Freelance Journalist

May 20, 2021 (Updated )

Westminster is often seen as the home of political journalism in the United Kingdom. But in reality, the politics that matters to most of us happens a lot closer to home – and that’s just one of the many reasons we could do with more dedicated politics coverage at a local and regional level. Alongside schemes such as the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporters, it’s vital to have experienced journalists leading the coverage – people like BirminghamLive’s Jane Haynes.

Jane has worked in local journalism for the Nottingham Post, Bridgnorth Journal and the South Wales Evening Post in both news desk and editing roles. Before joining BirminghamLive in November 2018, Jane ran her own hyperlocal news website Wyre Life, and returned to education to complete an MA in multi-platform and mobile journalism from Birmingham City University. In short, she knows what she’s doing when it comes to engaging local communities.

She talks to Journo Resources about to-do lists, how young political journalists can embed themselves in the community, and the importance of being multi-skilled in the digital age.

Jane working on a feature about food banks. (Image Credit: Birmingham Live)

My day starts at…

I arrive in it into the office normally about eight o’clock after about a 40-minute train ride. But on my way in I’ve already done quite a bit of prep. I’ve already been on Twitter and checked out what’s going on. [I look at] what trends are going on and if there’s anything that local politicians or councils have been tweeting about that I might have missed.

I’m coming into the newsroom probably with two or three new ideas in my head. When I get into the office, I pretty much hit the ground running. I’ve always got a to-do list that I haven’t completed from the day before. A story I haven’t got to, a phone call I never made. Before I even start the day, my to-do list is already there waiting for me.

What is a typical day like as Politics and People Editor for BirminghamLive?

I have a roving brief. I will have a very clear idea of beginning of the day and I’ll try to write those stories – but by the middle of the afternoon those plans will have gone out the window. That’s what I love about it, you kind of have to work on the fly and just adapt.

A lot of political journalism is covered in Westminster. How can young journalists carve their own niche for covering political stories outside of London?

Politics is about people. So, any aspiring journalist shouldn’t get too caught up with relationships with MPs and councillors or sitting in council meetings and following webcasts. Great though they are, it’s crucial to get out in the community you’re in.

Become part of the community yourself. Become a person that people know writes about their community and people will start to come to you with story ideas. And from those little kernels of stories will grow national stories.

“Politics is about people. So, any aspiring journalist shouldn’t get too caught up with relationships with MPs and councillors. Great though they are, it’s crucial to get out in the community you’re in.”

Jane Haynes

This is how stories develop. You hear about an incident involving one family, or one mother, or one child–  and you take that initial story and you grow it. You find a bit more about the national context, the regional context, check out some data, start doing a bit of desktop research, and from that one encounter in a cafe or at a community event, you can grow a story.

That’s crucial. If you’re living in a community, whether it’s a village or a town or a city, there are stories on your doorstep, go and find them. Go and talk to the homeless guy who sits outside the Co-op. Go to the ward forum events in your part of the city or your parish council, or whatever it may be and get to know the people who are there and start writing about them. Keep a blog, use social media, and just build up your reputation as somebody in the know and who cares about your community. That to me is the starting point.

Birmingham Live reporter Jane Haynes speaks with Andy Camp from West Midlands Trains for her podcast.

I always thought I would be…

If I was asked what I wanted to do, it was always to be a journalist. I toyed with things like social work at one point, and I think sometimes I definitely bring that side of me into my journalism. That desire to put right wrongs or to help people or to find a solution for people. I get quite invested in the people I write about and I make no apology for that. I would rather that than be completely able to switch off your emotions.

If you’re speaking to somebody who’s in dire straits for whatever reason, and I want to bring that feeling into the words I write. That’s really important to me. Social work was one of the possibilities but journalism was always the way forward. I was from a working class family, living on a council estate, the first in my family to go to university, and was really proud of that.

The thing which surprises me most about my job is….

How open people are. If you ask a straight question, despite what you’ll hear about politicians, you will usually get a good answer. As journalists we have to look at ourselves and say, we need to frame our questions in different ways to get the answer we want.

I’m not a huge fan of the confrontational approach. I don’t think that’s necessarily how you get the best out of people and it’s just not my style. I’d be faking it. For me, it’s a pleasant surprise that people are so open and willing to engage despite what you might read about journalism and journalists.

I got the job because…

I think the reason I got the job was that the role was advertised as a very non-traditional politics reporting role. BirminghamLive weren’t looking for a traditional local government correspondent who knew every councillor and was at council meetings all day. They were looking for somebody who was community and people-focused.

My role is about how political decisions translate into the community. They were looking for was somebody who would think outside the box and I’d written a hyperlocal for a year about my home community. The editor here at the time, Marc Reeves had seen a few bits and pieces that I’ve done. I’ve been at a conference and made a presentation that he witnessed. When he created the role, I expressed an interest and he said “Please apply”.

It was quite a tough selection process, I had to do a presentation on what I would bring to the role, a full day’s work in the newsroom and essentially was given the task of turning a story around. I think I left the office at about five o’clock, and I’ve been here for about 10 in the morning so it had been really intense. I wasn’t sure I ticked the right boxes for them and I was delighted when I was offered the role. I know there were some really good candidates who’ve been in much more traditional political roles. It was great for me, and it’s been. I have to say it’s been really intense. There’s been some lows, I’ve made mistakes. But it’s been overall, just incredible.

Jane in the office, in pre-COVID times. (Image Credit: Umar Hassan)

If you were to start again, what would you have done differently?

I wish I’d paid a bit more attention when I was at BCU to all the kind of audio and broadcast opportunities we were given. At the time I eschewed and thought I’m a print journalist at heart so I don’t need to worry about that stuff. But you’ve really got to be multi-skilled. So nail your audio, video, blogging, social media, all those things all have a really important role to play now.

After work….

I’ve got two kids, two teenage boys and an amazing husband, so I try to spend a bit of time with them. When I have downtime, I see my friends, I like going to the cinema and going for long walks in woods. I know appearances can be deceptive, but I like to try and keep fit. But other than that, I just like spending time with people who make me happy. That’s it really.

Image Credit: BirminghamLive. This interview took place before COVID restrictions applied.