Focus interview with freelance journalist Rob Kemp
Rob Kemp is a freelance journalist covering fatherhood, fitness and football. FeaturesExec caught up with Rob to find out what he writes, what he likes to read, how PRs can be helpful to him.
About your journalism:
What do you write about?
Fatherhood, fitness and football if you need to file me under a subject letter. I’m editor-at-large for the Dad’s magazine FQ and I’ve also written fatherhood-focused pieces for the Family section of The Guardian along with a number of parenting titles.
I cover fitness, weight loss and men’s lifestyle and health issues as a contributing editor to Men’s Health magazine and website (www.menshealth.co.uk) and I do a bit of football writing for Four Four Two.
Also in the past few months I’ve written on the secret life of stand-up comedy venues, a feature asking ‘Who would want to become a full-time dog walker?’ and a piece for a South African magazine on Jody Scheckter’s eco-farming methods – so you could say I’m a bit of a dabbler.
Where are we likely to see your work?
Men’s Health in the UK, Australia, South Africa and India. I was senior writer there before going freelance and I also contribute regularly to their website and to Best Life magazine – which is Men’s Health for us greying types. I do a monthly local interest feature in The Green magazine in West London and of course the dad’s mag I co-edit – FQ magazine (www.fqmagazine.co.uk) where I write, edit and commission fatherhood-focused features. I also get to ‘big up’ some of the titles I work for by appearing on national and local radio – for no fee – at a regular occurrence.
What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
For The Guardian I interviewed inmates at Dartmoor prison who’d set up a scheme recording bedtime stories for their children. I went in there half thinking that the prisoners were just taping escape plans but soon realised that this project was seriously changing lives, giving hope and helping to cut re-offending figures. I wrote about the birth of my son which got me into doing fatherhood pieces and I also once spent a week at an old folk’s home in a bid to find out why women out-live men. The interviewees I met there were amazing people, very wise, very humble and of course very, very old. The female secret to longevity seemed to be down to keeping active, talking openly about your anxieties and drinking sherry. I learned a lot. I also interviewed Ronnie Biggs about 15 years ago on the subject of packing a suitcase in a hurry. It still makes me laugh now.
What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
‘At Home with Osama Bin Laden’ would be quite a coup. Also I used to a joke about doing a feature at Men’s Health called something like ‘Dead Men’s Fridges’. It would be a photo piece opening up the refrigerators of men who’d died prematurely due to obesity and poor dietary habits and so exposing the causes. It a subject matter that fascinates me (obesity, not fridges). I’m fortunate that I get to interview a lot of men who’ve dramatically changed and probably saved their own lives by ditching their bad habits and losing weight. They’re an inspirational bunch.
About you and PRs:
Where do you source ideas for articles?
PRs, yep and from the newspapers, TV, other magazines and press releases. I use PR sourced stories a lot for the websites I write for – mainly because the lead times of the magazines I write for can’t always tie in with time-sensitive stories. I’ve developed a good pool of contacts with regards to fatherhood and fitness stories – including many PRs.
How can PRs be useful to you?
Don’t send huge Jpegs to my inbox without letting me know first! The case studies I like to talk to are fathers – famous or otherwise – and men who’ve lost a lot of weight – ideally through exercise and wise eating not fad diets.
How and when do you like them to get in touch?
Email anytime of the day or night. I do read them. If I’ve not got back to you in a day or two send it again. I will.
Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
I personally don’t tend to do them. I will try to do ‘exclusive’ visits but the en masse trips and parties don’t really work for me.
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
Don’t send huge Jpegs to my inbox without letting me know first! I have a very good relationship with PRs on the whole. I know their needs and they usually know mine. All I’d ask is that they realise that sometimes, despite all the PR’s and the freelancer’s hard work in getting a piece together, an editor may decide not to run it for a multitude of reasons – many of which are based upon the editor knowing the reader and the title better than anyone else. So stories get spiked. It’s a pain but it’s nothing personal.
How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
eBay would be a starting point. My only other job before this was re-stringing tennis rackets by hand in a sports shop. Good for ‘What’s My Line’ but not exactly golden handshake material.
If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
On a decent chair for the desk I spend too long sat at, upgrading my website www.robkemp.org.uk – and on a flight to San Francisco for me and the family. Never been but it sounds like an ideal venue for a press trip…anyone?
What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
Books. At the moment Michael Palin’s diary from the Python Years seems to be taking me more time to read than it took him to live and a Teach Yourself Polish book and cassette. Magazines: Men’s Health, FQ, US Esquire, Best Life and a friend in the USA – a great source of quality writing and ideas (the US that is, not the friend) has sent me a latest copy of Draft magazine. It’s a mag all about beer drinking, beer history and beer people including Top 10 female brewers. Don’t do blogs really but Dadslabs.com is a must – it’s a US TV-channel-cum-website for fathers where they experiment with breast pumps and road-test buggies and the like. Football365 is my homepage.
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