) to having my sights set on being a history teacher throughout university.
It was becoming an editor at the Tab Leeds in my final year that really made me want to go into journalism.
As much as I enjoyed writing, I loved reading other people’s stories, so when the job of Blogs Assistant at HuffPost UK came up as I was approaching the end of third year, I knew I had to apply.
Right after my last exam I skipped clubbing to stay home and apply for the job with a can of Strongbow Dark Fruits to help me write my application. Despite nearly falling over as I left the first interview – I’m fairly clumsy – I got the job and had two amazing years there.
What do you enjoy the most about your job? What are the main challenges you face?
I love to read, so getting to read such a diverse range of opinions every day on a whole host of topics is the dream.
I’d say the most challenging bit is getting everything perfect and ready to publish at a time where it’s still relevant.
How do you decide what content to focus on? Are there any particular trends you are noticing?
While the news largely shapes what we commission, we are interested in a whole range of topics. One of the things I’m most passionate about is giving a platform to those whose voices aren’t usually heard.
I have a background in lifestyle, style, parents and tech, so I do find myself naturally gravitating towards these topics. I ran a project back at HuffPost UK about the end of the world, and existential risk really fascinates me.
Some of the pieces I am most proud of commissioning over the years have been from people who aren’t professional writers or journalists and are just people who have a message and really want to share their story.
Good examples that spring to mind are: the lady who found the nurse who treated her childhood cancer 30 years ago on Twitter, the organisation working to tackle space junk, the charity asking us to no longer call the historical unnamed murderer Jack the Ripper and the lady who invited a girl whose life she saved by donating her stem cells to be the flower girl at her wedding.
What role does social media play in your work?
A lot of our time is spent on social media. Our team are constantly using it to find people to talk about certain issues, scouring Twitter and Facebook for interesting opinions. We’re also keen to make sure the pieces we commission get the attention they deserve so we actively share all of them on our social channels.
Do you have a good relationship with PRs? What advice would you give to PR professionals who want to work with you?
We do. My mum went from journalism to PR and I spent a lot of time in her office when I was a child, so I like to think I have a meaningful understanding of her day-to-day.
While we do mainly go directly to individuals for comment, we’ve had many op-eds that have come through working closely with PRs.
The best advice I could give to PRs who would like to work with us is to read over our comment section to get an idea of the kind of format and tone of what we publish, and to make sure the topic hasn’t been covered already.
We love strong opinion-led pieces from people with expertise or experience in the field that they want to write about, so making sure their client is the right voice would be ideal.
And lastly, we won’t run anything too promotional, so it is essential that every pitch has a message and argument that doesn’t just exist to bolster the writer’s company or product.
What type of press material are you interested in receiving?
We’re interested in a myriad of press material: book releases, comment on news stories from charities and organisations, information on upcoming research and reports, line ups for talks and festivals etc.
What is your most unusual talent?
I was very bored at a house party when I was 16 and discovered I can fit 36 ½ Mini Cheddars in my mouth.
What three items could you not live without?
In order of priority. Cheese, a laptop, and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange for when I need a break from the cheese.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose?
I’m a big fan of the idea of time travel so probably some combination of the powers of the boy in Bernard’s Watch and the main character in About Time.
Which fictional character would you like to have dinner with and why?
Every Christmas my mum and I watch All About Eve with a glass of prosecco and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange as we do Christmas stockings. So probably Margo Channing as I think she would be an absolute giggle.
Who would you choose to play you in a film?
I so wanted to have the wit and cool of Ellen Page in Juno as a teenager – something I never achieved – and although we look nothing alike, having her play me would make 15-year-old me squeal with delight.
Either way, I want it directed by Wes Anderson.