Freelance Journalist interview with Martin Ferguson
Hello Martin – tell us about what subjects you will be covering as a freelancer, and where we might be likely to see your work?
My specialism is corporate travel, so you’re most likely to see my work in industry publications on both sides of the Atlantic. I’m writing a lot more for aviation publications in the UK, Middle East and Southern Hemisphere. The travel publishing industry is a small community full of talented writers, so getting your work published is not an easy task. I’m fortunate to know some excellent commissioning editors. They have very high standards, which is essential in a market where we’re competing with travel bloggers galore.
What inspired you to move into freelancing?
I wouldn’t say I was inspired. It was a question of circumstance. I’m fortunate enough to have worked on the staff of some very good publications in addition to holding a senior communications position within a global organisation. I have the experience of being on both sides of the fence. The skills you learn from being a reporter and a communications professional are both necessary if you are to make your way along the path of modern media. I felt I had the connections and the CV to enable me to work for myself. Being based at home also helps my wife as I have a young family. One minute I’m writing about the future of travel. The next I’m wiping babies' bottoms.
You were previously the editor of Buying Business Travel. How do you find work as a freelancer differs to working on a full-time editorial team?
On both sides of the fence you still have to work extremely hard to tight deadlines while making sure you reserve enough time to meet and engage with your contacts. Perhaps it’s more acute on the journalists’ side, especially when it comes to deadlines. As a work-from-home freelance you don’t have the option of shouting across the newsdesk to share ideas with colleagues. You must be able to motivate yourself. Stick to a routine. And be very disciplined.
What is the most memorable work you’ve done?
In the travel business I’d have to say reporting from Tripoli, Libya, on its tourism sector shortly before the civil war erupted was a memorable experience. Outside of that, I used to spend a lot of time focused on asylum seeker issues in Glasgow. In one particular case I dealt with a woman and her son who had fled persecution in Azerbaijan. She also suffered from a disease that left her requiring regular dialysis treatment. The government wanted to deport her because she didn’t tick the right boxes. We staged a long campaign which involved local politicians, and in the end we secured her the right to remain in the country.
What inspired your work in the travel and technology sectors?
I ended up in travel and technology by chance. Shortly after starting life as a TTG reporter I was told I’d be working on its fledgling ttgbusiness publication for the business travel sector. I was quite disappointed, as I’d hoped to be more focused on luxury leisure destinations (who wouldn’t?).
However, I became fairly well connected in the industry in a short period of time and developed an interest in technology and the role of the global distribution systems (GDSs), which is partly why I ended up working at Sabre years later. Travel is the exciting part. Technology is the important part. It underpins everything.
What interview or feature would you love the opportunity to do?
I don’t think I’ll use this platform to give away my best feature ideas. That being said, at the moment I’m very interested in speaking to data scientists and IT engineers. These guys are the brains behind all of the modern products and services in the industry. I also love talking to start-up entrepreneurs – they’re terribly enthusiastic people, and usually full of insight about the future.
Does your background in PR make a difference to the way you work with PRs?
Absolutely. Having worked with them day in day out as a trade reporter I understood how they worked. But it wasn’t until I stepped into the senior communications role at Sabre that I realised the amount of work and frustration that goes on behind the scenes. The trouble is a lot of senior people within businesses think they understand communications. They think it’s easy, but they don't realise how damaging careless communications can be to the business, or how great communications can have an impact on a company's bottom line.
How can PRs be helpful to you, and how should they get in touch?
I like to be contacted by email. Sure, I use Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn and text, but email is still, for me, the most convenient way to communicate. I think a good PR tries to maintain contact with journalists even when they don’t need to. Even when there is no story to pitch. It’s about building relationships. I’m far more likely to work with someone I know and get on with.
Do you attend many press conferences, trips, parties or other events?
If the wife gives me a pass, yes. I’m less likely to attend parties these days, and for me to take time out my schedule to go on a trip would have to be worth it.
What impact has social media had on your role as a travel writer?
It’s a blessing and a bind. It’s obviously a fast and efficient way of communicating, whether that’s pushing out stories, hearing about stories, researching stories or just cyber-networking. But to get the most out of social media you have to dedicate time to it. And that’s not easy when you’re trying to write.
How important is it in the context of freelancing?
It’s the same whether you are freelance or staff. Unless you’re a freelance with no work to do, then you can spend as much time as you want on it.
What media (books, magazines, newspapers, television programmes, and film) and hobbies do you enjoy in your spare time?
I’m part of the Celtic FC family. Now that we’re out of the Champions League I have more time on my hands. I read about history and politics. I have a gym membership, but seldom go. I used to play football, but now I’m too decrepit. I travel a fair bit, but I’m never happier than when I’m back home in Glasgow. It’s a crazy place, but I love it.
Martin can be found tweeting @travel_hack.