Metro chief political correspondent John Higginson has become the first journalist from a free newspaper to join the Lobby in Parliament.
Higginson is now permanently based in Parliament, and has already secured a number of exclusives for the paper including a page lead with Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman Vince Cable, who told him a recession could last up to ten years.
Higginson said that although the free Associated Newspapers title has a tight editorial budget, he felt the paper should cover more politics and so requested his editor recommended him for membership of the Lobby.
He said: ‘I’ve worked on other paid-for newspapers such as The Sun and I quite like working for Metro because it is expanding. While it isn’t as big as the other paid for editorially, it is going in the right direction, rather than the wrong direction they seem to be moving in.”
Getting into the Lobby was a lengthy process inlcuding around three months of security checks, but Higginson now works remotely from the House of Commons using a mobile internet connection.
‘We’re getting more stories than we were, and I’m doing as much as possible, actually speaking to MPS,’he said. ‘We do still get more stuff than other papers from the wires – we’re not denying that. But what myself and the editor are trying to do is to get more original stories, so we’re producing news rather than rewriting.”
Metro distributes 1.36 million copies in 16 British cities, and according to the National Readership Survey saw its readership increase by 35 per cent to 3.12 million year-on-year.
Higginson, who has been with the title for four years, said he hopes to change the ‘snobbery’that the rest of the press has over the free titles. And he said he believes many of his exclusive stories aren’t followed up by other newspapers because Metro is not on a news editor’s reading list, which he partly blames on journalists driving rather than commuting.
He said: ‘I spoke to the Chancellor at the summer drinks before recess and he said everyone reads Metro, which is true, but he did admit that he doesn’t get Metro. Even the press offices of various government departments aren’t thinking about Metro.”
One group who are paying attention, he claims, is the Conservative Party, and Higginson has had a number of chats with party leader David Cameron.
He said: ‘I’m getting lots from Cameron, but the Government is a bit behind on it and has its mind set that the freesheets are just following up other people’s news. It’s only newspapers that charge for the news. It’s free on TV, radio and the internet, so I’m not sure why people insist that a free newspaper is of a lower quality.”