Media Interview with Sam Fortescue, managing editor of Sailing Today
About Sailing Today
Who reads Sailing Today and how many of them are there?
We have 30,000 loyal readers – most of whom are active sailors and have been buying the title for years. By contrast to some sailing titles, our readers tend to be the more adventurous ones who don’t just sit about talking big, but set about realising their sailing ambitions – be it a weekend hop across to the Channel Islands, a year’s cruise to the Med and back, or exploring Britain’s many backwaters and cruising grounds.
In marketing speak, they are ABC1s with a fair disposable income and real commitment to their chosen hobby.
What subjects do you cover? What stories are you most interested in covering?
Our core readership is interested in cruising sailing – that is, messing about in boats. So we cover three main areas: fabulous sailing trips and cruising destinations from home waters to the Southern Ocean; rigorous new boat and product testing; honing practical sailing skills, from seamanship to boat improvements.
Some of our readers will race their boats from time to time at high profile events like Cowes Week or the Round the Island Race, so we touch on the racing world too, although this is covered in more detail by sister title Yachts & Yachting.
What makes you different from the other outlets in your sector?
Unlike our biggest competitors at IPC, Chelsea Magazines’ three marine titles do not compete with each other or cover similar ground. Sailing Today is our core title for the mass boating market, complemented by Yachts & Yachting in the race market and Classic Boat on traditional sail. This means that Sailing Today is free to cover a broader range of topics and appeal more fully to the reader. This, and the fact that we are proud to be a small publisher, mean that we can be more flexible and independent than the other titles in the market. We aim to provide a fuller package for readers.
Tell us a bit more about the new version that launched last month – what’s changed for Sailing Today?
We’re really reinvigorating Sailing Today with a clean new look, better stories and more focus on our readers’ main interests: cruising tales and independent gear testing.
We’ve moved the magazine to Chelsea’s luxurious-looking wide format and high-quality paper stock. We’ve spent three months redesigning every single feature from first principles. Our aim throughout has been a magazine that looks great, that breathes and impresses with every page you turn.
On content, we have gone back into the archives at Sailing Today and unearthed some of the features that readers most enjoyed – our Gull’s Eye review of a port or marina, for example; our seamanship feature on sailing skills; and more coverage of cruising stories. There are also plenty of new features. Ultimately, our readers should still recognise the best of ST in a brand new, reinvigorated offering.
About you and freelance journalists
Do you pay for contributions from freelance journalists?
Do you like freelance journalists to get in touch with you directly to pitch ideas? And if so, how?
Yes, we’re always keen to hear from skilled writers and storytellers. They should approach the managing editor by email or phone with a clear idea of the angle they would take for the piece and, ideally, a source of photographs to illustrate it.
Name the three most important attributes that make a freelance journalist stand out for you and would make you use them again?
Conciseness and a ready idea of an angle for a story; an attractive, compelling and individual style of writing which gives their copy real character; timeliness.
If you can, tell us about the best approach you've seen from a freelance…and the worst…
It was a thrilling first person piece about a long-planned trip to Antarctica, illustrated with professionally-taken pictures (he was a photographer). He responded quickly and efficiently, wrote to length and was a joy to deal with.
By contrast, the worst was a stammering voice with a hacking cough enquiring about rates paid for contributions. The enquiry was repeated to each member of the editorial team. No, thank you.
Do you work closely with PRs?
Where it is warranted on sourcing new gear, services or boats.
Do you tend to work with the same PRs or do you receive contributions from a wide range of sources?
I will look at a wide range of PR sources, but inevitably, those I know and have worked with before are more trusted. The boat and equipment market is quite tight-knit, so you get to know those who deliver well. That said, I’ve had some excellent products put forward by PRs based abroad and with very little English.
Of all the press releases you receive on a daily basis, what percentage of them make it to publication?
We don’t publish press releases, even online. We pick up stories from perhaps 25% of what we receive – mostly online.
Do you find that your idea of what makes a story and a PR's tends to differ? How?
PRs need to try and put themselves in the shoes of a consumer of their product – an end-user (or a reader, in other words). If a pitch is hedged about with marketing waffle and capital letters, then I am less likely to take note. I like to deal with experienced PRs who know the market, speak often to customers and are able to speak plainly and clearly about the benefits or features of a new product. In this case, our views of what makes a good story coincide. Anybody expecting to see marketing superlatives slavishly repeated will be disappointed.
How do you think the PR/journo dynamic will change in the future?
Unfortunately, journalists are depending more and more on PRs coming to them with the stories/products/services (rather than having the time to go out and find them themselves). I imagine this trend will continue, with some publications working solely from press releases. It is likely that even the magazines with the highest standards and the biggest budgets will ask PRs to do more of the work in the future – for example, laying on a boat test, or setting up tests for their sailing gear.
Describe a typical day at work: What are your editorial duties/responsibilities at the outlet?
I’m the managing editor of Sailing Today. We are a small team of four on the editorial side, so we all roll up our sleeves and get stuck in to interviews, subbing, etc. Having recently spent a year sailing to the Caribbean and back in my own 34ft boat, I am happiest talking to sailors about their trips, experiences or plans. I love to write myself (and am working on a book at present), but in reality the day-to-day is more about commissioning, managing, organising. As the weather improves and the sailing season gets going, I will be able to spend more time out on the water – it’s all in a day’s work!
The most surprising thing that happened to me in my career is…
I once found myself writing a feature on a farm that trained sheepdogs in Yorkshire. The idea was that people would come from far and wide to work with the collies herding sheep around a course, a bit like 'One Man and His Dog'. It proved a big success with those with learning difficulties or relationship problems, as well as corporate and team-building outings.
“It’s easy,” I was told, “Just be clear about what you want the dog to do.”
So I began calling and whistling to get the dog to herd the sheep this way and that. Mayhem soon ensued and the dog, frustrated with my inability to issue sensible directions, purposefully walked over to my coat at the side of the field, squatted and made her feelings clear.
Where have you worked previously, and how did you end up in your current position?
My journalistic career began in 2001 at the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times in Hampshire – a broadsheet that had only recently migrated from using a linotype machine. I worked in Bucharest and Brussels, before returning to the UK in 2004 to work at Farmers Weekly. From there, I moved to The Grocer magazine in Crawley, before departing on a new tack as communications director for trade association Dairy UK in 2007. Me and my wife took a sailing sabbatical in 2010-11, cruising to the Caribbean and back. With the hoped-for beach bar role not materialising, I set about looking for jobs in sailing journalism.
This coincided with a period of expansion at Chelsea Magazines, where I was first deputy editor at Classic Boat, and now managing editor at Sailing Today.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what one thing would you hope to have with you?
Wasabi paste to accompany the tuna sashimi I’d be hauling out of the sea every day… and a sea chest full of novels.
Any particular memory in relation with sailing?
There is a glorious sensation at the root of my love of sailing, which is the feeling you get when you climb aboard a boat in a good breeze: that there is nothing but water between you and the Pacific islands, the Bahamas or the Baltic. Unlike almost any other form of voyaging, a boat really does connect you directly to every port and anchorage in the world. At the back of your mind is the thought that there’s no material thing to stop you setting off, one day, to explore.
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