Tristan Stewart-Robertson: freelance journalist focus
Tristan Stewart-Robertson is a freelance journalist who writes human interest stories. Originally from Canada, his work has been published in the UK, Canada and the USA.
This week, FeaturesExec caught up with Tristan to discuss the W5 Press Agency, gardening, star-gazing, and ‘tall bikes’.
About your journalism:
What do you write about?
I’ve written about everything from indigenous rights in Canada, to miracle babies, to epilepsy care, to asylum and immigration law, to youth table tennis successes. If it’s exclusive and piques my interest, I’ll tackle it. If it’s a subject people are ignoring, I’ll like it even more.
Where are we likely to see your work?
Anywhere – I have freelanced to more than three dozen publications in the UK, Canada and the US. As a Canadian trained and reporting in the UK for eight years, I tend to think globally with my stories, and love the tales that cross geographic or subject boundaries.
My goal is to always find the best home for a story and in most cases I’ll keep working to find that ideal fit. I hate to see good stories go to waste. There’s a mix of my favourite cuttings on my website, w5pressagency.com, but I’ve got more if anyone is curious.
What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
When I was working for the Greenock Telegraph a few years ago, a couple of brothers called up to say they were cycling round the UK on so-called tall bikes (basically one bike welded on top of another to make them higher than more vehicles). We coordinated catching them as they passed through town on a beautiful sunny summer’s day along the calm waters of the Clyde River. Great pictures, great story, ideal page 3.
What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
I always aspire to do investigative features, but it’s difficult in these tough economic times to justify those. The best interviews are the conversations with “ordinary” people who lead extraordinary lives.
About you and PRs:
Where do you source ideas for articles?
Most articles or press releases make me ask questions – is there a similar situation here? What about this aspect? What if? So I either try to answer a question in my own mind, or sometimes I’m just chatting to someone new and they mention something I’ve never heard of and is worth checking out. Curiosity killed the cat, and made for a great tale.
How can PRs be useful to you?
As a freelancer, I don’t have the ability to offer guaranteed space in a publication, which makes travel or shopping pieces nearly impossible. But if there’s an idea that can take a current story or trend forward, or something that could have a Scottish angle nobody’s thought of, then there’s always potential for an article. I might fire a piece to one publication as an exclusive, or to everyone, but the idea will still be new.
How and when do you like them to get in touch?
The earlier I hear from someone with a story idea or request, the easier it is to plan ahead and find the best home for a story. Last minute doesn’t help when I’m up against a large number of staff reporters on publications.
Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
They can always be useful for making contacts, but as a freelancer in a very difficult market, I have to fight for exclusives that have a chance to sell, so if the press pack is there, there’s sadly little point in me being there too. But I have never considered them an interruption.
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
Each PR person is unique, just like each reporter, and if both “sides” remember that and the jobs we each have to do, then there’s no reason why we can’t both get something out of the relationship.
How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
I always figured my ideal job would be gardener by day, astronomer by night. I’m sure that wouldn’t pay the bills but it would be a great way to live: dreaming about the stars and getting your hands dirty.
If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
Sadly I’d probably use it to go explore a new part of the planet. Sarajevo was top of my list so I went there last year – I didn’t break even, but the trip was great and the stories worthwhile.
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
“You only get five exclamation marks in life; and you just used four in one article, three in one sentence.” I’ve never used one since.
What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
I always like to have some Stephen Leacock close at hand (Canada’s greatest ever satirist). There’s there’s frequently a copy of Mother Jones magazine in my bag, or Sunday paper magazine supplements for ideas and trying to figure out which story could break me in there. I’m a journalism addict.
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