Freelance Focus: Richard Briggs

Richard Briggs, former sports editor of the Western Gazette, tells us about his venture into the world of freelancing.

About your journalism:

What do you write about?
I have specialised in sport for the last 16 years, having been assistant sports editor for South West Counties Newspapers (now Newsquest) in Taunton from 1994 to 1998 and sports editor at the Western Gazette in Yeovil from 1998 until April 2010, at which point I went freelance.

I started out as a junior reporter with Star Newspapers Ltd of Taunton where I spent more than six years. There I turned my hand to a wide variety of tasks – reports on council meetings and cricket matches, concert reviews and advertising features, for example.

I still really enjoy writing about subjects other than sport and am interested in the arts, leisure, travel, hobbies, gadgets and history. I write with a passion about anything which interests me.

Where are we likely to see your work?
I hope in as many newspapers and magazines and on as many websites as possible. I have only just started out in the world of freelancing so it is a case of building up my contacts.

I headed the sports team at the Western Gazette in Yeovil from November 1998 to April 2010, so my copy, and other reporters’ copy that I have subbed, have appeared there on pages that I laid out.

What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
Big sporting occasions are always wonderful to cover and I have been lucky enough to attend a fair few. I feel privileged to have been present in a Press capacity at a Premiership rugby final at Twickenham, two Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy cricket finals at Lord’s, a Coca-Cola League One football play-off final at the new Wembley Stadium and several non-League football finals at the old Wembley Stadium.

Another fixture to stick in my mind was a Benson & Hedges Cup cricket semi-final at Old Trafford, Manchester, in 1990 – it was the first really big sporting occasion on away territory which I had attended in a Press capacity. The photographer and I left Taunton at 4am and got back at 11pm.

I also thoroughly enjoyed meeting and questioning football legend Sir Bobby Charlton when he visited Taunton in the late 1980s. I covered the Miss Yeovil ball on two occasions. I will never forget how during the lead-up to the first event I had to interview all the contenders for the crown and needed their phone numbers from the organiser. She rang my office to get a description of my appearance – in order to check I was who I said I was – before handing them over. She apologised later for being defensive but I understood her actions.

What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
I would love to cover some of the other big football matches I have not had the chance to attend as a member of the Press – the FA Cup final, the Scottish Cup final, the Celtic versus Rangers and Manchester United versus Liverpool games, and the European cup ties and fixtures at the World Cup finals.

I love Scotland – I am part Scottish – and would enjoy writing features about people and places north of the border. In addition I would relish the chance of interviewing actor Tom Baker, actress Lynda Carter, former television presenter John Noakes, one-time astronaut Neil Armstrong, x-Prime Minister Lady Thatcher and former football star Kevin Keegan.

About you and PRs:

Where do you source ideas for articles?
The national news is a great source of ideas. Having worked in provincial newspapers for a long time I found there is often a relevant angle in a national story to make an interesting local follow-up. Seeing and experiencing things in everyday life makes me think “That would make a good article”. Press releases can be very useful too.

How can PRs be useful to you?
They are great contacts – they provide ideas, can arrange interviews and open doors which might otherwise be closed to a journalist.

How and when do you like them to get in touch?
I welcome PRs to get in touch whenever they have information which they think I may find useful. An e-mail is my favoured way to be contacted initially and that can lead to telephone conversations and meetings.

Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
I find them useful – they are a fantastic method of networking, building up contacts and being seen.

If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
From my time as a staffer I found I was often contacted by PRs with stories which seemed excellent, only for them to be about people from outside my newspaper’s territory. So I wanted the PRs to check the newspaper’s area before making contact. Since going freelance I have found PRs extremely helpful.

About you:

How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
One of two ways – I would love to live in a cottage by the sea and write best-selling novels; or I would run a toy shop.

If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
I would stay for up to a fortnight in the top hotel in south-west Scotland and explore again this beautiful part of the world.

What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
My bedside book is currently something which offers light relief – Dear Blue Peter, a compilation of letters sent to the children’s television programme.
I read a variety of magazines, anything from sport to science fiction to the Radio Times. I enjoy reading some of the blogs on the website. There is always something of interest.

[img|jpg|Richard Briggs]
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