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Huffpost UK editor Polly Curtis: ‘The old school journalist in me wants the kind of scoops that make everyone else turn around and look’

By Freddy Mayhew

Huffpost UK editor-in-chief Polly Curtis has said her mission since joining the news website almost a year ago has been to attract people who have been “unnewsed”.

She defined them as “people who aren’t following a newsbrand at the moment – who aren’t having any guidance through these disparate, distrusted digital media we are all living in now”.

Speaking to Press Gazette’s Journalism Matters podcast, Curtis added: “I guess that underpins everything that I care about, which is trying to make news for people who don’t feel like news is for them, because that’s where the democratic deficit is in the system at the moment.

“If there is a threat to journalism a lot of it comes back to people actually losing a connection with news.”

She said as a result of this mission she has no plans to put up a paywall on Huffpost UK. “If your position is serving the unnewsed, that is a barrier that you would create,” she said. “Actually that mission is influenced by all the places that are putting up paywalls.”

Curtis said this was also partly behind her decision to move her entire newsroom to Birmingham for a week, from today.

The public-facing “pop-up” newsroom in the city’s Bullring shopping centre will house Huffpost UK’s entire 45-strong editorial team, led by head of news Jess Brammar.

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Brammar is one of a number of recent hires by Curtis, who has also added Paul Foot Award-winner Emma Youle to her team as Special Correspondent.

Reporter Amardeep Bassey will be based in Birmingham full-time for Huffpost UK, part of Curtis’ bid to break what she described as the “London media bubble”.

Curtis has also hired investigative reporter Aasma Day, of the Lancashire Post, as Huffpost UK’s north of England correspondent. Day replaces a London-based reporting role after the departure of Jack Sommers for the Jewish Chronicle.

Curtis said she had not gone out of her way to hire more women news staff, but there was a case to be made to have more women on the team given Huffpost UK’s audience includes a large number of female millennials.

She revealed that after accepting the editor’s role, which she took up in September last year, she looked across staff salaries “for anything that I would feel uncomfortable with, whether it was gender pay gap, or just people doing equal jobs and getting paid differently”.

Huffpost UK is owned by Oath UK, which was created when US communications technology giant Verizon merged AOL (Huffpost’s former owners) with Yahoo in June last year, having paid more than $4bn for each company.

Curtis said there weren’t any more plans for big hires and that her focus now was on getting scoops.

“The old school journalist in me wants to scoop the opposition, not just in pace, but kind of scoops that make everyone else turn around and look,” she said.

“That’s very much the thinking behind Jess Brammar – she knows a scoop and knows how to take a tip right through to landing a story that has impact and gets followed and makes everyone else look.

“But there is a bit of me that wants to shrug that off as well and say: ‘let’s also go and do the news that people really care about’, and that’s what Birmingham is about – getting under the skin of peoples’ lives.

“Getting into news that might not feel as competitive in the journalistic circles but people are going to think ‘Huffpost gets it’.”

As a digital-only newsbrand Huffpost UK’s web traffic is central to knowing how well its stories are going over with online readers.

“I really don’t want to do journalism that no-one reads,” said Curtis. “I just don’t see the point in it. And I think traffic is very much one of the impact measures we have to say whether something was successful or not.”

But, she said, there were other forms of impact that mattered too.

“It might be other people following us or getting a debate in Parliament. Impact has different layers to it.

“But traffic is important because it tells you whether you’re chiming with the audience, whether you’re reaching the right audience.”

Listen to the full interview on Press Gazette’s Journalism Matters podcast.

Picture: Huffpost

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