With the launch of a new daily Eat & Drink section in today’s Metro UK, commissioning editor (features) Jenny Stallard talks to Gorkana‘s Caleb Greenland about the free paper’s newest content, the growth of dating features and why there’s sure to be a raccoon café in Shoreditch some day soon.
Describe your role at Metro UK.
My title is commissioning editor for the features team, which traditionally means you organise all the features content coming in – but as that’s done under different department heads (such as travel, or film) it’s a combination of looking after the new eat/drink pages, sister pages to Metro’s Property section (‘Property’ has just been nominated for two awards) and lifestyle content (anything from dating to self help and organising interviews or guest author pieces). I liaise with freelancers on copy, briefing them on features, as well as working with PR teams to secure interviews.
Metro UK has today launched a new Eat & Drink section, which you’re overseeing. Tell us more.
It’s so exciting! This will be a daily section, celebrating London’s restaurant and bar scene. It will include everything from reviews and chef interviews to quirky or ‘can’t miss’ dining and drinking events.
The section will be a daily guide for anyone wanting to know where to go that evening, week or weekend in the city – with tips and suggestions as well as new openings and pop ups.
You’ve been on the features desk at Metro UK for 18 months now. What has changed since you started?‘
There have been quite a few changes. The most notable was changing our ‘Eat’ section on a Tuesday to ‘home’, and launching our new property section, which has been a huge hit with readers and advertisers. We also have ‘Weekend’ now – Property, home and weekend are all overseen by Liz Burcher and her team. Now there’s the new section to add to that content – so we really are focusing in on how our readers live – and want to live – their lives.
I think since I started, the dating content has expanded as that’s my ‘baby’. I also write a lot of ‘heart on sleeve’ opinion pieces, which might not have happened so often before I arrived here. Nobody else on the team seems to need writing as therapy!
What are readers looking for from Metro?
I like to think of Metro as ‘that mate on the train that read the paper before you’. We’re chatty and here to fill you in when the last thing you watched was News at 10. It’s a balanced mix of humour and hard news, with reviews and of course celebrity gossip. I think readers want a bit of everything, written in a friendly, accessible way without any political bias.
Are there any specific topics or types of articles that work best?
We can tell from our tablet and phone editions how long a reader stays on a certain piece. And from the ‘home’ point of view, upcycling and freezer food have been top reads, as was an interview with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for his TV show Waste.
When it comes to dating I think people like honesty and things they can relate to. We’ve all been on a bad date and I think readers relate when I write about my dating woes.
How far in advance to you tend to work with feature pieces?
It depends on the content. I’ll know the gist of what I want to run a few weeks prior to planning a day’s content but we work ‘on edition’ too. For example if a book is launching in June, I’ll have a note of that and an interview set up (this also goes for pieces that are hooked onto a TV TX date). Some pieces are written on edition as and when news breaks that we react to, in particular with a food or drink trend, or a lifestyle piece.
Is there room for feature-led content in more unusual areas?
Absolutely. If something isn’t right for an editorial feature in the paper, there could still be something else we can do with it through creative solutions or one of our digital platforms. For example, we ran a recent campaign based around Lara Croft which was a huge success for the PR company Brown Betty.
What advice would you give PRs pitching to the features desk?
Read the pages you’re pitching for. It sounds so obvious but I often get asked about the ‘home lust list’ (it’s called Hot List!) and also whether I’ve covered a certain topic (eg gin) when we’ve covered it the week or month before.
A photo of the product as an attachment on an email is also very helpful. I get a lot of emails asking ‘what are you working on?’ whereas I’d much rather have a more proactive ‘we have xx celeb, or xx new product and think it’d work for House Doctor/Hot List’ etc. Oh, and don’t email ‘Dear name, surname’ or ‘Dear Jenny, would this work for Kittens Weekly….’ That happens a fair bit!
What would your ideal feature piece involve?
I love features that have a heart, and make me laugh – the ideal piece makes me want to write in to the letters page. Last year we tested the most expensive Easter Eggs on the market. That was pretty perfect. Oh and going to New York to learn about the dating scene there, of course.
Is there anything in particular you wouldn’t cover?
That’s not one for me to answer on an overall scale, but for features we tend not to review experiential events that are one-offs and things that are beyond the budget of what we think Metro readers would spend. It’s not our style to say ‘we did this but it’s expensive and beyond your reach, sorry reader!’.
Good examples of this are high end dating events/matchmakers or one-off fashion events. Personally, I’m always open to feature ideas – I even went on the TV show First Dates for a piece!
What trends are you are expecting to be big this year that could be covered in Metro?
Anything linked to tech and social media. Our tech pages are hugely popular and there’s so much going on in that world that crosses over. From dating and kids to sport – tech’s everywhere and I think it’ll figure in all our worlds and so many features this year. Mindfulness, meditation and wellbeing are all big news – we write about them regularly in the features pages. That and we revealed in Metro that Raccoons are the new cats on Instagram so that’s surely only a matter of time before there’s a raccoon café in Shoreditch.
Finally, you wrote a book last year, Boyfriend by Christmas, with the lead character set a tough deadline to find a boyfriend by Christmas. Are you met with many unusual deadlines in real life?
Haha, no, nothing like that! Although, I wrote a column for Metro called Boyfriend by Christmas, which inspired the book.
My most recent ‘job’ was to go to New York for the weekend to write about the dating scene there. I did the Tough Mudder obstacle race for a feature and over the years, in magazines, it’s been more the random locations I’ve been to – most memorably a one-way train line to a remote Welsh village – to interview women for real life stories.
We also once stayed up for the local council election count at my first job, until 3am, and saw the Lib Dems take Guildford from the Conservatives for the first time in decades, which was quite a big deal for us as reporters at the time.
Jenny was talking to Gorkana’s Caleb Greenland.