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Inside the HuffPost’s new School of Journalism

Last week, HuffPost UK announced the launch of a new project – the HuffPost School of Journalism, in partnership with Birmingham City University.

The school will sit within BCU’s School of Media, and will allow the publisher to work with undergraduate and postgraduate students on quality journalism, as well as ‘breaking traditional media forms’.

This week, Media Voices caught up with Executive Editor Jess Brammar to find out more about the partnership, the reasons behind the launch, and what it means on a practical level for both HuffPost and BCU.

A Birmingham legacy

The decision to partner with Birmingham City University is rooted in a project that HuffPost ran a year ago, according to Brammar. 

“A year ago, we actually closed the London newsroom, and we spent a week running a newsroom out of an empty shop in Birmingham city centre,” she explained. “It was about trying to see what happens to a news outlet when you move the centre of gravity, and you step away from London.”

The project, called ‘HuffPost Listens’, brought the entire team of 45 journalists to a shop in Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre. They then published a series of pieces from talking to the general public, from people sharing their experiences of crime in their area, to how they feel about diversity in a city which is about to become a majority non-white.

“Lots of people popped in on their lunch break,” Brammar said, crediting the shopping centre location for the success of the project. “They came in after work because they’d heard that there were this crazy bunch of journalists doing this thing in the Bullring.

“It was a really interesting way of talking to people in a space where they weren’t expecting to talk to journalists, or encounter news.”

This was the beginning of a relationship with Birmingham, and subsequently the university, which Brammar said appealed as a place to do more work. “We had a fantastic time in that city, and we discovered it was full of all these great stories,” she said. “It’s a very young city, it’s a very diverse city.”

As for the university itself, Brammar said that the diversity and their focus on making students employable were some of the things that appealed to them. “They have that sense of opening up journalism and making it more diverse, not for worthy reasons, but because that’s the way to make journalism survive and thrive in the future,” she explained.

“We have to write news that is relevant to people, we have to have journalists that reflect the people that they’re writing for.

“So there was a real synergy there I think, in terms of the vision we have, and the team at BCU.”

Access to a global stage

When it comes to the actual practicalities of the relationship, Brammar is enthusiastic about the benefits that both sides get. “We will help them set some module questions, and we can give them access to a really busy national digital newsroom,” she said. 

HuffPost journalists will also lead masterclasses and tutorials focused on news, lifestyle, politics and more, as well as host talks for students. There will be opportunities for students to spend time with the editorial team, as well as the offer of work experience in an actual newsroom.

“We’re a Pulitzer Prize-winning news organisation, and that’s a nice thing to have access to if you’re a journalism student. It’ll also be just injecting some of the realism about the real pressures and the real decisions that are made in newsrooms.”

Students will have the opportunity to pitch stories to HuffPost editors, giving them a sense of how decisions are made in a newsroom. But Brammar said it is also the access to a global newsroom which is appealing to BCU students.

“We’re originally an American company…and we have outlets in India, Canada and Brazil,” said Brammar, highlighting the access to the global stage that students will get.

“Students have an enormous amount to offer us”

When it comes to the benefits that HuffPost will get from this relationship, Brammar says that the students have an enormous amount to offer. 

“I’m excited about some of the things I’m going to learn from them that I have no idea even existed. There’ll be platforms that they are accessing news or information from that…I probably don’t even know that they exist.”

The university itself encourages a multi-platform approach; something Brammar said felt quite modern to her when compared to other universities. “Quite a lot of academic approaches to journalism are skill based on whether you focus on broadcast, or whether you focus on print, and that’s starting to feel increasingly just not the way that the industry works,” she explained.

“I’ve worked in TV, I’ve worked in digital…and I think we need to loosen up a bit as an industry and recognise that some of the boundaries in terms of platforms that I was trained to believe in, are just not there any more.”

Having access to the next generation will help HuffPost understand how people in their teens and early 20s are accessing news, from changes in the platforms they discover content on, to their attitudes to paying for it, as well as wider issues around trust and perception of the media industry. 

“The industry needs to adapt to these changing trends, not fear them,” Brammar explained in a post. “We are excited to listen to students when they tell us what is important to them – and in return instil young journalists with the solid skills of newsgathering and reporting that will always be at the heart of what we do.”

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