Freelance journalist Focus: Melissa Cole

This week, freelancer Melissa Cole tells us how her passion for beer equals a passion for her work. While she’s written for the Guardian, Observer, Times Online, Sainsbury’s and also appears regularly on Market Kitchen, her most memorable work is anything that has converted people to the pleasure of a good beer.

About your journalism:

What do you write about?
I’m delighted to say that I mostly write about beer! Although I’ve worked very hard to get to where I am, I am also always conscious that I’m one of the few lucky professional journalists who gets to write about a subject they are passionate about.

Where are we likely to see your work?
I’ve worked for the Guardian, Observer, Times Online and Sainsbury’s magazine in the past. I appear fairly regularly on Market Kitchen and have also just recorded for Radio 4, which was a programme called Off the Page, which was discussing pubs – it was with the lovely Simon Fanshawe among others, who is a very funny man indeed.

What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
Anything that’s converted people to the pleasure of great beer! Although, I think that writing the first feature on beer for Sainsbury’s magazine was a real breakthrough because too often magazines that are aimed at women don’t think that their readers are remotely interested in beer and I can promise them they’re wrong! I managed to convert my mum to craft beer at the age of 60 (after a bit of nagging I’ll admit!) and she now drinks virtually nothing else (alcoholic that is – sorry mum!).

Taking on Malcolm Gluck on the Guardian v-blog was a risky thing to do and one that I’m proud of taking on. Although, if I could do it again I may not be quite as courteous to him!

What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
I’d love to have the opportunity to write about seasonal beers or great new releases on a regular basis. But I’d also really love to do a TV programme or series that genuinely focuses on the great beers we make on these shores! It’s our national drink and we’re so dismissive of it that at times it makes me want to weep. But the good news is that all the figures show that where bland boring commodity lagers are in pretty steep decline, craft beer – and cask ale in particular – is actually in growth, so the nation is finding its thirst for great beer again.

About you and PRs:

Where do you source ideas for articles?
At the bottom of every glass! Just kidding (well, mostly) I get a lot of inspiration from the tastings that I do with people. I often have to spend a lot of time getting them to trust me before I can get them to even try some beers, and that involves finding out what they normally drink and addressing their tastes without judgement or jargon, and I try and translate that to my writing wherever possible.

How can PRs be useful to you
I have a great relationship with many PR agencies and in-house bods. But it’s always nice when those not directly related to the beer industry think outside the box for their clients – whether it’s that they’ve got food clients and want to run a beer & food matching event (like I’ve done for the English Beef & Lamb Executive with Sir Ian Botham and Allan Lamb), or that they want to add a bit of something different to a launch event, like I’ve done with River Island and Molton Brown.

How and when do you like them to get in touch?
Email is preferable as I spend so much time running around!

Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
FAM trips are always useful. Anyone who says they aren’t just isn’t as into their subject as they claim to be!

If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
Ask me if I’m busy before launching into a spiel. Sorry, I know that sounds rude, but if you have to end up cutting across people when they’re talking to you, you come off rude anyway. It’s just easier if you could ask – trust me it’s a winning strategy, particularly with people on news desks!

About you:

How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
Some other profession where I’m paid to be nosey probably!

If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
Travelling and brewing with different brewers. I love the actual hands-on work of making beer but I’ve got such an international hit list it wouldn’t go very far! So, I would have to start in the States, almost certainly at Blue Corn in Santa Fe – and if you’re wondering why the States it’s because whilst British beer is my first passion the craft beer movement out there is also beyond amazing, they are so collegiate, professional and inventive it’s scary!

What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
Lonely Planet Guide to NYC (where I’ve just been), Watchmen (which is amazing but quite disturbing!), the Hairy Bikers new cookbook and my dad’s new sailing blog

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