Freelance Journalist Interview with Barry Cashin
About your journalism
What are you currently working on? Are you still covering consumer rights issues, money saving and property?
Yes. These are my main areas of specialist expertise and I continue to write for national newspapers, magazines and websites on these subjects. I have started to branch out recently though, and have written something to do with the spooky area of psychics! I was also asked by Moneywise a couple of months ago to offer an opinion piece on the ethics of claiming unemployment benefit – so perhaps a new vocation as a commentator is on the cards!?
How does the recession affect your work as a money saving expert?
In a completely positive way! Having been through tough times financially myself in the dim and distant past and having both kept and run a home and family during that period, I feel more than qualified to be able to advise people how to come through this deepest of recessions; one that shows no sign of improving for the lives of millions of ordinary hardworking families. Government statistics may show the smallest of green shoots of a recovery on a national scale but in the real world, millions continue to be affected by pay freezes, inflation-busting price hikes and tougher consumer choices. My work as a consumer advice and money saving advocate is actually more vital and in demand now than it's ever been.
You mentioned in your last interview that you'd like the opportunity to do travel features. Have you managed to do any?
Sadly no, although I am open to any sensible offers. I have, in the past, written brochure descriptions for a major tour operator but presently, due to workload, am concentrating on my core strengths. Any travel writing aspirations will have to wait.
Can you tell us more about being shortlisted for 'UK Journalist of the Year 2012'?
Yes, I was amazed, surprised and humbled to be selected by Xchangteam, one of the UK's biggest marketing, media and communications recruiters, as a shortlisted candidate for the main award. Xchangeteam started this annual award in 2003 to showcase freelance talent and to acknowledge the hard work that many of the 1.4 million freelancers in the UK do. The judges for this year's competition were comprised of the great and the good of the media world, including Hill & Knowlton, Ochre House, Tag and OnlyMarketingJobs.com, so I was in illustrious company with the other few lucky shortlisted candidates. Sadly, I didn't win top spot but to be shortlisted was an honour in itself and testament to the hard work I put into my own career, and the excellence of service I insist on providing all editors.
What would you say was your greatest achievement so far this year and what do you have planned for next year?
I would say continuing my output and regular column work without it affecting a thing, whilst battling serious illness. On a professional level, just doing what I do best; retaining the faith and trust of the great British public by offering the very best consumer and personal finance advice (with a name like Cashin, would you expect anything less!?) As for next year, I would like to expand my portfolio even further and make it an ambition to write for the titles I haven't yet managed to crack. So, if any editors out there are looking for an established name that the public know and trust to come on board, please do contact me. Having written for genres as diverse as Loaded to The Sunday Telegraph on subjects as equally diverse as rare breed cats, to how to earn a £5,000 payrise without asking the boss, I would say that I'm pretty confident of being able to add value to most titles' content.
About you and PRs
How closely do you work with PRs?
I view PRs as a very necessary and vital resource for up-to-date facts, figures and specific campaign information, so tend to tap into them when I need, rather than rely on them to send through info to me. I have to be honest and say that I remain constantly amused at some of the irrelevant releases I receive (timber mining processes in Canada being a case in point). On the whole, having been a writer for over 20 years, I am fairly well-known by most PRs relevant to my fields of expertise, so can call when I need something and it is usually delivered straight away.
Are you still sourcing ideas from experience, the internet and your contacts book?
Absolutely. The world of finance and consumer issues is constantly evolving, so without a finger on the pulse of the movers and changers, specialist journalists simply wouldn't be able to survive relying on previous knowledge alone. To be a good advice expert that the public trusts, in addition to an encyclopaedic knowledge of one's subject, one must also keep up-to-date with those changes that are of real and tangible benefit to the reading public.
When is the best time for PRs to contact you? Is social networking a good way to get in touch?
Social networking is becoming an essential part of every single facet of journalism. Although I am still working on building a larger contacts list in LinkedIn, I find Twitter indispensible. What initially started out as a cut-down version of Facebook has now evolved into a really useful tool for contacting companies, getting new work and information gathering. It's immediate, relevant and because of its brevity, Twitter doesn't bog down busy journos. I can link up to companies whom I regularly feature/plug and dispense with those no longer of use with the click of a mouse (or strike of a finger on my iPad). Twitter is also a great way for companies and PRs to communicate events, press days and for arranging sample products to be sent to journalists. In many ways, a Tweet is the same as an email, but better in a Twittery sort of way!
How often do you tweet?
I am an avid Twitterer! I tweet between several and too many times a day and as a person who has strong views and an opinion on almost everything, I find it a great way of communicating with people, both personally and professionally. Insofar as the individual consumer is concerned, Twitter has become a powerful tool for making a legitimate complaint and I find that companies are responding very quickly to issues brought to the company's attention through this medium, before they escalate to a much larger audience. In that respect, Twitter has positively impacted the area of consumer complaints and dispute resolution. In fact, why not follow me now @BarryCashin.
If you could give consumers one piece of advice, what would it be?
To understand the basic precepts of consumer law before you buy an item should anything go wrong – and to really put effort into researching on price before you hand over your cash. Companies rely on consumer apathy and make a lot of money out of it. My mission is to empower shoppers everywhere to make them not only more savvy but also assertive when, if they do get into a dispute over faulty goods, they have a knowledge base that compels the retailer to do the right thing. I have a second piece of advice, and one which I would like to hammer home to everyone. If you buy anything costing over £100, please, please, please use a credit card for some or all of the purchase. It gives you added consumer redress in the event of a fault or the seller going bust. It's called section 75 of The Consumer Credit Act 1974. Got it!?
What's the most expensive thing you've ever bought?
My house. I did in a moment of madness once spend £800 on a fantastic winter coat but really I try to follow my own money saving mantra of not buying something unless I really need, not want it. I'd like to go down in history as a person who oversaved rather than overspent and overextended myself.
Tell us something we don't already know about you?
I write songs and play percussion drums like bongos and congos and used to play in a band many years ago called Bar Bambi & the SymSet (the history of the name is a long story). I've also appeared on TV with gardening guru Chris Beardshaw in BBC's Flying Gardener series. Oh, I also used to be pretty good at cricket and once scored 159 not out in a one day match. Not bad!
Barry Cashin has also started a world food blog: www.pomegranatesandprinces.wordpress.com