Notes from November PPC meeting: The Guardian
Steve Chamberlain – Deputy Editor, Family
Rob Fearn – Assistant Editor, G2
Charlotte Northedge – Editor, Review and Magazine
Apologies – Archie Bland – Commissioning Editor, Saturday Guardian
Steve Chamberlain: email@example.com
Steve is the Deputy Editor on Family.
Family is not a parenting section. They like to think of family as a whole and in a wider sense – including aunties, cousins, siblings, etc and not just children and how to get them to behave.
They receive a lot of pitches about mourning, death, disease – these are good and they do cover a lot of it but any book/author that addresses it in a positive or slightly more perky way is always appreciated and welcomed – to provide balance alongside the sadder pieces.
Steve turns away a lot of books as often the hook is ‘written by a Mum or Dad’ – to get into family a piece needs a thread or narrative that makes it current.
He also often gets pitches for writers writing about writing – they don’t want these. They also don’t want pieces about how their granny/auntie/etc inspired their writing unless it has a spectacularly original hook.
Family comes out on a Saturday so they don’t cover news – it is always too out of date so they steer clear.
4-6 weeks. They appreciate things can be time sensitive so like to have as much as possible in advance.
They need really good photos to accompany a piece and make it stand out. They like smiley, at home portraits where possible – not serious authorly shots! Old family snaps work really well too. They can’t run a piece unless there are images.
Harriet Green is the Editor – copy her and Steve into all pitches as they discuss everything that comes in anyway and that way nothing will get missed.
4 feature slots per week ranging from 1300-2000 words.
Page 2 now has a listicle – ‘How To…’, ’10 Ways to…’
Steve is part time so time is limited. He can do coffee, not lunch.
Email is best. Steve/Harriet try to reply where possible and feel free to chase.
Please give them the heads up if you are pitching to other sections, be open about it as there’s nothing worse for the journalists than being scooped by another section.
Rob Fearn: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob is the Assistant Editor on G2.
G2 is a Monday – Friday feature section. News-led, broad, topical, hard-hitting news, foreign news, lifestyle, music, film.
Film and music reviews are on Friday.
There are a number of slots to fill:
Cover story – 2 spreads – one which is 2000 words, one which is 1000-1500 words and also a 900-1000 word column. All of these are very often linked to books.
Rob also looks at extract pitches – big name authors who they may not otherwise have access to. Or books containing interesting in-depth research that the team couldn’t otherwise replicate. Also zeitgeisty, buzz books. They also consider picture spreads.
They very often use novelists to write pieces. They also use them as columnists. So it’s worth getting them coverage in G2 as it can then turn into something more regular. They also like writers to write pieces about something which is tangentially linked to their book- Tahmima Anam and Thomas Keneally have done this recently.
Examples of recent coverage:
Extract – new Alan Partridge book, a book about the far right with an intro by Benjamin Zephaniah
Columns: Bridget Christie and Sara Pascoe
They have the big Monday interview which is looked after by Nosheen Iqbal. This needs to be a big name in news or culture, a household name. They also do a smaller interview behind that one too. For this they have had novelists like Paula Hawkins – they like to cover word of mouth hits and this can be a great hook for getting an author into G2. They also like ideas-based interviews – Gladwell-esque. Authors such as Daniel Kahnemann who can talk about their work or ideas rather than their life (as you would expect from a household name).
They go to press at about 5.30pm each day – be aware of this. Rob prefers email rather than phone calls. Please feel free to chase up pitches.
They can turn things around very quickly as they are a daily but they also like to work in advance where possible or if it’s something big.
They like to go first where possible but will consider going second if the piece for them is different enough. They categorically won’t follow the Observer.
Why choose G2 over a weekend supplement:
– Projection onto the masthead on G1 (this always promotes what is in G2 so good chance of getting this
– 4 covers per week – so a piece/interview has a great chance of making the cover
– They are great at projecting their content online whereas a lot of supplements don’t have an online presence.
– No paywall
Charlotte Northedge: email@example.com
Charlotte is currently editing Review, she is permanently on the magazine though.
Review is the main books section for The Guardian. It carries a lot of slots including fiction and non-fiction reviews and has two separate editors.
Justine Jordan – works Monday and Tuesdays on the fiction section.
Paul Laity – commissions non-fiction, also two days per week. Paul coordinates the non-fiction reviews from the US but do still send books to the Guardian office.
Charlotte and Nick Rowe edit the rest of the section and commission pieces.
They plan roughly two weeks in advance but please do be aware that things can get pushed back if a news story breaks.
They look further in advance for their cover story which is based around a feature or interview.
There are a number of feature opportunities:
Essays for the back – roughly 1800 words on a book or subject
Point of View – 1000 words, strong opinion based piece – can be literary, topical, political
A Writer’s Day – very well known author needed for this slot. Piece about how they organise their writing day.
That’s Me in the Picture – a piece about experience but must be an experience that is very unique to them, nothing a journalist could replicate. Ask ‘why should my author write about this, what makes it special to them?’
Best way to contact them is via email. Charlotte tends to look at all pitch emails on a Friday once the issue has gone to print.
Contacts for the Magazine who both look at books:
Ruth Lewy – firstname.lastname@example.org
Abigail Radnor – Abigail.email@example.com
They need to see things in advance and are always on the look out for fresh ideas.
They are always looking for angles and ideas for a piece. Pick out the topline issues about the book/topic and always highlight what is different about it.
Don’t have time for launches or lunches but do like to meet for a coffee to run through catalogues – pick out relevant books for them.
Worth sending copies for review but also for features as well. Follow up features review copies with a pitch email. And please do chase pitches.
Charlotte is on Twitter – @charnorth and @guardianreview
Review always wants to go first. They won’t follow the Sunday Times but they will consider running in tandem with a tabloid. This is the same for the magazine – they won’t follow another supplement.
Notes from Archie Bland: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Saturday interview is our flagship ‘news’ interview of the week, and the archive of examples is here: https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/series/saturday-interview
At the moment it’s usually conducted by Decca Aitkenhead, though plenty of others do it from time to time – Zoe Williams, Simon Hattenstone, Emine Saner, etc.
The territory it occupies is somewhere between the big celebrity driven features that you might get in film and music, or weekend, and the straighter news interviews that sit in the news run. These are feature interviews written by a really great, insightful interviewer, but they tend to be someone who has some connection to the news or the agenda of the moment. This can be quite indirect, and there are some celebrity/actor types who might fit, but it won’t often be right for someone who’s promoting a movie or a new album, for instance – unless it’s, say, Ken Loach. Books often give a substantial enough reason to talk to someone who might not be a subject we’d talk to if they had a new film out, when they’d fit better in our cultural coverage.
Mhairi Black and Wilko Johnson, two recent interviews, are sort of my favourite kind – really fascinating people who maybe don’t quite sit right for the big glamorous magazine treatment, who people know about but want to know more about and haven’t heard from a million times – people with a hinterland and a story that gives them weight beyond their job. But there’s a big palette. We do lots of politicians, and always interested in hearing about politicos with memoirs out. We also do people who find themselves at the centre of a big news story – like Gina Miller last week. (I’m also always interested in coming back to people who were in the middle of a storm and are now reflecting on it, like Paul Flowers, of co-op scandal fame, earlier this year – and I wish we’d got Anne Darwin, whose husband was the canoe disappearance guy. or we did Sharon Shoesmith when her book came out, which i was really pleased with.) We’d do novelists if they’re someone who has traction with current affairs and the wider world, like Margaret Atwood. And we’d do celebrities if there’s something specific about the moment that gives them a more surprising set of terms on which to engage – so we wouldn’t typically do Derren Brown if he had a new show, but him writing a book about how to be happy seemed like it changed the terms a bit. Next week we’re doing Trevor Noah and someone like him is a really good fit – well known, entertaining, but also really plugged in to big subjects of the moment.
Being first is a massive plus point. We wouldn’t ever follow the equivalent interview in the Saturday Times (unless the circumstances change markedly, so for example gina miller did them a few weeks before – but doing the interview after article 50 decision made it feel sufficiently fresh) or probably the Telegraph. A little more likely to follow Sundays (not the Observer obviously) or tabloids but it’s still quite iffy. Likewise we don’t bid for serial etc so if someone is doing a big glossy weekend magazine interview with extracts attached the week before we would consider following that for the right person, though again it’d mean that there’d have to be a really compelling reason to do it – so Noah, for example, is doing the Times Mag (I think) but I’m happy to follow because he’s such a good voice to hear from at this juncture and we’re not like-for-like competition – and I feel like there’s a Guardian take on him that’ll be different. If I’m told we’re getting first/second interview and then others appear elsewhere beforehand I’ll generally pull it – if it feels like someone has been everywhere I’m anxious about whether our readers are still interested.
For that Saturday interview slot, which appears on our section ‘cover’, it needs to be someone who is either very well known – so that our readers recognise them – or someone who is right at the heart of a big fascinating story – so someone like Richard Ratcliffe, whose wife Nazanin is being held in Iran. And they have to be people who feel like a good fit for Guardian readers. Yes to Mary Beard, no to Amanda Foreman; yes to Shami Chakrabarti, no to Gill Furniss; yes to Stewart Lee, no to Patrick Kielty. My pet hate is getting pitches for the Saturday interview about people who just obviously don’t meet this criterion – it’s always a bit embarrassing to write back and say, sorry, not famous/interesting enough. Also, PS, we do too many white men, and jump at a great pitch about someone who doesn’t fit that type.
Having said that, we do also do general feature interviews sometimes.In these cases the pressure to be ‘known’ is much lower – the important thing is that the person has a really amazing story. We wouldn’t generally do an ‘ideas’ interview where the subject is just the argument they’re making in their book, it has to be about them too. This interview with FGM campaigner Hibo Wardere is a good example of one that I thought really worked: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/apr/02/from-fgm-victim-to-teacher-you-are-always-running-from-it-but-you-get-tired-you-have-to-confront-it
Also loved this one with the herdwick shepherd James Rebanks – again, not right for our section front but a brilliant thing to have: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/27/james-rebanks-twitters-favourite-shepherd
Logistically speaking we ask for an hour and a half to cover interview and pictures – usually we can come wherever suits in the UK. We like to do it in the week of publication if possible – Wednesday is ideal, so that there’s time to get it done but it will feel up to date. Always more interested in an interview somewhere that tells us something about the subject – at home, in a neighbourhood that matters to them for some reason, in workplace – than in a publisher’s meeting room. For someone like James Rebanks it was just obvious that it would be great to get out and do something with him, and always keen on ideas for that kind of thing, rather than just sitting opposite each other for an hour.
Finally, we try to be pretty responsive to the news agenda, so while it’s always nice to fix things in advance it’s also always worth keeping us in mind for opportunities that come up late – if something feels right for that week we can juggle things more easily than a lot of other sections.
I’ve always welcomed meetings with PRs to flag up the next season’s books and I’m sure my successor will too.
And any examples you can find in the archive that break any of these rules basically just means I was let down at the last minute and searching desperately for an alternative!