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July 25, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:11am

Insider leaves Parliamentary lobby with closure of UK politics desk

By Bron Maher

Insider has closed its dedicated UK politics team six months after hiring the section’s editor.

Politics staff at the website had the choice of either joining the general news desk or leaving.

It means the website will now leave the Parliamentary lobby of political journalists based in Westminster.

The desk will continue to operate until the end of August, at which point editor Cat Neilan will move to the general news desk. Reporter Henry Dyer will leave Insider altogether.

Private Eye reported this month that Insider told the politics team their desk was being mothballed in the same week in June in which it announced its new London bureau chief and deputy.

Confirming the news, Insider told Press Gazette its “UK newsroom has decided to move away from covering the day to day of UK politics, though it will still be reporting on big political stories, such as the recent resignation of Boris Johnson”.

A lobby reporter of five years, Neilan joined Insider from The Telegraph, where she was live politics editor, in January. Former freelance Dyer joined in May 2021. A third Insider political reporter, Thomas Colson, departed the company in March 2022 and does not appear to have been replaced.

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No redundancy package was offered to the staff beyond two months’ notice of the desk closure.

Despite the small team size, the remaining pair have continued to generate original stories: on Friday they picked up that Rishi Sunak may have broken Parliamentary rules by filming a leadership campaign video in the Palace of Westminster, a story that subsequently made its way into Politico’s Playbook.

Dyer was also the subject of some political coverage himself in February, when a Labour MP had the whip taken away after making disparaging comments about the journalist’s race.

An Insider spokesperson said: “The [UK] newsroom – which has doubled its team of about 45 reporters and editors a couple of years ago to its current size of nearly 90 – will continue to focus on the broad range of stories that are of interest to our readers in the UK and around the globe.

“Such coverage has included investigations, such as one into the pay and working conditions at Buckingham Palace and another about the turmoil within Google’s Cloud division as revealed by company insiders; global affairs features, such as one on the inevitable death of King Salman of Saudi Arabia; and culture pieces, such as an interview with actress Natalie Portman about her role in Marvel’s latest movie.”

In May the publication won its first Pulitzer Prize for an illustrated story on a Uyghur woman’s escape from a Xinjiang detention facility.

Insider has bureaus in New York, London and Singapore, allowing it to publish continually. It is also now looking to set up an India bureau, according to an internal email seen by Press Gazette.

“If we want to successfully build a global 24/7 newsroom, we need a much larger team in Asia to help us cover the non-stop news cycle that doesn’t go to sleep when the majority of our staff does,” reads the email attributed to international executive editor Spriha Srivastava, who was also appointed London bureau chief last month with Kieran Corcoran as her deputy.

“As we have seen in Singapore, we have a big traffic advantage when we publish news overnight,” Srivastava added.

Asked about the politics desk closure at an all-hands meeting, Press Gazette understands Insider editor-in-chief Nicholas Carlson said: “we changed strategies and brought the London and UK team together with our team in the US to form a new global newsroom dedicated to serving smart, curious, ambitious people all over the world who read in English.

“Our London and US and Singapore teams are all focused on this audience. A large plurality – though non-majority – of that audience is in the US.

“Additionally, the United States is a global power and massive cultural influence across the planet. So naturally we cover it and its politics more often than we cover local legislatures in many of the states and countries where we are based.”

Private Eye reported in its story that Insider journalists “whose stories get 20 million clicks a month – quite a target – can earn a life-changing $250 bonus”. Press Gazette understands many staff are given a target of 15 million views minimum per month.

An Insider spokesperson declined to comment on the targets, saying “as a matter of policy, we don’t comment on internal incentives”.

Gawker reported earlier this year that, according to a spreadsheet listing the salaries and bonuses of Insider staff that had been accidentally left available on the company’s Google Drive, editor-in-chief Carlson had a salary of $600,000, with a further $600,000 bonus paid in January 2019.

[Read more: Henry Blodget interview – Why is Insider still thriving? Because we didn’t try to be Disney]

In May, Insider had a UK audience of 4.6 million after a month-on-month drop of 3%, according to industry standard Ipsos iris data shared with Press Gazette.

Picture: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

Correction: This article wrongly identified Shona Ghosh as the Insider UK deputy London bureau chief. It is in fact Kieran Corcoran. The article also said the two politics staffers were offered the choice of a new contract or redundancy: Press Gazette understands neither was offered redundancy.

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