PRWeek talks to Jess Brammar, ITV News business, economics and consumer news editor, about simplifying complicated stories for the viewer, learning from talented colleagues and why a sense of mischief is essential.
Why do you do this job?
Because you can never, ever know it all. It’s the ideal job if you never want to stop learning and get bored easily.
What is the first thing you do when you get into work?
If I’m in the office, I make a large, strong coffee and log into my computer. I’m usually on email or on the phone to the news desk from 7am so by the time I get to my desk I’m a few hours into my working day.
What is the worst time for a PR to pitch to you?
It varies. It’s impossible for them to know if we are on a deadline, so it’s best to give it a go and accept that I may ask you to put it in an email for me to read later. I’ve had PRs call during the Chancellor’s Budget speech with unrelated stories. That wasn’t ideal.
What is the best time for a PR to pitch?
If the story they are pitching is good, I will always get back to them when I can.
How important is the use of social media channels in your job?
Incredibly important. I use Twitter for newsgathering the latest lines on breaking stories, as well as asking people to contact us through Twitter and Facebook. But it is more important than ever that we exercise proper journalistic rigour; something being reported as fact on social media still needs to be stood up independently by us.
What is your management style: shouter, weeper or supportive friend?
I hope none of the above. Running a busy team in a newsroom is about providing support and chances for people to develop, as well as demanding quite a lot from them in terms of energy and creativity. It’s a balance. It’s crucial to be aware of how team members are feeling when it can be easy to get distracted by the day-to-day workload.
What makes a great story?
It’s a combination of factors, but a compelling human angle and a sense of jeopardy are almost always in the strongest stories. On the business and economics brief we have to remember what makes things relevant to normal people – sometimes that’s a direct impact, but it can simply be that the protagonists make for compelling subject matter.
Are there any subjects that you find so tedious or offensive that you won’t give them coverage in any way?
As broadcast journalists, we have to report on everything in an impartial and balanced way, and that means that story has to be judged on its own merits. Obviously we would never do a story that endorses a particular product or company, for example.
What gives you the biggest job satisfaction?
Days when you break a big story or get an exclusive line on something that’s picked up all over the press are great fun. But often the stories you remember are when you meet people with no public profile or power and you can tell their story.
The greatest pressure on me is…
Telling complicated stories in a way that makes sense to our viewers. Business and economics are a tricky blend of issues that are absolutely crucial to our daily lives and largely misunderstood by many people, who often assume the movements of financial markets or complex economic policies have nothing to do with them. It’s a challenge but one that is (almost) always fun.
The one thing that gets in the way of me doing my job is…
Not having enough hours in the day. I often work late nights and early mornings, but there will always be stories we don’t have time to cover.
What do you look for in your ideal PR person?
The best PRs understand the motivations and limitations of newsrooms, they don’t blink at short-notice requests and don’t make unrealistic demands – we will never be drawn into providing interview questions in advance, for example. They are the ones we turn to repeatedly.
What is your greatest career fear?
Probably getting bored. Newsrooms are full of fantastic opportunities, and the fear of being stuck in a role I don’t enjoy while others are off doing exciting things is always there. But ITN is the sort of place where you make your own luck.
As a child I wanted to be…
I don’t think I was organised enough to have a plan. I remember watching Press Gang on TV as a kid and thinking that journalism looked fun.
In five years’ time, I will be…
Hopefully still having fun at work. If not, then I hope I would have the guts to make a change.
What is the best piece of journalistic advice?
Enjoy it and trust your instincts. If a story feels like a story, push it. Don’t be afraid to make the mistakes – it’s better to have ten ideas of which three are fantastic than hold back pitching them in the first place. I never thought I would end up in broadcast, but I followed the opportunities that came up and ended up loving it.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be…
Wishing I was. I never really had a Plan B.
What is your most memorable story?
Covering the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh last year is probably the story that affected me the most. Seeing the lives, and deaths, behind the high-street brands stayed with me. But I also remember meeting a woman few years ago who was caring for her husband after a stroke. She comforted him throughout the interview and I felt privileged to be invited into their home.
Who was your mentor?
There are a few people who have proved invaluable to my career. Steve Anderson, who was executive producer of Question Time, gave me my first TV journalism job as a junior researcher. And the time I spent as Laura Kuenssberg’s producer when she was business editor at ITV News made me a better journalist. Deborah Turness, who was the editor of ITV News and now runs NBC News in the US, has been a massive inspiration. But newsrooms are full of talented people so you can learn something from almost everyone there.
What were the key lessons you learnt?
All the people I’ve learnt from in my career have the same sense of fun and mischief in what they do. Working in news is demanding, the hours are long and the pressure can be tough. The most important thing is to carry on enjoying it.
How successful are you at work/life balance?
Not successful enough, if you ask most people who know me outside of work. This isn’t a job you can leave behind in the office and I am very rarely completely away from work calls or emails. But you have to have faith in your team to step away sometimes, and if chatting through stories with the planning desk on a Sunday or replying to an email when you are in the supermarket is too much hassle, then this isn’t the job for you.