How The Guardian expanded its UK political coverage to ‘Anywhere But Westminster’

The Guardian won in the Best Video Journalism category at The Drum Online Media Awards 2020. Here, the team behind the winning ‘Anywhere But Westminster’ series explains the thinking behind the successful project…

The challenge

The ‘Anywhere But Westminster’ series began with a simple premise: exploring the gap between politics as seen in mainstream coverage, and politics as felt on the street, in towns, villages and cities around Britain. When it began in 2009, no-one had coined the word ‘Brexit’, and mainstream politics was still seen as stable and predictable. But ABW’s makers sensed that things were changing, and that politics demanded a new kind of coverage, well away from the usual charmed circles and power centres.

The strategy

Anywhere But Westminster is a ground-breaking collaboration between political journalist and commentator John Harris and filmmaker John Domokos. This year the series marks ten years, and nearly 140 films, just as everything it has been exploring and chronicling is spectacularly exploding in the chaotic politics of 2019.

It has become part travelogue, part dark comedy, part examination of the nature and purpose of political journalism, all combined with a constant exploration of the social fabric of our country, and how that is driving change.

The story of Brexit has been at the heart of our series since long before the referendum was even called. Now that story is reaching its climax, most political journalism still focuses on the surface drama in Westminster. But ABW has gone deep into the causes of Brexit, and our wider political turmoil: technological disruption, the changing nature of work, the decline of people’s immediate environment, and the decline of trust in the media.

As a form of journalism, ABW has been radical and unique. Harris and Domokos don’t have a script. They travel, put in long hours exploring places, and improvise as stories take shape.

Their films are open about the process of production, even when it means admitting when they are feeling lost. Vox pops have become a dirty word for some, seen as the lowest form of journalism. ABW has turned this on its head. Using chance encounters on the street as a starting point to go deep into the lives and issues facing communities, the series has given voice to the sorts of people who rarely make the news, especially in a political context, and brought them to hundreds of thousands of viewers.

The campaign

With Britain becoming increasingly polarised, and audiences creating their own information bubbles, Anywhere But Westminster has served the highest public interest - bringing diverse views together, revealing hidden connections and causations, and helping our viewers understand what motivates people with differing political viewpoints. It has also forensically highlighted the social problems that are crying out to be solved – personified in this entry in the story of Charlie Dale, who lives in Wigan, Lancashire.

Anywhere But Westminster first encountered Charlie at a food charity in this video. He was struggling to live on Universal Credit, but following Brexit closely, which he voted for in the hope of a fairer country. The series revisited him half a year later in this video, finding him nearly starving and facing eviction after a zero hours contract left him repeatedly without either work or benefit.

Viewers raised thousands of pounds for him, which turned his life around. But just as importantly, ABW gave him the dignity of having his say politically.

The results

ABW is now the Guardian’s flagship video series, with an average of over 200,000 views per episode and thousands of comments on every film, many praising John and John for getting to places and people untouched by the rest of the media. It has a completion rate way above the average for other Guardian video, a remarkable feat for a series that is often close to 20 minutes per episode.

This project was a winner at The Drum Online Media Awards 2020. To register your interest in any of The Drum’s upcoming awards, click here.

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