Mirror editor-in-chief Alison Phillips has confessed she is “desperately missing” the newsroom and recalled fist-pumping alone in her house after publishing the acclaimed scoop revealing Dominic Cummings’ 260-mile trip to Durham during lockdown.
Phillips revealed the Mirror website drove 1bn extra page views in 2020 compared to the year before, although she said this was not down to Covid news alone but a general rise in demand.
Meanwhile she said millions people still buy the print paper each month despite being told to stay at home for months during lockdown.
Speaking at a panel on the State of the Media for Cision on Thursday, Phillips said: “We’ve had people come to us digitally and in print in greater numbers than we could ever have hoped for.”
This growth was achieved with staff entirely at home since March – unlike some other publishers, even its top editors have continued working remotely throughout.
Phillips, who is working from her spare room, said it “amazes me every day” that the website and paper were still produced to high quality “despite being thrown to the four winds”.
But she spoke of the importance of being in the newsroom and what journalists are missing.
“What’s difficult is in the longer-term the creativity and the conversations you have that lead to the bigger ideas and also the relationships you have with people which are absolutely essential in journalism in the longer term,” she said.
“Also most younger people coming through learn by seeing and watching how other journalists do their jobs and that’s how you become a better journalist, and I think that’s going to be very difficult.
“The other thing that’s possibly quite undervalued but is actually hugely important is the fun. There is something about being a journalist that is a real laugh, it is great fun, and it’s not as much fun when you’re in a room on your own, and I think the kind of people that are attracted to journalism certainly need some fun…”
Phillips recalled the night the Mirror and Guardian jointly published their scoop that Boris Johnson’s then-adviser Dominic Cummings had broken lockdown rules to drive from London to Durham with his family.
Yet the moment the story went live did not look like journalism from the movies, Phillips said.
“It was on a Friday evening and there was me sat here [in her spare room], there was our head of news sat with his kids’ bunk beds behind him, and our night editor was in his flat and we were all just trying to deal with it – this is not how it plays out in the movies.
“My husband came in from work… and I heard my son say to him ‘I don’t know what’s going on with mum but she’s fist-pumping up and down at the top of the stairs’ because it was the excitement, that adrenaline you get with a great story.
“It’s just not the same when you’re all operating all over the place.”
Phillips added: “Journalism is about people and people need people and society needs people to interact, and it might well be that the future is different but we need to get back to being with people.”
Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf shared a similar view in October when she revealed she disliked working from home and wanted to see a return to the office.
“I think that we really underestimate what we lose from not being in the office because we are a creative industry – we need to be talking to each other,” Khalaf said.
“We publish every second. We have to be able to share ideas and it’s really about what you don’t know that you don’t know, so it’s about the accidental encounter.”