Freelance Journalist Interview with Paul Cockburn
Edinburgh-based freelance journalist, blogger and reviewer Paul Cockburn specialises in arts and culture, disability issues, and military resettlement. Recent articles, reviews and interviews he’s worked on have appeared in Able magazine, The Herald, ReelScotland.com, Scotland on Sunday and more about his work can be found at www.paulfcockburn.com. But for now, why not sate your curiousity by reading today’s interview.
About your journalism:
What do you write about?
Anything, if there’s money involved — I’m a freelance, after all! But seriously, before officially going freelance this April, I had worked (for nearly 15 years) in a Glasgow-based company publishing disability and career magazines. I’m now making use of my contacts and expertise in those areas, especially disability issues, while equally balancing those specialisms with a generalist sensibility! For example, I’m also interested in arts and culture. and I’ve been reviewing books for around six years now, which is time-consuming but fun.
Where are we likely to see your work?
Disability-sector magazines such as Able, Disability magazine and Disability Arts Online. Short articles and reviews have also appeared in several Scottish newspapers, while I’ve reviewed and interviewed for online publications including ReelScotland.com. And, of course, my own website. I’m currently building connections with several London-based publications, however, as there isn’t a sufficient publishing industry in Scotland to support the number of freelance journalists and writers up here.
What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
In my time I’ve interviewed honourable members of the House of Lords, Government ministers, campaigning mothers, and Toyah Wilcox (in her West End dressing room). But the first thing that comes to my mind is an interview that never made it into print!
Around a year ago I was visiting a furniture factory in Glasgow which, as company policy, employed what might be termed ‘vulnerable’ people; as this included both disabled people and medically-discharged veterans, it was of potential interest for both the disability magazine I worked on and the careers/resettlement publication I was, by then, effectively editing. Having been shown round the facilities, and given a light buffet lunch, I was then asked if I wanted to speak with one of the ex-military veterans who was now working for the company.
I spoke with this guy for around 10 minutes; it was a hard slog, not just because he wasn’t used to speaking to the press, but because there was clearly a lot he simply didn’t want to talk about. But I was able to pick up, from him and other sources, that he’d served in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan and that a major contributing factor to his medical discharge was him having seen several close friends and comrades killed right next to him.
He was 24, the same age as one of my nephews, and for once in my life I really didn’t feel worthy to be there.
In the end, barely any of his words saw print, not least because publication of the military resettlement magazine was suspended by my then-employer. But it was an important reminder of the individual human reality of the ‘readership’ I assumed I knew.
What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
I’m a life-long Doctor Who fan and I’m pleased to say that I did have a chance to interview Russell T Davies while he was working on the show. I’d love to write an article for Doctor Who Magazine, assuming I can come up with the right angle.
As for an interview, I’d have loved to interview Peter Cushing. Ignoring his talents as an actor, from what I’ve read about him he seemed to be the gentlest, most charming and unassuming gentleman you could have ever met.
About you and PRs:
Where do you source ideas for articles?
Research (online or in libraries), press releases, twitter streams, published articles, word-of-mouth (or overheard on the bus), newspaper headlines, billboard adverts… finding ideas for articles isn’t a problem; everyone can do that. The challenging bit is finding commissioning editors who will pay me to write them!
How can PRs be useful to you?
By sending relevant PR to me. Or even seemingly irrelevant. Better too much information than too little.
How and when do you like them to get in touch?
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
Useful, certainly, but also an excuse to get out of the house and maintain my sanity – to be honest, they help me maintain my self-identity as a freelance journalist! Is that sad?
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
Sometimes the hook they put their so-called stories on are just plain bonkers. Or so abstract it’s hard to see where they’re actually coming from.
How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
Probably something in an office. I wasn’t designed for either speed or heavy-lifting.
If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
I’d invest it in my work; maybe update my laptop or get some useful training (InDesign, maybe). Can I give you my bank account details? 😉
What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
The books on the bedside table are almost exclusively scheduled reviewing gigs; I’m currently finishing off Richard Morgan’s fantasy novel ‘The Cold Commands’, then will be on to Wayne Price’s short story collection ‘Furnace’. I’ve had a copy of A L Kennedy’s ‘Day’ there for almost two years; it just never quite gets to the top of the pile, unfortunately.
I’ve always been a habitual magazine purchaser; the only difference now is that I now classify (for tax reasons) many of the purchases as work-related — and they are genuine “research” of potential markets. That said, I seldom subscribed to, or bought, many titles regularly; that has changed since I bought an iPad so I now have a range of publications — from Attitude and GT to Intelligent Life “piling up” in my iPad. At least I no longer have the tall, wobbly pile of magazines on my desk!
The main blogs I keep up with are those by friends, to be honest, or those pointed out by people and organisations I follow on Twitter.