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Questions for Storytellers Series... Lauren Davis

Meet Lauren Davis senior sub-editor for The Times with previous experience at the Daily Mail and Evening Standard.

What kind of storyteller are you? The sub-editor, crafting headlines and editing copy.

Best part of the job?

The buzz of being in a newsroom when a big story breaks is addictive, but the satisfaction of perfecting a headline or intro is also hard to beat.

Tell us about a project you have worked on that you are proud of...

Right now, I’m proud that we’re providing readers with reliable, informative news during the coronavirus outbreak as well as entertaining content to keep them occupied. I also worked on some amazing charity campaigns at the Evening Standard, including HIV/Aids and homelessness, which exposed the human stories behind the wider issues and raised a lot of money for good causes. A stand-out moment was being chief sub-editor on the day of Theresa May’s tearful resignation outside No 10. It was such a striking front-page image of her which really made you think about the personal element of that huge political story.

A little secret about being a sub-editor...

We sometimes make mistakes too, but we work as a team to spot any slip-ups, and we check everything. Biggest stereotype you hate about your role? This applies to journalists in general: I hate the stereotype that we don’t care about our readers or the people in our stories. For me, thinking about their perspective is vital for tailoring content effectively.

What’s the biggest change your industry faces in the next year? Print journalism has been dealing with the challenges of rising production costs and falling advertising revenues for years now, but The Times is a great example of how to embrace digital and make it a key, integrated part of a newspaper brand. It will be interesting to see how coronavirus affects print sales in the long term, but I think it has reaffirmed the importance of good-quality journalism. News outlet or publication of choice and why?

The Times, of course. Yes, I’m biased, but I’ve been a subscriber for many years and I cannot recommend it enough. For a different perspective, I also like Delayed Gratification, a quarterly “slow journalism” magazine.

What’s your content guilty pleasure?

Interior design accounts on Instagram! Favourite news or social media story in the last 12 months?

The story of Captain Tom Moore’s fundraising efforts was such a welcome ray of sunshine among the many sombre coronavirus stories and a real joy to edit. Looking further back, Colleen Rooney going all detective in her accusations against Rebekah Vardy was a much-needed interlude amid the seemingly endless twists and turns of Brexit. What brands do you think tell great stories and why?

It’s been interesting to see some of the bigger brands taking a more personal approach during the pandemic, revealing their own vulnerability and talking about how their staff are coping, etc. And I think the way big businesses behave during this time will have a long-term impact on how customers view them. A lot of smaller food businesses in my area have had to switch how they operate to adapt and they’ve attracted huge support from local customers by being honest about the challenges they’re facing. What do you want from PR people? Details, details, details. Don’t leave anything in a story that raises more questions than it answers – unless you also include those answers. My other big bugbear is technical, industry-specific jargon that the average reader won’t know. Spell it out, or rewrite it in plain English that your nan would understand.

What makes a great story? The best stories tap into the reader’s question: “How does it affect me?” That could be a major political story that will change some aspect of their lives, or it could be a human interest piece that reminds them of someone in their own family. But there’s also a place for escapism, especially at the moment.

Top tip for storytellers... Make it clear from the beginning that it’s worth a reader’s time. Attention spans are short. Imagine you’re passing someone who’s walking on the opposite side of the street (social distancing style!). You only have 30 seconds to summarise your story and grab their attention to make them stop and listen to the rest. That’s how you start your story.


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