Freelance Journalist Interview with Rin Hamburgh
Get to know Rin Hamburgh, who writes on home interiors, crafts, wellbeing, and green living for publications from The Guardian to Psychologies magazine. We get the inside scoop on the inspiration behind Rin's media consulting company Inside Scoop, take in a DIY press release tutorial, and find out why this media mentor doesn't want PR and journalism to merge too far.*
*Maybe because of the potential for confusing portmanteaus… Prournalism? Jublic Relations?
About your journalism
Hello Rin! What’s the most memorable/enjoyable work you’ve done so far in your career?
My favourite pieces are the ones where I get to spend a day out of the office, finding out about interesting subjects or meeting fascinating people. A few months ago I visited an incredible eco village in West Wales, and got several great features out of the experience, including this one for The Guardian, and this one for Go Green.
What would be your dream commission?
Probably an ongoing series where I get to go behind the scenes and see how people work – sitting in on a circus act’s rehearsal, or riding with the crew in an ambulance or police car, or tagging along on an arctic expedition. I just love new experiences, finding out how things work, and trying to convey it all in exactly the right words so that my readers feel like they were there with me.
About media consulting, mentoring and training…
Tell us a bit about Inside Scoop – what gave you and your partner-in-crime-and-mentoring Jo Middleton the inspiration to start the business?
Between us, Jo and I have 20 years of experience in the media – Jo (aka Slummy Single Mummy) on the blogging and social networking side and myself as a journalist and editor – and we’ve always had people turning to us for advice. We realised that many people are a bit scared of the media, and that often they just need someone to give them a few tips and a helping hand – which is what Inside Scoop aims to do. Many small companies simply can’t afford to outsource their PR or social media, but we can teach them how to do it themselves – how to write press releases, run a successful Twitter account or business blog. It’s a case of ‘teach a man to fish…’
You train people on writing the perfect press release – can you give as a taster of your tips for putting together a successful release?
Most importantly: find the angle in your story, and tell me straight away. From the email subject line to that all-important first paragraph, I should be in no doubt as to what it is that I’m meant to be interested in. Also, reduce the amount of work I need to do – a newsletter format like MailChimp is much easier than having to download a PDF and several bulky jpeg images. Finally, avoid tenuous links and over-familiarity. That drives most journos nuts!
You also lecture on features writing at Bath Spa University – with your skills, do you think you could fashion a feature from any source material?
Having trained on a daily paper, I got used to writing about anything and everything my editor threw at me, from unfair dismissal cases to Dr Who! Writing a good feature is about doing excellent research and interviews, finding the angle, and then writing engaging copy in a suitable style – once you have those skills you should be able to apply them fairly easily to any subject.
About you and PRs
Are the boundaries between journalism and PR getting thinner? Do you think the two will merge further in the future?
I really hope they don’t merge! I think there needs to be a clear distinction between the deliberately biased pitch of a PR person – who is obviously trying to promote a product, an image, or an angle – and a journalist who should, in theory, be impartial and balanced.
As you yourself train people on how to get media exposure without using PRs, do you ever utilise PR contributions yourself in your freelance work? If so, what kind of contributions from PRs are useful, and which PR sectors do you work with?
Of course – PRs provide a very useful service! I particularly rely on them to provide images for product features, help find case studies and set up interviews with experts. The bigger PR agencies who handle several clients can be a useful ‘one stop shop’.
Do you find social media useful with your work? How do you think it has changed journalism for the better/worse?
Social media is a great way to build contacts – especially as I work from home and therefore don’t often meet colleagues face-to-face. I also find it an incredibly useful way to gather news and views, get hold of case studies, etc. I do think social media is changing journalism, but as for whether it’s a good or a bad thing… well, I just don’t think it’s that black and white. The answer is probably ‘both’!
You studied Japanese as an undergraduate – are you still fluent, and do you ever get the chance to use your skills in your writing?
Sadly, no – after I graduated, I simply didn’t have much chance to practice my language skills, and gradually they have slipped away. But I’ll never regret the year I spent at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies – that was definitely a highlight of my 20s!
What media do you enjoy in your spare time (books, TV, films, blogs)?
In my spare time I tend to avoid any forms of media that I work on, so I usually stick to novels, films and TV (my guilty pleasure is 'Murder She Wrote'!). If I try relaxing with a magazine, I inevitably find myself scribbling notes and then rushing off to my computer to pitch an idea or two – definitely not a good way to switch off from work.