Freelance Journalist Interview with Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead
Hello Gabrielle, tell us about your work as a freelancer, and where we are most likely to see your work?
I've been freelance writing since 2006. I write for a whole host of publications: British, American, Spanish, even Chinese. You can find my work on China.cn, RT, Mainstreet, UN Post, Latest Gadgets, Top Secret Writers.
What inspired you to move into freelancing?
It was a natural progression really from my job as a local reporter for an expat newspaper in Spain. I was living in a remote corner of Andalucia and the newspaper folded, as many did in the recession. It was then that I started looking for remote concessions. The work came rolling in, enabling me to earn a living whilst living in a part of the world where donkeys are still used as transport!
What are the positive and negative aspects of being a freelance journalist?
The biggest positive for me is the fact you are a free agent. You can work from anywhere in the world and set your own hours. I can work around my two young boys. We can revisit our home in Spain without having to worry I'm draining my year's supply of holidays. There is a downside to this of course, you don't get any paid holidays, there's no sick pay and you're constantly working, but as I love doing what I do, I don't really consider it an issue.
What is the most memorable work you have done?
One of my most memorable stories has to be a piece for RT titled 'Salaries As Big As Their Heads'. The story is a rather satirical take on the obscene amount of money contemporary Premiership footballers are paid. It's a photo-story that traces the houses of Manchester United players from the 60s to the present day. Comparing Shay Brennan's humble North Manchester semi to Wayne Rooney's Prestbury mansion was an amusing depiction of just how much more footballer players are paid today. I'll never forget my husband and I wrestling in the woods at the bottom of Rooney's house trying to get a shot of it!
Another memorable piece was a story I wrote about poverty in Morocco for the UN Post. I had just returned from a trip to Marrakesh and was astounded by the blatant unevenness of wealth in the city – I think stories in which you are emotionally charged usually work better, but not always.
Do you think the amount of human rights coverage in the mainstream press is reflective of the scope of human rights issues in the world?
Media globalisation may have resulted in increased coverage of basic human rights violations across the international community. The media appear to give more attention to human rights than they did, even ten years ago. This is probably due to the fact governments and political leaders refer to human rights issues more than they used to. But it seems to be the violations which get the coverage rather than the victims.
Despite the increase in coverage I don't think the mainstream press does pay enough attention to such pressing issues and their victims – that's why I'm keen to write for publications like the UN Post where the sole focus is human rights.
What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
I'd love to do a feature for WIRE, Amnesty International's global magazine.
It would also be great to do a travel piece for the National Geographic. My husband and I cycled from Switzerland to Spain not so long ago – I'd love to write a feature about our adventures on that 800-mile cycle.
Having had experience working in the media internationally, are there any big differences in the way media works across the world?
I think the press is much more tightly controlled in other countries. In Spain, for example, although it did emerge as vibrant and free with the onset of democracy in the mid-1970s, I found you don't get the same freedom of press as you do in the British media. This is probably due to the fact there are high awards in defamation suits against journalists.
Also, having worked on quite a few American publications the one thing that has stood out for me is how much more open to criticism the Americans seem to be. For example, when writing for Russian and Chinese media you get the feeling they wouldn't publish anything overtly critical about their nation. By contrast, the US media and the British press seem a lot more open to domestic-criticism and welcome debate. Even in my own opinion column for the Chinese news portal I’ll deliberately steer clear of writing things which border on being derogatory to China. This is probably representative of the different countries’ freedom of speech, which would be a good article in itself.
As a journalist who covers travel and has done international work, how do you find social media useful?
Social media is a hugely effective tool for journalists. It has helped me for a number of reasons, namely as a means of communicating and promoting stories, which is particularly effective when you're living somewhere remote. It has also enabled me to get in contact with people who were proving difficult to contact.
For example, I recently interviewed Steve Busti, owner of the Museum of the Weird in Texas. Busti had received quite a lot of negative press for claims that he'd tracked down the infamous Minnesota Iceman. I wanted to interview him to get his take on the story. I used Twitter as a last resort and he responded. So it definitely has its uses.
It is also great for networking, which when you're working on an international scale is particularly important. And of course finding jobs and picking up work.
How can PRs be useful to you, and how should they get in touch?
Over the years, PRs have been hugely beneficial to me and continue to be. I think journalists who don't take advantage of PRs are working at a distinct disadvantage. As well as providing me with scoops on stories, I regularly use PRs as a means of getting an interview with an expert or leading figure, which of course can make the difference between a credible story and a piece without any real authoritative weight. I think journalists and PRs will always need each other to maintain maximum relevancy to the media.
Do you attend many press conferences, trips, parties or other events?
Yes, as I mentioned above, I believe being emotionally charged about a story is conducive with a more passionate piece of writing. Attending events, parties, press conferences, etc., first hand always leaves you in a better position to write a more well-balanced, empirical account of a story, rather than just relaying the experiences of others.
When I was in Spain, the Spanish media would jump at the chance to invite international journalists to events. I remember one international photography event I was invited to on the Almeria coast, the event organisers and participants were queuing up to be interviewed by a 'British' journalist. I think there is something about British journalism that's looked up to by other nations.
How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
I may have followed my parents’ footsteps and become a teacher, but who knows.
What media do you enjoy in your spare time?
Music! My parents were Mods in Brighton in the 1960s so needless to say music has always been a big part of my life. I managed to acquire my sister's iPod over the Christmas break, which has thousands of great tracks on it. She thinks she's getting it back, but she can think again!
You cover a lot of different subjects in your writing – if you had to pick and choose one to cover for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Gabrielle can be found tweeting @GabsP78.