Freelance Journalist Interview with Lucy Benyon
Hello Lucy! Tell us about what subjects you cover as a freelancer, and where we are most likely to see your work?
I love the variety of freelancing and the freedom it gives you to explore different subject areas and styles of writing, but having said that, I do enjoy going into an office too. If you work entirely in your own little bubble, I think you lose touch. The industry is changing so quickly and it's always good experience working on different publications.
Your last staff role was around ten years ago – would you ever return to work as staff on an editorial team?
I primarily became a freelancer because I did not want to be pigeon-holed. I love the variation of one day doing a real life story on someone whose mother has run off with her lover and the next day researching a serious piece on feminism. Now I have a young family, freelancing gives me the kind of flexibility that I still don’t think is available in most full-time staff jobs.
What inspired your move into freelancing?
I Ieft my last staff job 11 years ago to spend a year in Australia. It was a baptism of fire becoming freelance in a different country but I haven’t looked back since. Yes, it can be unpredictable but then nothing is set in stone. More than anything, I hate being bored.
What are some of the most memorable pieces you’ve worked on during your career so far?
I did an interview a couple of years ago with a woman in her thirties who had endured years of satanic abuse as a child. As a coping mechanism, she had developed Multiple Personality Disorder so she could remove herself from the abuse, which for years remained buried in her subconscious. Throughout the interview, she flitted from one personality to the next, which was harrowing but I really admired her bravery and her decision to speak publicly about such a terrible ordeal.
I will always remember, too, the wonderful woman whose estranged partner had murdered her only child. Although you can’t get too emotionally involved, I think empathy and patience are very important qualities for a journalist.
What interview or feature would you love the opportunity to do?
I have never been interested in travelling to war zones or hounding celebrities, but I would love to do an expose on the migrant camps in this country. Immigration is a real hot potato, I know, but I don’t think we are being told the truth about how people are being treated, and how little their freedom is valued.
On your website you mention the ‘sensationalising’ of facts in human interest stories – do you think this is a problem in the mainstream press and, if it is, what can be done to combat it?
It is an issue, but only when people are misquoted or their story is completely taken out of context. It is a problem on some of the tabloids, I think. I have worked for various real life titles and they do tackle their stories very responsibly by reading people their stories prior to publication and always offering a right of reply.
As a journalist, I think you have to have your own standards. Personally, I try to never lose sight of the fact that I am dealing with peoples’ lives. They aren’t simply just stories, they are individuals.
How can PRs be useful to you as a freelancer, and how should they get in touch?
Good PRs are invaluable but bad ones are infuriating. There is nothing more annoying than a completely unsolicited call about a new product.
Do you attend many press conferences, trips, parties or other events?
Not enough! I am open to offers.
Do you find social media useful for making contacts/getting commissions, or can it be more of a time-waster?
Twitter can be great for sourcing case studies and observing trends but nothing really replaces a notebook and a phone call.
Do you still meet people/make connections/network face-to-face these days, or has social media changed that?
Yes – I might be 'old school' but I think meeting face-to-face is the best way to make a new contact or to get a good story. Sadly, time is so short that I tend to do almost everything over the phone.
How would you pay the bills if you weren't a journalist?
I am fascinated by people and what makes them tick so I could see myself being a psychotherapist in a parallel universe. I went into journalism because I love writing though, so really it would have to be something that involved words and a screen.
What media do you enjoy in your spare time (books, magazines, newspapers, television programmes, film)?
I read all the papers on and off and I do love women’s weeklies as the stories are so powerful. I love Radio 4’s 'Open Book' with Mariella Frostrup, and 'Holby City' is my absolute guilty pleasure.