Gorkana Insight & Analysis Team
Gorkana caught up with Steve Hawkes, The Sun’s business editor, as he explained his priorities for The Sun City page, how his ideas are shared throughout the paper, and the issues and campaigns he is interested in hearing more about from PRs.
Steve succeeded Ian King to the role of The Sun’s business editor in November 2008. He previously worked for a year as The Times retail correspondent and was the Daily Mirror’s deputy business editor before, a role he took in 2005.
The Sun reaches around 800,000 ABs everyday – high and intermediate managers and professionals – and has a daily circulation of over two and a half million.
The working day
Steve explained his role was to break the biggest business news stories he could each day aiming to get as many of his stories as close to the front of the paper as possible. He also takes the time to publish stories online and via Twitter. Sun City is a stand alone page which sits towards the back of the paper and is published from Tuesday to Saturdays. The section does not confine Steve from publishing stories elsewhere in the paper’s editorial pages, he explained.
Indeed the recent perils in the economic climate have seen business stories feature on the front of The Sun far more than before and Steve said he constantly “pesters” his editors to include his content.
Each morning Steve has two hours to draw up a list of around seven stories which he believes will form the basis of Sun City and at 11.30am takes them to the main editorial conference. He will be “disappointed” if at least two stories from his City list are not used. Stories vary from domestic, consumer and high street issues through to the global economy – with the Eurozone’s economic crisis and the positions of Greece and Spain being Steve’s most recent concern.
Steve said he was very clear by 10am of the stories he wants for his editorial list, but that can change as readers and sources phone with breaking news. By 12pm Steve is well underway putting news stories together.
The headlines are written by subs and Steve hands over his stories, around six pm to both a page designer and a sub who he then works alongside to produce Sun City. The first edition goes out around nine pm.
The Sun City
The Sun City page comes out from Tuesday through to Saturday and typically has a story count of around eight business stories. Steve explained he includes guest editors, campaigns and interview slots with chief executives. If interviews are good enough, Steve added that PRs should be aware they could take up most of the Sun City page.
Steve will also take the time to write three paragraphs of opinion based editorial if he feels there is a business story worthy of an opinion.
The biggest problem Steve has with PRs is that some do not read the paper and he still gets pitches from people who do not know who the relevant journalists are.
But Steve explained that PRs allow him to do his job better and encourages them to pick up the phone to discuss story ideas, “there can never be enough contact”. Photographs are popular too and Steve encouraged PRs to send him charts and reports too if they are easy to read.
Steve still receives at least ten to fifteen phone calls a day from readers; whether it be an individual laid off or from someone struggling to get money back from a company, which they feel is owed to them. He feels this could be construed a damning indictment of some UK customer services when consumers come to The Sun to air their grievances.
Steve explained Sun City’s niche is to talk to the reader as well as the worker – shop stewards and factory workers are a key demographic. He added that his team does cover technical issues including Basel III and the Swiss Franc when it devalued, making sure to not assume knowledge and really spell out the basics of a story.
Twitter is a very useful medium explained Steve, as it has given The Sun a channel for engaging regularly throughout the day with City workers, who are not The Sun’s traditional audience.
Steve also uses Twitter to force issues – because it is immediate. Even though the Sun City reaches 3 million people, PRs and his audience are very sensitive to what is said on Twitter, explained Steve. He once tweeted about a well known company and received a phone call within 5 minutes, “which was incredible”. Steve will also ask questions on Twitter to find out which PR agency is working on which deal and, again, often receives a phone call very quickly.
Tying in with the rest of the paper
The Scottish Sun, which has a separate Scottish team, will take its Sun City page from Steve. The edition however will amend its stories if there is a unique Scottish element to them and Steve will supply the extra information if needed.
Steve’s team have close links with other desks on the paper, including, consumer issues, the Sun Employment page and Captain Crunch. The consumer editor Dan Jones sits alongside Steve and they talk every morning as to story plans, order and positioning.
Steve added The Sun Employment page has been a tremendous success for the paper and is edited by Jane Hamilton. There is another road show in two weeks he added, and PRs should note his team will need chief execs for it. Steve therefore will source them from PRs and is open to receiving ideas as to how they can work together.
On Wednesday’s The Sun runs its traditional personal finance page Cash Flow, which has recently returned to the paper as “readers need as much advice on personal finance as possible,” explained Steve.
With regards to his policy for putting stories first online – Steve said he will do this so long as it is not an exclusive, which he tends to save for the following day’s paper.
Many financial journalists say it is a lot harder to get out of the office than it was before, Steve however will make the effort to see a chief executive if it is worth his while, “either a story for the next day, or something that will pay off in the future” The best time for Steve to meet chief executives is 8am in the morning over breakfast, or alternatively over lunch.
When covering small business, Steve explained he receives a lot of his information through phone calls from readers who work in SMEs. He noted the mood on the factory floor was not as bad as the perceived doom and gloom and therefore he ran campaigns and small business features earlier this year to showcase the successes in British business. “We were trying to champion some of the good stuff.”
If PRs want to approach Steve’s team with ideas for campaigns then they have to capture the imagination of his readers. He added that job creation for the young was a perennial theme that will benefit the reader and therefore he is interested in it.
Editorially Steve’s team will cover anything – so long as it is interesting. Pitched ideas need to be given an introduction and he wants to hear about stories which change the news agenda.
As a former retail correspondent at The Times, Steve explained a lot of his readers work in high street stores and therefore he is grateful in hearing more about the retail issues affecting them.
When asked if he felt there was an obsession with supermarkets amongst the red top tabloids – Steve replied yes, but only because the obsession was mirrored by society, “reflecting the 21 million people who use supermarkets.”
Steve will occasionally make a comment on Sun City in order to “get something off his chest” and values the opportunity, in three paragraphs, to put something in context and add his own view as well as those of his paper
The Sun on Sunday
Steve explained The Sun on Sunday, in its short life, is already the best read paper on a Sunday. The Sunday edition does not carry a Sun City page – but Steve expects he will be writing for it if a newsworthy item needs coverage moving forward. However Dan Jones does contribute, writing Mr Money - a two page review of the week’s main consumer issues and personal finance news.