Freelance Journalist

July 17, 2019 (Updated )

With a hugely successful career across ITN, Newsnight, and now HuffPost UK, Jess Brammar knows exactly what it takes to make it in the media industry. It’s also especially impressive when you consider she used to want to be a nurse.

She sits down with us after an impressive keynote session at #SPANC19, and gives an insight into her secrets to success – and what it takes to run a newsroom.

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My day starts at…

6.30am. The first thing I do is listen to the Today programme on Radio 4 and while I’m doing that I read around a bit. Then, I work with our News Editor to send the early morning news list [to the early shift] at about 6.55am.

I’ll also have a look at what our overnight news editor has done who’s based in New York. I’ll look on our front page to see if there’s anything on there that needs updating into the morning.

Then I quickly get ready for work and if I have a chance I might try and do some exercise, because during the rest of the day there’s no chance of me getting a break

One of Jess’ first jobs is to check the HuffPost UK homepage. (Image Credit: Screenshot / HuffPost UK)

My typical day involves…

I usually get to my desk 8.15-8.30am, and then at 9am I have my first meeting of the day which is the news morning meeting, where we talk through how we’re going to do the big stories of the day. Reporters bring their ideas and we talk through what the top stories are. We try and think of interesting takes and angles we can do.

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We have a meeting at about 4pm where we hand over the guy in New York, Graheme. That’s a good time to take stock, as during the day things have obviously been moving quite quickly. I’m often not at my desk as I’m in meetings or going to events. I’m not always completely plugged into the day, as I have a News Editor who can do that.

At 4pm we look at what’s moving through the rest of the day, and we also see if we have a pre-prepared splash for the next morning that we can flip to at midnight. I usually get out of the office at about 6pm. It’s a really long day, but I’m the boss so it has to be. I’ve always worked really long hours.

Lately, because of the Brexit votes, I’ve quite often been coming home and then working at home until late. I’ll always jump on if there’s a big breaking news story. You have to be on call all the time if you’re running a news team. On the weekends I try and protect it by deciding I’ll be on call for one day, and then hoping I can step away a bit on the other day. Otherwise, I just wouldn’t have any life.

Brexit has been really difficult because so much of the action has been happening in the evenings, so I’ve found myself working late at night. But our readers experience it first thing in the morning, so I’ll also then get up at 6.30 in the morning and start thinking about how we can move the story on quickly.

Jess Brammar is now Executive Editor at HuffPost UK.

The most surprising thing about my job…

There aren’t really set working hours. Even if I’m not on call at the weekend, if I saw or heard an interesting story then I would feed it in. We operate on Slack so there’s always a means for me to drop something into the newsroom and whoever is on shift will look at it.

I always wanted to be…

A nurse when I was a teenager. I wasn’t really interested in journalism and then I got involved in my student paper at university. But I was a broadcast journalist for about 10 years before I moved into digital, so I didn’t think I wanted to do exactly what I’m doing right now. I’ve just taken interesting jobs along the way.

Jess Brammar at newsrewired Image Credit: Adam Tinworth / One Man And His Blog

I got the job because…

I was a young researcher on Question Time when I finished university. I did that for three months, did it for another three months, then a year, then another year, and it was suddenly four and a half years. Then I went to ITN as a field producer for about four and a half years.

Then, the person whose producer I was went to Newsnight, and I followed her. That was how I jumped to the BBC. Then I just worked my way up and ended up as Deputy Editor. Then HuffPost approached me when they were looking for someone to run their news team, so I just decided to go for something different.

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It’s not as different as I expected, the fundamental tenets of storytelling are still the same. I’d done four and a half years on Newsnight and I was exhausted, I was working very late nights, getting home past midnight. I also just had a desire to try digital journalism properly.

I was frustrated at the balance of resources at the BBC in terms of how much digital they were doing, and I just felt if there was going to be longevity and sustainability in my experience in the journalistic world, I’d have to go and learn how to run a digital newsroom.

If people wanted to follow in my footsteps, I’d say…

Say goodbye to your friends for the next ten years! I’m joking, but make new friends who work in newsrooms. Just be really open to saying yes to every opportunity. If you wanted to end up where I am, you would have to not clock on and not clock off, and not mind working extra hours, putting in extra effort beyond what it says in your contract.

Whether that’s ethically correct, we can debate, but I certainly did a lot of that. Just really enjoy it, and the moment you’re not enjoying it, maybe go do something else because the only point I’ve not really enjoyed a job is the point I’ve moved on to do something else.

If I was starting again…

I’d do the same because I’ve had no plan at all. If I changed anything I don’t know where I would end up, and I’m really happy with where I’ve ended up right now. I never learned shorthand and I did care about that for a while, but I have no need to use it now in the job that I’m in. That did matter when I wanted to do more court reporting when I was younger though.

I’m most proud of…

At HuffPost, we’re building a reputation for real quality, on-the-ground reporting. I think we tell a picture of the UK the way that people actually see it in their communities and that hasn’t always been the case with digital newsrooms. That’s what I’m most proud of at HuffPost.

After work…

I watch loads of Netflix. When I was younger I did socialise a lot but I tended to make a lot of friends in our industry. Some of my best friends are the people I worked with at Newsnight because of all those late nights that we spent together.

I do a bit less of that now, probably because I’m in my mid-thirties and a bit more exhausted. To be honest sometimes when I get home  I just want to watch something that has nothing to do with the news. Last Monday I watched Fleabag in between the Brexit vote and the Brexit vote result; I certainly don’t sit around watching documentaries about Brexit.