Bob Chaundy: freelance focus interview

Bob Chaundy is a freelance journalist who writes on many topics, including history. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Heritage Magazine and BBC Online.

This week, FeaturesExec caught up with Bob to discuss this work, press trips and what he’s been reading.

About your journalism:

What do you write about?
I’ll write about anything if there’s enough to get my teeth into for a colour feature. My most recent articles were about child gold miners in Ghana, and the 65th anniversary of D-Day. I do enjoy historical pieces, being a history graduate. The beauty of being freelance is that you end up writing articles on subjects you knew little about for magazines you never knew existed. It’s a journey of discovery.

Where are we likely to see your work?
BBC News Online, Heritage Magazine, Family History Magazine, The Guardian.

What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
When I was head of the BBC News Profiles Unit, I was responsible for all TV obituaries. I had completed Princess Diana’s a couple of months before she died. I was on holiday in Spain that day. We had satellite TV, so was able to watch my obituary being broadcast numerous times. It was around ten minutes long. When I got back, I enquired as to how it had been received. I was told, “Peter Sissons loved it. It enabled him to nip out and go to the loo.”
My most enjoyable work was interviewing the former jockey and author, Dick Francis, on the beach outside his home in the Cayman Islands.

What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
I don’t want to be a celebrity except to be able to be the subject of Who Do You Think You Are? I’ve traced my family tree back to the 15th century on my father’s side but know next to nothing of my mother’s, as she comes from central Europe. It would be nice to travel there to meet genealogists who have done all the spade work for me, and then I would write about the experience.

About you and PRs:

Where do you source ideas for articles?
Ideas come from anywhere, quite often from conversations with friends.

How can PRs be useful to you?
PRs can be useful, not only by giving information and ideas, but most helpfully by thinking up news angles, tying ideas to topical events and providing a new insight into a topic.

How and when do you like them to get in touch?
By email at first. Phone later.

Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
I love press trips – you’re normally well looked after which makes them enjoyable, and they invariably stimulate ideas and useful exchanges with other hacks.

If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
To filter their marketing efforts to subjects that interest me – for example, I’m interested in news-oriented ideas and events, but not promoting consumer products.

About you:

How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
Before I became a journalist, I spent a year as a supply teacher. Maybe if I hadn’t become a hack, I’d have spent years in schools – by now burnt out and disillusioned! I enjoy teaching writing skills to young students.

If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
I’d love one of those all-in microphone/digital recorders to encourage me to do more radio features as I used to do. Alternatively, a pro camcorder for TV work with a quality microphone.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Whatever you’re doing, however dull and boring, always give of your best.

What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
For fiction, I’ve just finished One Step Behind by Henning Mankell, one of his Inspector Wallander mysteries. I enjoy detective fiction and Wallander has more layers to his character than most. I also have just begun Richard Dowden’s Africa, an account of the historical change that’s gripping this fascinating continent.
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