Media Interview with Paul Stephen, editor of Renewable Energy Installer

Hello Paul! Since May you’ve been the editor for Renewable Energy Installer (REI) – what changes have there been at the title since you took over?

In fairness to my predecessor, the opinion-based format of the magazine has always been popular with readers, mitigating the need for wholesale changes. However, I have inevitably stamped my own personality on the magazine by nurturing and utilising my own book of contacts, introducing some new columnists and expanding sections such as the data content – following feedback I’ve heeded from readers.

As I was already involved in the editorial team prior to taking the helm in May, I have been in a good position to consolidate our already strong position as the leading industry title. The economy as a whole and the turbulent nature of a green energy sector still seeking to establish itself has left the trade press exposed, so I take great satisfaction from guiding the magazine through a difficult period and returning issues to a healthy size. The launch of a payment tariff for owners of renewable heating systems (similar to the one already in existence for solar panels) in the first half of 2014 should see even greater confidence in the sector, and exciting times ahead for REI.

Tell us some more about the publication – who reads it and how many of them are there?

We print approximately 8,000 copies each month and attract a similar number of hits on the website. We go to all installers registered with the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (an essential requirement to work in the sector), plus other specifiers of renewable technologies including architects, building managers and individuals in central and local government. As a niche title, we enjoy a focus which other titles find hard to replicate. We see an increasing number of more generic magazines on the periphery of the renewables sector which lump our readers in with their core readership which might be plumbers, heating engineers or other allied trades.

What have you been enjoying most about your new role?

I think all editors would tell you that, ultimately, they enjoy the autonomy. Having previously been the magazine’s deputy editor, I have definitely caught the bug for being in a position to actually execute my own ideas and follow my instincts, rather than seeing them vetted by someone else. Single-handedly planning and editing a perfect-bound magazine which goes out ten times a year while also finding time for press trips is challenging, but one which I relish.

The REI team is stronger than it’s ever been and it is nothing less than a privilege to be taking the title forward.

What makes you different from other outlets in the renewables sector?

REI is the only magazine dedicated to the installers of renewable technologies. Rather than simply accumulating MCS installers in our circulation, they define it, ensuring that content is tailored.

This focus makes it the choice read for renewable energy installers – which is recognised by our exclusive partnership with MCS who use it as a vehicle to communicate with accredited members. Feedback is consistently high from readers and advertisers, plus we are in the respected position that policy makers not only read our magazine, but provide some of the content.

What are the benefits of producing a forward feature list for the title? 

Having a features list provides an important point of reference, tying together the editorial with advertising. It is useful for me, and PRs out there hoping to sell in their content ideas, to have a clear schedule, albeit implemented with a degree of flexibility. The world of news is a fluid one, and it is difficult to foresee what the agenda will be in six or 12 months time.

Do you work with PRs? What information from them do you find most useful? 

Extensively. Targeted pitching – if I may call it that. PRs who have done their research will be able to successfully sell in by offering an editor technical expertise or a source of subject knowledge from industry experts. Of course there is a balance between promoting a client and the editor’s need to remain impartial, so it is a constant source of frustration when a commissioned article turns up off brief, full of hyperbole and excessive product promotion. Successful PRs who want to find a place in an editors’ regular contact list will find a way to strike this balance.

Do you use freelancers?

No – REI is a respected brand which naturally attracts high calibre contributors from the industry. As individuals are keen to work with us, and the sector is already quite media-savvy, I find myself with no shortage of editorial and insightful articles.

What do you consider best practice for freelancers?

I think the benchmark of a valued freelancer worth their salt is in the amount of time required for editing. Freelancers should be on time with their work, conform to the word count and, most importantly, be on time. Naturally, a paid freelancer will be given less leeway than an unpaid contributor. If a freelancer is not saving you any time, or perhaps bringing fresh contacts to the table, then I would seriously question whether they're worth paying for.

Do you tweet?

Yes – social media is becoming an increasingly important source of traffic to the REI website and is ignored at our peril!

Some journalists remain sceptical of its value, but I have always viewed it as a useful tool for connecting with readers. For editors wanting to quickly gauge the opinion of followers, and the prevailing mood of the sectors they serve, Twitter really comes into its own. Although I haven’t really used it for commissions, Twitter can be a great way of procuring 'vox pops' when hard-pushed for time, if nothing else.

My only word of caution would be that, for all the time saving that can be achieved through finding sources, quotes and getting answers to my questions, Twitter will only be an efficient use of time if you don’t get sucked in!

Last of all, what would you like to see happen in the coming year?

A greater political consensus on the funding currently provided for green energy. There is certainly a need to address the rising cost of energy, but David Cameron is threatening to pull the rug from under us by casting doubt on the continuation of decarbonising schemes currently funded through our bills.

With an issue as important as climate change, the continued expansion of the renewables sector should not be beholden to political whim or the short-term interests of party manoeuvring in the run up to the next general election.

The Renewable Energy Installer team can be found tweeting @REI_digital.

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