Freelance Journalist Interview with Cat Hughes
Hi Cat. You’ve recently launched the online Sea to Sky Lifestyle magazine. Tell us more about that?
I started Sea to Sky with my partner Rob McCrimmon because I thought there was a gap in the market for a lifestyle magazine that covered a number of extreme sports and didn't just focus on one. I also thought there was space for one that put the spotlight on female athletes, who are massively under represented; adventure travel and outdoors lifestyle. I love being outside – that is one of the reasons I moved to Vancouver.
I’d had the idea for the site for a while, but didn’t know how to go about doing it alone. Then one summer evening I told Rob, who is a freelance graphic and web designer, about the idea and he liked it and said we should do it together. In October 2013 we began designing and getting content together for the website. Sea to Sky officially went live in December 2013.
As a freelancer what subjects do you cover?
I cover a wide range of topics such as travel, outdoor lifestyle, adventure, extreme sports, food, business, feminism, fashion, leaving the rat race and lifestyle.
What is the most memorable work you’ve done?
I think it would have to be my first travel piece, which was on Tunisia. I went on my first press trip there, six months before the Arab Springs started. It was all very exciting – we stayed in tents in the Sahara Desert. I loved meeting the other journalists and learning from them. I also did a vox pop for an S4C (the Welsh language TV channel) show that was on the same trip. I am Welsh and Welsh is my first language. My family went on about that for ages. It made me decide that this is what I want to do with my life.
What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
I’d like to write a travel guide on Wales. Or I’d like to interview Australian snowboarder, Torah Bright. I do love interviewing interesting women who have achieved extraordinary feats, like when I interviewed ultra-marathon runner Lowri Morgan and Canadian dog sledder Jeninne Cathers – who was the youngest person to ever do the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest dog sled race.
Do you think the mainstream media focuses enough on specialist sectors – in your case adventure travel?
My specialist sectors include outdoor lifestyle and extreme sport as well. I also do business journalism on and off, but I have been doing travel writing for four years. No, I don’t think traditional media focuses enough on specialist sectors, especially extreme sport – though travel is well covered.
Are there any benefits and/or drawbacks of being based in North America but also some times writing for a UK market?
The time difference can be the biggest problem. Being in Vancouver I am eight hours – a whole working day behind the UK. I wake up and look at my emails and by the time I reply they’ve gone home. However, it can work in my favour as I can get work done overnight (GMT) while it’s the day here and it will be in their inboxes first thing the next morning. Other benefits are learning about a different media environment, which makes you more adaptable, and helps you see things from a different perspective.
I will be returning to the UK in the summer of 2014.
How can PRs be useful to you and how can they get in touch?
PR’s can be useful for hearing about new brands, destinations, press trips and images. Images are so important, and it can be hard to get hold of suitable pictures. Being prompt with image requests can help. It surprises me how often PR or communication professionals do not have suitable images, though I have found this to be more of an issue in Vancouver than in the UK.
One thing I would love to see more of is companies who sponsor female extreme sports athletes having more images of them actually doing their sport and not posing with their board, skis or whatever equipment they use to do their sport with. It’s hard to find good action images of women doing their sport.
The best way to get in touch with me is by email. With the time difference, phone calls are not the best and I can file away an email for later. I can’t do the same with a phone call.
Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption as a freelancer?
I find them very useful; they are great for networking and staying on top of what is going on. I do miss the London parties, events and press conferences I used to go to when I lived there.
PR is done very differently in Vancouver – they are very conservative about alcohol and many events take place in the early morning. Also, if an event is from, for example, 4-6pm, it will actually start at 4pm sharp and finish before 6pm. Very different from London.
Do you find social media useful as a travel writer?
Yes! It’s very important. So far with Sea to Sky we have not had to invest in paid advertising, as being active and engaged on social media has driven the majority of traffic to the site.
I think many people are inspired to travel to certain destinations when they see pictures of their friend’s holidays on Facebook and so on. Also, with websites such as StumbleUpon you can find new destinations or even places in your own area you never knew existed.
For example, StumbleUpon brought up a website that had stunning images of the Utah wilderness. I am planning a US West Coast road trip for May, and hadn’t even given Utah a thought. Now it’s on my list of places to visit.
How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
Being a freelancer means journalism does not always pay the bills, especially when you move to a new city in a different country. After a few months I was lucky to secure a five month freelance gig at Business in Vancouver Magazine.
Now I do a mix of jobs such as copy writing, administration, research, social media, blogging for businesses, writing newsletters, corporate writing and content creation within my specialist fields. It's fun doing lots of different work, I like being kept on my toes.
If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
If you gave me the money in the winter it would go on a snowboarding trip; in the summer on a surfing trip, or on a surfboard and maybe a new snowboard.
What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
It’s been my new year’s resolution for about two years in a row to read more classic literature. I’ve gone through about 10 classic books so far. My favourites have been The Grapes of Wrath and the Great Gatsby. I am currently reading Alice Munro’s Runway – I thought as I’m in Canada I should try out a Canadian author.
I never read physical magazines, I go online – I’m either glued to the Guardian website or I read National Geographic. I don’t read that many blogs, but I listen to podcasts. I love the Guardian books podcast, The Food Programme and TED.
Out of all the sectors you cover in your writing, if you had to pick and choose one to cover for the rest of your career, what would it be?
Without a shadow of a doubt it would be travel.