Community News

Gorkana meets...Daily Mirror Health

10 July 2015

Andrew Gregory, health editor at the Daily Mirror, on not having a typical week, putting together his 'list lines' and why he doesn't like the term PR.

The Daily Mirror is read by 3.5 million people every day. There is also a growing global online audience – in the UK, second only to MailOnline.

The team

Andrew started off as a graduate trainee at the Daily Mirror in 2007. He spent three years working in various offices around the UK before taking on a staff reporter job in 2009. He worked on various crime and investigation stories, before becoming health correspondent in 2012.

His remit was to sharpen up coverage and provide more insightful content. He was made heath editor last year, and also ran the general election desk earlier this year. He also won the Science and Health Journalist of the Year award at The Press Awards in 2014.

He took on the role of election desk editor earlier this year, partly because of the particular stance that the Daily Mirror has on health. It’s very pro NHS, which was obviously a huge subject around the election.

Andrew’s remit also covers science, and he has covered issues including experiments on animals, partly as a response to feedback from readers. Science is a big area to cover, and Andrew will often work with the paper’s technology team on stories.

A separate team produces the daily Your Life section, which includes the Your Life supplement on a Tuesday. Andrew does not look after these sections, but he does produce a column in the Your Health supplement. PRs interested in Your Health should email its editor, Vicki Grimshaw.

Social, search and SEO are more and more important for the Daily Mirror, and as a result, the online and print teams sit together. The Mirror team is encouraged to use social media to talk about their stories, as well as engage with readers and contacts. There is also a dedicated social media team, which will often build polls, quizzes, graphics, etc, to increase interaction on social media platforms.

Readers

The Daily Mirror’s print readers tend to be aged 40s to 50s+. The online reader is much younger, usually around 20 to 30 upwards. The site is also attracting a big audience from the US, Europe and Asia.

Feedback from readers has changed considerably in the last few years. Where once, Andrew would get the odd letter, he now gets anything from 10 to 50 emails a day from readers. He takes feedback very seriously and puts a lot of work into responses.

Some stories spark more interest than others. Andrew did a recent investigation into IVF treatment and the reduction of IVF cycles due to funding cuts. It was featured both in print and online, and feedback was unbelievable.

Because there is a quite an age gap when it comes to print and online, Andrew has to think about which stories on the site will work for readers buying the paper. Something around gyms or the latest fitness craze will likely do very well online, but will probably not be right for the paper.

Planning

There’s no such thing as a typical week for Andrew, but he does attend two editorial conferences a day; one at 11am and the other at 4pm. Senior editors meet to discuss what stories each section of the paper has and where everything needs to be placed.

In the morning, the news team will produce 'list lines' – four to five sentences about the stories they plan to pitch that day. If Andrew doesn’t have a presentable list line by 11am then he has little chance of getting his stories into the next day’s paper.

With this in mind, Andrew wants to hear about potential stories the day before he’s going to pitch in to conference, if possible.

The Daily Mirror’s news room has screens featuring a measurement product called Chartbeat, which tells the team which stories are doing well online and which are not. If a health story is doing very well, Andrew will look to supplement the piece with extra content, whether that is comments or a new angle.

Content

There is no such thing as a perfect health story. Daily Mirror readers are interested in topics as wide ranging as dementia, diabetes, cancer and obesity, but in general Andrew is willing to consider any health story so long as it’s strong content, provides good access and is something readers will think is relevant to them.

95% of Daily Mirror print content goes online. The paper is digital first in a lot of areas, and there have been changes to how exclusive content is used. Where once, exclusive content for the paper would never go online; many stories are now running online throughout the day and then appearing in the paper the following morning. Some exclusives are still held back until around 10-11pm, but for the most part, content is digital first.

Andrew will usually produce around eight to 10 stories a day, some of which will be NIBs (news in briefs), which will appear in the side columns of the paper. He will also write four to five page leads a day and, if it’s big enough, a story can end up as a spread or splash. Health has been taken a lot more seriously by the paper in recent years, and as a result health stories will often make it to page one.

The team is often breaking news throughout the day, which is where online comes in to play. If something big breaks around health, the team will run a story online, and it will then appear in the paper the next morning.

Andrew often covers stories around studies from reputable journals and titles. However, research commissioned by a PR firm is taken with a pinch of salt. This doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be newsworthy, but it comes down to the quality of the research and the top line. Polls are less interesting to Andrew. They do feature in the paper, but it’s not something he would spend a lot of time on.

Andrew has just returned from Chicago, where he covered the world’s biggest cancer conference, writing three to four stories a day. It’s an issue he’s keen to work more on, as people are finding it increasingly important, with a recent report revealing that in the future one in two people will get cancer.

Andrew says the Daily Mirror’s health team goes in search of positive stories, which often create more traction. Readers will read for longer, they will buy the paper more regularly, and they will stay online more often, says Andrew.

A good example was a story earlier this year on Britain’s youngest organ donor, a baby called Teddy, whose organs were donated 100 minutes after he had died. Whilst it was an incredibly sad time for his parents, for them to be able to tell their story brought a positive side to a very tragic story.

To make it more of a campaigning story, Andrew and the social team came up with a #TeddysStory hashtag, which was used across all Mirror outlets, as well as all video content, to encourage a conversation amongst readers.

Andrew is also interested in covering medical tourism features. It’s a growth industry as more people in the UK face long waits for operations and clinical surgery. There will always be more interest in stories where something has gone wrong, which he appreciates may not be helpful for many PRs. That said, if there’s a growth area in a particular field he’s happy to take a look.

He is not particularly interested in health food or nutritional supplement stories, but they often features in the Your Health section.

Working with PRs

Andrew has a strong working relationship with PRs, although he doesn’t like the word “PR”, as he considers good PRs as contacts – people who have managed to establish a relationship with Andrew, whom he speaks to on a regular basis, and who provide strong content; be it words, pictures or videos.

When pitching a story, Andrew prefers to be contacted by email. He is on several social media channels, but they often lack privacy when it comes to talking about a potential story.

A good PR will offer a good story. It’s all about good content, says Andrew. You only need to look at the paper to get a feel for the content the team is interested in hearing about.

Exclusivity will always peak Andrew’s interest. He knows it’s not always possible, but it will always have a better chance with him if it’s something that hasn’t been written about before, both nationally and globally.

He is particularly interested in medical technology, anything that is changing the way we live. If a PR can provide exclusivity around the first “X...Y...Z” to be performed in the UK, he’ll be interested.

Andrew does respect embargoes. If something is embargoed for print, make sure it’s set at around 9:30pm/10pm. Midnight is too late – once the embargo has passed the story will go online and the readership will be very low at that time.

Andrew does look for expert comments for stories, and he has his own contact book he likes to use. It can be hard to make it into his contact book, as he will have regularly dealt with them. That said, if a PR has a specialist they think could work for a story, email Andrew explaining who the client is, what they have to offer, and what their contact details are.

There are a lot of studies that break every day, and Andrew will be sent several expert comments in response to these. To stand out, it needs to be short but interesting. If a comment comes across as dull, it won’t make it into the story.

Because health is seen by many as a very private issue, getting case studies from people willing to go public can be difficult. In most stories, Andrew will insist on a name and a picture (there is little point to a case study without pictures). Key details required are first and surname, age, where the person is from, what their condition is/how they’re impacted by the story, and some quotes.

Availability is also important. Andrew has had a few recent instances where he was offered up everything he needed, saw the quotes weren’t quite up to scratch, but was unable to get in touch with the person. It often means a story will just die.

If the story is strong, then there is a possibility for anonymous case studies. “But the story would have to be pretty damn good”, says Andrew.

He sees no limit to the type of content that can be produced, and has even had operations filmed in the past. It takes a lot of planning, but this is where a strong relationship is key.

If a PR is selling in a story that includes video content, mention it, but don’t initially send it. If Andrew isn't interested he’s left with a huge email in his inbox. If he is interested send through a fully edited video. The Daily Mirror also has a video team, which can edit videos to meet the team’s specifications.

Andrew often meets up with his PR contacts. He has time to meet up with new contacts, but it requires good storytelling to kick things off. He wants to know what a PR has to offer, who their clients are and the types of stories they think they could help with.

Top tips

When covering the cancer conference in Chicago, Andrew talked with several other health editors about how PRs could stand out when pitching:

  • Make sure you have started your email with the journalist’s correct name. Don’t start by sending Andrew an email that begins: “Good morning Laura”. “It happens more often than you’d think”, says Andrew.
  • Length is very important. “If it’s a story, you can tell it in three sentences”, says Andrew. “Long emails make for dull reading.” Andrew’s attention needs to be grabbed in the first couple of sentences. Make sure your contact details are also included.
  • “Offering” time with an expert is not something special. Andrew would expect this from any story.

What’s in store

The Daily Mirror is currently growing its online and print teams, which will see an expansion to the US. There is already an office in New York, and there is also set to be a Los Angeles office in the near future.

Predicting what will come up in health is difficult, says Andrew. The last few years have seen a focus on patient safety issues, coupled with the recent election. Andrew believes money will be a big issue, especially around surgeries and treatments that are being rationed. It’s an important issue for a growing ageing readership, who will be looking for access to treatment.