Freelance Journalist Interview with Anna Blewett
About your journalism:
What’s your background as a journalist?
I started out in trade, editing small B2B titles in niche sectors. Funeral Service Times was a particularly memorable gig. Then about five years ago I made the break into consumer publishing, genning up on commercial tactics in the cut-throat world of knitting mags before moving into food writing with a deputy editorship at Great British Food. After leaving in 2011 to have a baby I discovered writing is as important to my sanity as to my bank balance so life as a freelance began.
What are you writing about these days?
Nearly all of my commissions are food and drink-related. The sector’s such a lightning rod for every issue affecting the way we live our lives: family, culture, science, health, the natural world…Writing about the UK’s heritage and artisanal foods has been my bread and butter for more than five years but every project unearths truly astounding stories. I love it.
Where can we see your work?
I write a monthly feature for Great British Food and am mid-way through a series of articles exploring the broader implications of holistic lifestyle for Natural Health. As a full-time mum I squeeze phone interviews and keyboard bashing into naptime and evenings so my capacity is somewhat restricted. The upside for commissioning editors is that I have plenty of thinking time to lavish on every piece I write, quite unlike when I was a staffer turning out seven features plus regulars each month.
What features have been most memorable for you?
My latest work is always uppermost in my mind and my recent article Planet to Palate for Great British Food was a real journey of discovery following the route of various nutrients from the earth along the food chain, through the hands of some remarkable artisans, to create a sensational finished product. Inspiring stuff.
What interview or feature would you love the opportunity to do?
A dream commission would be to explore the kitchen cupboards and cutlery drawers of elderly icons of food and drink: Marguerite Patten, Albert Roux, Mary Berry, etc. What battered utensils and odd eating habits do you accumulate over a lifetime in food and drink?
Do you see yourself moving back in to a staff role in future, or is freelance journalism the life for you?
I really miss the energy and banter of an office but a better work/life balance means I have the time and mental energy to produce work I feel proud of. As I spend most of my working week grappling with a toddler I have to be super efficient and organised to juggle my commissions – no duvet days – but I’m a better and happier writer for it.
About you and PRs:
Where do you source ideas for articles?
Twitter is a fantastic source for me. I like to sift through farmers’ grumbles, promoters’ hype, chefs’ bitching and company launches to find those intriguing new developments and perspectives on a topic that affects us all. It was my saviour during the breastfeeding months. Nothing like being glued in a chair for hours on end to up your use of social networks!
How can PRs be useful to you?
Good PRs can spot the common thread between what I’m after and what their client does, synching us up when I might have missed the connection amid all the promotional noise. It’s also really useful to have an ‘introductory service’ to help me get some time with the people whose comments make great copy. Everyone’s sick of being sold to, so I really appreciate PRs for saving me making cold calls.
How and when do you like them to get in touch?
I’m rarely at my desk during normal office hours so as a first point of contact I massively prefer email and Twitter to the phone. Shouted conversations over Tumbletot sessions or elephant feeding time at the zoo aren’t really conducive to communication.
Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or are they difficult to justify as a freelance?
The opportunity to speak to several feature-relevant parties in one hit is fantastic, so conferences and press trips can work brilliantly for me. With my time constraints it’s hard to head along with a happy-go-lucky attitude though. I need to know that I can come away with the information/copy I need.
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
The PRs that contact me these days are generally pretty good. Now I’m freelance there’s little point trying to persuade me of something as I’m 100% focussed on delivering what the editor expects. I think most PRs respect that and are happy to send a release my way and leave any follow-up to me.
How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
I’d probably be one of those street food sellers who are great at dreaming up exciting menus and making the chalkboard look fab but haven’t got a clue what their bottom line is.
If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
I’d blow it on a beach holiday in Turkey, home to the most amazing food culture. Travel is all about fantastic markets, long lunches, late-night street food. Bliss.
You’re a keen gardener and self-described glutton as well as a journalist – what’s your favourite vegetable to grow and what do you like to cook with it?
Jerusalem artichokes forgive abandonment, thrive in the scrubby bits other plants won’t tolerate and the tubers wait in the ground until you’re ready for them. Perfect! They’re gorgeous straight from the ground – like a sweet and smokey radish without the heat – but I love them boiled, blanketed in in white sauce and given a gratin top.
You tweet as https://twitter.com/annie_knowsbest – what do you get out of it?
Twitter’s like a big ideas co-operative with comments, recommendations and critiques exchanging hands every second of the day. I like to contribute to that. Also, I miss compiling news pages so enjoy the chance to curate a collection of news stories and share surprising discoveries with the odd self-indulgent observation thrown in.
What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
I read a lot of magazines for work purposes but any snatched spare time is spent devouring every last scrap of National Geographic, a window to so many other worlds. Blogwise, Azélia’s Kitchen is heaven for any food geek and I love North/South Food.