Media Interview with Ed Smith & Margot Huysman, technology reporters at International Business Times (UK)
Who reads International Business Times (UK) and how many readers are there?
Ed Smith (ES): I imagine it’s mostly young executives, about two million of them, apparently. My dad, too.
Margot Huysman (MH): IBTimes is an international online newspaper. We have millions of readers from all over the world, not just the UK.
Working for the tech section is riveting, because you can see it’s a desk that is enjoying a real expansion. Just as the technology industry is buzzing and growing (especially in the UK right now) the tech desk is growing as well. The whole sector is expanding, which for journalists like myself is good news.
What stories do you cover? What are you interested in covering?
ES: I’m the unofficial computer games correspondent, so I keep us updated with industry going-ons, previews, reviews; the works. I’m interested mostly in my weekly blog section, Exploding Barrels, where I pick apart big issues effecting games.
MH: I cover stories that have to do with Tech City and the UK start-up scene as a whole. I am genuinely interested in the industry and love covering these topics.
The job of a journalist is definitely social, and getting to cover a scene such as this one gives me the opportunity for a lot of socialising and networking. Plus it’s fascinating to hear about people’s experiences and their journey into starting their own business. It’s a great way to meet people with coding skills… if I ever need a website built, I have a book full of useful contacts.
How do you decide the content?
ES: We keep on top of what’s coming out and when and tailor our coverage around that.
Best approach you’ve seen from a freelance journalist, and the worst.
ES: I think the best thing to do is be a professional, even if you’re not. If you’re pitching an idea, keep it short and to the point; don’t start throwing in jokes and chit-chat until you know an editor. Have some good writing samples available online, preferably on sites that aren’t your own (there are plenty of popular sites that accept voluntary submissions) and talk up your work. The kinds of CVs that put me off are the ones where everything is geared towards the interview: That waiter job I did where I learned to talk to people better would make me great at contacting PRs. My gap year in…Middlesbrough taught me how to work in a team; that sort of thing. It’s just false. If you’ve done some writing already – especially if you got paid for it – that should be what gets you more work.
Do you work closely with PRs or keep them at arm’s length?
ES: I think that all that stuff about big bad PR guys, and selling out, and whatever is exaggerated. They have a job to do and so do I; I’m happy to talk to them whenever and every one that I deal with is very helpful and friendly. I work as closely with them as the job demands. I’m not really up for the late lunches and rounds of golf.
MH: I know quite a few PRs and they are all lovely people. I will always have time to grab coffee and talk with people, especially if they have interesting contacts and clients. You never know who you could end up having to turn to for a favour, so it’s best to maintain some good relations with everyone.
The industry is relatively small, and everyone knows everyone. You want to make sure you don’t upset anyone.
I’m definitely not one of those journalists that refuses contact with PRs. Contacts are contacts and in my book, that’s always useful.
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
MH: Some just don’t look at what I do specifically and will send over unrelated press releases. Instead of emailing a list of journalists without making sure the content is relevant to them, maybe some PRs could benefit from being a bit more meticulous. It may take more time, but it also means you don’t end up annoying journalists.
How should a PR approach you about their client?
MH: I’m not one for bullshit. Email/tweet straight away and be to the point. If it sounds interesting to me, I will definitely answer.
Describe a typical day at work: What are your editorial duties/responsibilities at the outlet (e.g. commissioning, subbing, features, interviewing)?
MH: I come in at 8am, usually browse news outlets to pick up the stories of the day. I’ll also have a good look at Twitter, social networks are a godsend, and a read through my emails. The mornings are dedicated to news stories, while the afternoons are more for writing features and longer pieces.
I’m always on the lookout for good stories on start-ups and Tech City, so Twitter is a great place to look. I also make sure I keep in contact with people. Oh, and I make a lot of coffee. Like, seriously, a lot.
What interests you most about your job?
ES: The games: Most computer games are rubbish but the whole industry is just finding its feet, and the form itself seems to be developing fast and in the right directions. I couldn’t have imagined something like Portal or Bioshock even ten years ago: Computer games move at an incredible pace, and I want to be there when the next big thing (GTA V) happens.
MH: Every single day is different. And that’s great. I love what I do, and I think that’s something incredibly rare these days. So many people are stuck in office jobs they hate or are indifferent about. I love my job and am excited about going into work, how lucky is that?
Plus I get to go to events and meet people. It’s everything I love to do in life, and I get paid to do it.
Where have you worked previously, and how did you end up in your current position?
MH: I finished university in May and started working at The Kernel in June. I actually tweeted my previous employer and got an internship that way; it’s a pretty random story and I love telling it. It just shows that, in life, sometimes you need to just go for it and be spontaneous.
It’s not like I had anything to lose, anyways. I loved my job at The Kernel and had a blast. I learnt a lot about the industry and technology. And I got the opportunity to go to a lot of events and meet some great people.
The whole thing was hard work, but I had a great time so it counter balances the long hours nicely. Sadly, there were some complications and I felt it was time to leave. I don’t regret it for a second though and I will definitely keep all of the good memories in mind. It’s just a shame some bad stuff happened toward the end.
I got my current job by applying for another position, actually. I didn’t get it, but then International Business Times got in touch and offered me my current position. In this economy, it’s really lucky to get a job so fast, so I’m really thankful. Definitely working hard to make up for the opportunity.
Do you tweet?
ES: I do tweet @mostsincerelyed. Mainly it’s a case of linking people to my work, or getting a bit antsy with whatever I’m playing and taking to twitter to give everyone a piece of my mind. You know, since my thoughts are all so very important.
If you could time travel, where would you go?
ES: The 1920s – they had really good clothes. Then again, drinking was illegal and there was no such thing as Greggs or iPhones. The 50s? Bit more modern and I could take that book of Beatles guitar tabs that I never used with me, and get famous. Although, I can’t play the guitar, or the drums, or sing, so…in that alternate timeline I’ve just created, The Beatles would have just been one man – me – bellowing Hard Day’s Night off-key while playing the spoons. I think I’d better stay where I am. Or the future, when Earth’s been renamed Google and we’ve all got Facebook instead of…hands or whatever.
MH: I tweet. Daily @margotlily. I love Twitter. It’s super practical if you need someone to comment on a story, to meet new people and to get news fast. I follow a lot of news outlets and Twitter is the first thing I look at in the morning. It’s a great way of making professional connections, too. I met a few journalists through Twitter actually, and we eventually got to meet in real life.