Sunday sit-down with… Rachel Sweeney
When the GB News channel launched last June, it came with the North East’s own dedicated journalist. We find out why Rachel Sweeney loves nothing more than reporting on what’s happening in our region.
Putting the North East on the national news, bringing mental health into the public conversation and celebrating our region: it’s all in a day’s work for news reporter Rachel Sweeney, who spent 10 years on Tyne Tees before her move to GB News.
Rachel grew up in County Durham where she lives now with her family – husband Chris and son Archie.
Has the news always been your dream?
I’ve wanted to be a news reporter since I was about six. I was always obsessed with Penny Smith on GMTV. But on the news, no-one sounded like me. Everyone sounded like the Queen. When I went to university in Gloucestershire, they said: ‘You’re going to have to tone that right down,’ and suggested voice training. Then, when I went to Tyne Tees, people did sound like me and I really discovered the love of regional news.
So, when GB News came along wanting to host stories from communities, it was like a calling. I think I work best when I’m out talking to people. I want to hear people’s stories first-hand, rather than reading from an autocue. It was a fantastic 10 years at ITV, but this is a dream come true for me.
Reporting independently is very different from being in a studio…
I’m a one-woman-band now and I am loving it! I’m reporter, producer, camera person… When I first started, I thought: I’m 35, can I do this? Is it for someone younger? But it’s just like driving a car. I was fascinated when I heard what GB News wanted to achieve with regional journalism and that pricked my ears up. I thought: I could do that. I know this patch like the back of my hand and nobody loves the North East more than me.
Your love for the region is evident.
GB call us representatives, not reporters, and I smile when I hear that because to be a representative for the North East means the world to me – I don’t care how cheesy it sounds. I’m so proud to be in this position, to be able to say to the UK: ‘there’s more to us than parmos and poverty’. It breaks my heart when the North East is used as examples of poverty, benefits or unemployment. The North East has been underestimated and under-represented for too long. We’re ready to have a voice and I want to be that voice. I want to find the right stories to bring us into the national conversation for the first time.
What is wonderful is that I choose the agenda and I choose the stories. I can say: ‘this is important to people where I live’. GB News has said from day one that they want people to be its DNA. I get stories from our community – from the postman, the window cleaner, all sorts.
In August, you made headlines yourself by talking about your own mental health…
I was covering for Alistair Stewart and I was co-hosting with Becca Hutson. The producers wanted to talk about Jesy Nelson and mental health and asked if there was anything we would want to add. Every year on Mental Health Awareness Week, I say to myself: this is the year I’m going to say I have depression and anxiety. And I bottle it every year. But this time it felt like a safe environment. I have this platform and I should be using it for good. In the past, I haven’t spoken out because I haven’t wanted to be judged as a journalist, as a woman or as a mother, but it felt very empowering to talk about it.
Were you surprised by the attention you received?
I had hundreds of private messages from people who weren’t as open about their own mental health saying thank you. I wrote back to everyone. It was quite nice having this little community in my DMs. I’m going to continue to be vocal about my mental health. Plenty of people think depression is crying in a corner. But it’s not like that at all. It means your day is that bit harder. If you manage it, you can live with it. But it’s also alright not to be okay too. The whole point is, if we don’t talk about it, no-one is going to know
It sounds like you have your dream job. But are there any downsides?
The opportunity to shout about the North East and show it in a different light is fantastic. The worst thing is the trolling. I have a real issue that anonymous accounts are able to attack people. It’s not fair, it’s unkind and it hurts. People say: ‘oh, it’s part of the job’. Well, it shouldn’t be. I’ve had such personal attacks which have knocked me for weeks. That could be avoided if there were better protocols in place with social media. We’re not there yet.