James Billot is the Editor at The Post, UnHerd, the UK’s largest new media publication.
The Post – A crucible among key thinkers for the big idea of what comes next. Post-Liberal, post-populist, post-Brexit, post-Trump…
On leaving Radley you had been offered a place at Durham but you turned it down and took a gap year instead, why was that?
I visited Durham on an Open Day and it felt too much like Radley 2.0. I loved my time at school, but I didn’t want another three years of it! I wanted to go to a city-based rather than campus university, which is why I chose Edinburgh in the end.
I was probably too young to fully appreciate the freedom of a gap year, but I still enjoyed travelling and getting my first experience of the working world during that time.
Was that when you decided to pursue journalism?
It wasn’t until the final week of university that I started considering journalism seriously. During the run-up to exams, I engaged in what could charitably be described as constructive procrastination; instead of revising, I did a lot of blogging and the reaction to my pieces encouraged me to think about writing as a career. I was realistic enough about my prospects to know that I probably wouldn’t be writing any best-selling novels any time soon, so I thought journalism would be the next best bet.
Up until that point, all I knew for certain was that I did not want to have a corporate job. While at university I did an internship for a management consultant company for six weeks, and the thought of returning to Microsoft Excel still gives me chills.
Tell me about UnHerd, and how The Post fits within that?
UnHerd is the largest new media organisation in the UK. It has around three million readers per month and our focus is pretty broad: philosophy, politics, culture and religion —as long as there are new and interesting ideas to be shared, we want to hear them.
The Post is UnHerd’s blogging channel. We aim to highlight new and exciting trends from the world of ideas and find an interesting, edgy angle on them. Whether it’s an overlooked detail in the mainstream conversation that’s worth highlighting or a weird and wonderful paper from an obscure academic journal, we want to be bringing these ideas to our readership. Essentially, anything that challenges mainstream (herd) opinion is usually something we go for.
In 2019 I was the only person to be selected for the 6-month traineeship programme which gave me access to all the different parts of the newsroom. I was lucky enough to be employed as the Editorial Assistant and in April this year became the Editor of The Post, which was always my natural home.
How often do you post articles?
My job consists of writing, editing and commissioning blog posts, which are around 500 words in length. I aim to get at least four out per day and usually I’ll write (or ghost write) a few myself over the week.
How do you decide which stories to write about?
I spend far too much time on Twitter, which any sane human would do well to avoid. Unfortunately, it is a big driver of the news agenda and I get a lot of my ideas from there. I’m also constantly reading the news, national and foreign, to see if any interesting stories can be fished out of there.
How do you ensure your work is accurate and factual?
I received formal training in journalism in my masters at City University, so I’ve always understood the importance of fact-checking and accuracy. We never rush pieces up and always take time to ensure that it all checks out. It’s a collaborative process with other editors and the writer.
Have you ever gotten yourself in trouble with what you have written?
I used to work for the MailOnline which gave me all the motivation I needed to apply for better jobs. You were expected to produce an article an hour and mistakes were inevitable. By a click of the button you could post your article without it being checked. I made the mistake of using the word ‘murderer’ instead of ‘killer’ and shortly afterwards, my error was made known to the entire newsroom as my editor stormed through and shouted my name.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
Our scope is so broad that I’m not limited to any particular field, ideology or school of thought, which gives my huge latitude in what I can write about and commission. It’s incredibly fun.
What advice would you give to current Radleians who wanted to pursue a career in journalism?
Write for writing’s sake. Even if you’re writing for an audience of one, you are sharpening your own linguistic toolkit and getting rid of the bad habits early. Writing also helps crystallise your thinking and down the line, may encourage you to start your own blog or pitch to publications like mine!
You might surprise yourself with what you discover.
Finally, any fond memories or stories of Radley you would like to recount?
You don’t get the same fraternity at university as you do at Radley. The fact that I could walk down my corridor and get a game of 5-a-side or stump cricket going on our social patch is something that I really miss. Hiding in a pile of cricket bags for a whole hour during Sunday chapel service just to avoid going was also a high (or low?) light.
To find out more about UnHerd click here.