Coverage of mental health issues at Metro.co.uk feels “authentic” because of the open conversation about the topic within the newsroom itself, according to the site’s acting editor.
Metro’s online brand, which is editorially separate to the free weekday newspaper, is marking Mental Health Awareness Week with a series of celebrity guest editors who have written about their own experiences, commissioned pieces, carried out interviews, and brainstormed with the newsroom.
Acting editor Richard Hartley-Parkinson (pictured) praised the celebrities, saying they had “all been brave enough to open up to us about it and that helps with our mission to humanise mental health issues”.
He told Press Gazette: “Obviously it’s come at the end of a very difficult year and a bit, but we have always on Metro.co.uk been very open about the topic of mental health within the office and also within our stories.
“We encourage conversations about subjects both for our staff and in planning how we cover particular subjects. That means when we write about mental health it feels authentic and not just about following trends.”
Mental health is “woven” through many topics covered by the website including previous series on adoption, fertility and prison reform, he added, approaching it “as sensitively as possible but without censoring ourselves”.
Hartley-Parkinson said it had been more difficult to keep an eye on staff during the past 14 months of the pandemic as many worked remotely, and that he himself found the hardest part to be the “missing of human interaction”.
But he said: “Generally our team knows that we are very supportive of one another and if there are mental health issues or there are people who are going through a crisis they feel comfortable that there is at least someone that they can talk to.”
Metro.co.uk has five mental health first aiders, access to a confidential helpline and Zoom occupational health consultations, and a weekly internal newsletter.
Hartley-Parkinson gave a particular shoutout to features director Claie Wilson, who spearheaded the Mental Health Awareness Week coverage, and lifestyle editor Ellen Scott who co-hosts the weekly mental health podcast Mentally Yours and has been at the “forefront” of Metro’s mental health coverage.
Metro celebrity guest editors:
- Monday: Good Morning Britain presenter Alex Beresford as guest news editor and comedian Russell Kane as guest technology editor;
- Tuesday: Ex-Saturdays girlband member Frankie Bridge as guest lifestyle editor;
- Wednesday: Ex-footballer Anton Ferdinand as guest sports editor and Made in Chelsea star Sam Thompson as guest social media editor;
- Thursday: TV presenter Scarlett Moffatt as guest entertainment editor and agony aunt;
- Friday: Actor Joe Tracini as guest soaps editor, and model and acid attack survivor Katie Piper as guest platform editor.
Head of social Jay Jaffa tweeted on Monday that he was “really surprised” when he joined Metro.co.uk four years ago “by how honest and open we were around mental health”. He also praised Scott and the lifestyle team, as well as the leadership of editor Deborah Arthurs.
Arthurs responded: “Making space for open conversations about mental health has always been at the heart of Metro.co.uk and I’m glad our team feel so supported by each other.”
Metro.co.uk had 38m monthly visits in March according to SimilarWeb data analysed by Press Gazette.
More than half of its audience is under the age of 44, according to Pamco data shared by the publisher, and it is focusing on growing a loyal millennial audience mostly in the UK.
Asked how Metro.co.uk had become the UK’s biggest newsbrand for millennials, Hartley-Parkinson credited it to the brand’s early switch to mobile-first thinking (90% of its traffic now comes from mobile) plus a high proportion of young voices in the newsroom.
“I think it’s because of that they’re really switched on with what young people want to read about it,” he said.
“We try to reach new audiences with things like State of Racism which was an excellent series put together by Natalie Morris and that’s reaching out to audiences and making contact with underrepresented groups or people who feel that the mainstream media does ignore them.
“One of the joys of being online is that we actually have the space to do that where in traditional print, we wouldn’t necessarily.”
Journalists and mental health: further reading from Press Gazette
- How newsrooms can deal with delayed mental health fallout from covering Covid-19 pandemic
- Call for journalists to receive ’emotional flak jackets’ against worsening online abuse
- Four out of ten Press Gazette readers say lockdown working has harmed their mental health
- Reuters survey finds one in four journalists reporting ‘clinically significant’ anxiety post Covid-19
- Journalism in time of Covid: Newsroom leaders have ignored the well-being impact of a remote-working switch
- Journalists ‘should have mental health appraisals’ to combat ‘macho culture’ of newsrooms