Freelance Journalist Focus: Pete Wedderburn

In today’s Focus interview, “authority on animals” Pete Wedderburn takes us through the fun of freelancing, the advantage of being a vet writing about animals, and why your cat may be ignoring you…

About your journalism:

What do you write about?
I write about any issues involving animals. Being a veterinary surgeon gives me an advantage over non-vets in my writing, like a badge saying “I’m an authority on animals”.

Where are we likely to see your work?
My weekly “Pet Subjects” column in the Saturday Daily Telegraph is my highest profile regular outlet, but I also write a thrice-weekly online blog for the Telegraph which keeps me busy and aware of topical issues. I write for a range of other newspapers and magazines, mostly in Ireland, where I’m well-known through appearing every week on national television and radio.

What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
I enjoyed researching and writing an article about so-called “Designer Dogs” for the Irish Times, but my favourite project has been the publication last year of two small books with Octopus Publications: My Cat’s Ignoring Me and My Dog Thinks He’s Human. For some reason, I found it particularly satisfying to see them translated into French

What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
Part of the fun of freelancing is the opportunities to go places and meet people that wouldn’t happen if I’d remained as a full time veterinary surgeon. I’d love any assignment that included travel to different countries, or to meet celebrities to talk about the animals in their lives.

About you and PRs:

Where do you source ideas for articles?
I continually scan the news, partly for my Telegraph blog, and this keeps me abreast of topical issues. I’m still a vet in practice, working in my clinic for twenty hours a week, and this provides a continual resource of animal stories. PR companies are very helpful in coming up with creative angles on animal stories, and highlighting new products relating to animals that can be useful additions to my Telegraph column.

How can PRs be useful to you?
PRs are most helpful to me when they let me know about new and useful products and ideas, or when they come up with creative and original ideas that tie in their own agenda with my brief of informing and educating the animal-loving public.

How and when do you like them to get in touch?
A once-monthly or as-needed email is the best way:

Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
Since my home is in Dublin, it can be difficult to attend many of these events. I’m in London for one or two days every month, so I do try to squeeze in press events when possible, and there’s no doubt that face-to-face contact can be the most helpful way of communicating.

If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
I much prefer personalised emails and I do my best to reply to every one. Standard circular emails with multiple recipients are far less effective and are too easy to ignore.

About you:

How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
Easy: I’d go back to being a full time vet if I had to. That said, I’d prefer to try something different with a writing theme, such as completing the novel that I’ve been muttering about for decades.

If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
A decent new digital camera. I often take photographs of my patients to illustrate my articles, and my current photo set up is already dated, even though it’s only three years old.

What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
Books: Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat; Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals by Hal Herzog – An entertaining yet thought provoking review of the place animals have in human society.

Why Animal Suffering Matters by Andrew Linzey – An interesting review of animal welfare from a philosophical/ ethical viewpoint.

Magazine: “220 Triathlon” – Yes, I do have a life apart from animals and I love competing in triathlons (at my own, comfortable pace).

Blogs on my screen:
Fully Vetted – A daily blog written by Patty Khuly, a veterinarian in Florida. We do sometimes cover the same issues, and I enjoy the North American tilt that she brings to her viewpoint.

Terrier man – Excellent, well-informed blog by a passionate dog owner.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed – Jemima Harrison continues her campaign to improve the health of pedigree dogs.

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