Freelance Journalist Focus: Ruth Ling

Freelance journalist Ruth Ling tells us about her work, her dream of running a small cinema and more in today’s interview:

About your journalism:

What do you write about?
There are two main strands to my repertoire: design, interiors and architecture, and business and corporate. I’ve also done a lot on employment and careers and occasional general features for women’s magazines. You have to be versatile these days; there’s more kudos in working for a national broadsheet newspaper, but it’s the trade magazines that pay the bills. I write about business a lot, and enjoy the variety and the challenge of having to learn something new. I also do copy-writing, editing and proof-reading for businesses. (It’s all detailed on my website,

Where are we likely to see your work?
Newspapers (including The Guardian, The Scotsman and the Evening Standard), interior design and property magazines (Period Homes & Interiors to Scotland On Sunday’s At Home), business titles such as ExecDigital and Springboard, the Department of Trade & Industry’s magazine, and corporate websites.

What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
Although it was 27 years ago, the piece of which I’m still the proudest is an exclusive I broke for The Guardian’s Third World Review about a fire in a Brazilian shantytown in which 408 people died and thousands were made homeless. I was living in São Paulo at the time, and we came across the fire by chance when driving down to the coast one weekend. The Guardian gave my story and pictures half a page, but it went unreported otherwise in the British media – a real case of ‘No British ex-pats or holiday-makers involved, so our readers don’t need to know about it’. When the British ambassador saw my article, he was furious, said it would destroy Anglo-Brazilian trade relations and wanted me deported. I’m quite proud to have ruffled His Excellency’s feathers so!

What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
I’d love to interview Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy leader recently released from 17 years’ house arrest. As a child, I lived in Rangoon, on the university campus very close to her house. Her courage, resilience, dedication and grace are extraordinary.

About you and PRs:

Where do you source ideas for articles?
Everywhere – snippets of news in the local paper, conversations in the pub and on Facebook…

How can PRs be useful to you?
By responding really fast with what’s needed. Sometimes we’re given near-impossible deadlines, and we often require photographs and confirmation that day that the information we want will be available by the deadline, or that someone will be available to do an interview. There are two PRs I deal with who always give 150% so, when relevant, they’re my first port of call.

How and when do you like them to get in touch?
Just as soon as they know about it. By email, not phone – unsolicited phone calls are an intrusion when I’m gripped by the muse or a deadline! And with all the images available, not just one as a taster.

Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
Generally, useful – and more invitations would be very welcome! But I only enjoy parties where I learn something productive or meet interesting, relevant people – if it’s just chit-chat, it’s not time well spent.

If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
To see the journalist as the end client, rather than the company that’s paying them. We can spread their message for them much more effectively if they give us the kind of information that editors want and will publish (the ‘story’), rather than PRs acting as gatekeepers to their clients and releasing only the information they want to divulge (the ‘sales pitch’).

About you:

How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
I’m not sure that it would pay the bills, but my fantasy is to run a small independent cinema in a seaside town somewhere in the west of Scotland or a Hebridean island. A couple of friends and I have it all planned – we’d have an internet café, art gallery and micro-brewery too.

If we gave you £1,000, how would you spend it?
I suppose I should say on getting the roof and guttering fixed. But if it really did drop out of the sky – on a cruise to Shetland, Orkney and Norway. My mother’s family was from Shetland and my father’s from Sweden, but I have barely been to that part of the world.

What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
Nationality: Wog, the Hounding of David Oluwale by Kester Apsden, the true story of the persecution and drowning by two racist police officers of a Nigerian vagrant in Leeds in the 1960s. Essential magazines are History Today and Private Eye and my favourite blog (very quirky and with great photographs) is that of the artist Kathy Dalwood (

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