Freelance Journalist Focus: Helen Croydon

Helen Croydon is a freelance journalist writing on the sex industry, relationships and dating. Her work has appeared in The Times, The Sunday Times and The Telegraph.

This week FeaturesExec caught up with Helen to find out a bit more about her work, how PRs can be useful to her and what she’d do if she wasn’t a journalist.

About your journalism:

What do you write about?
Anything to do with the sex industry, dating and relationships. I try to work on investigative projects mainly, though I do light-hearted or humorous pieces on dating and single life as well.

It’s a wider area than you’d think. I’ve been to the Ukraine to report on the buy-a-bride industry, I’ve gone undercover to investigate pole dancing vacancies advertised on Jobcentre Plus websites and am currently working on an investigation surrounding fertility treatments.

Where are we likely to see your work?
I’ve written for The Times, The Sunday Times, The Mail, The Mirror, The Independent and The Telegraph, though I wouldn’t say I’m a regular with any of them. I have to have a broad range of platforms because I cover a niche subject area.

I’m a broadcast journalist as well as print so you’ll see my work on TV and online too. I’ve done two short documentaries for Current TV – one on dating, one on steroids. I freelance on the newsdesk at ITN-On, the multimedia wing of ITN which means I produce news reports and presenter-led bulletins for various online platforms such as YouTube, MSN, Google, Joost and various newspapers’ websites.

What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
When I decided to go freelance, I had two big ambitions: To get a front page story on one of the nationals – something suitably scandalous and juicy. The second was to get a column. I’d love to humour my life as a content singleton. There are so many dating columns by women talking about their love woes and despair at being on the shelf. I’d love to write one which endorses the fun elements of single life and dispel the outdated Bridget Jones stereotype.

About you and PRs:

Where do you source ideas for articles?
If I were organised I would set up PR alerts properly and keep a diary of events and key dates relevant to my area of research. In reality though, I work by having a mush of ten different story notes and rough dates swimming in my head. I get new story ideas every day and want to pursue them all. Anything that makes me raise an eyebrow, I think as a potential story. My first big tabloid splash came from a conversation in a bar with a friend who jokingly told me she’d received an invite on Myspace to go and work as an escort. I investigated it and had it commissioned by The Mirror. The idea for my latest documentary for Current TV, “Steroids in our Gyms” came about because I spotted a new sign in my own gym warning members against steroid use. That prompted to look into whether it was a common problem in other gyms.

How can PRs be useful to you?
In two ways:
By providing details of surveys or polls. Sometimes I research a topic but it lacks a ‘news hook’ so I have to keep it to one side and wait for something which can make it newsworthy. If new research is released which relates to that subject, that can often serve as the hook.
Secondly, they can provide case studies or expert spokespeople. All features need quotes from experts to make it balanced, and real life accounts to give it colour. Surprisingly I spend more time tracking down spokespeople or case studies than I do actually writing. If PR companies could help with that, I want to hear from them.

How and when do you like them to get in touch?
Email’s always best then I have their contact details on file. I’m glued to it so it doesn’t matter when.

Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
Useful, though if PR companies are organising parties I certainly haven’t been invited to any!

If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
Less wordy press releases. Most people don’t have time to read past the first couple of sentences.
Sort out their mailing lists so they only send releases to people who’ve subscribed or to people who have an obvious interest in the subject matter. If I get a press release on dog food sales for instance it’s just going to annoy me.

About you:

How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
I would still be in my pre-journalism career – a Japanese-speaking tax adviser – and earning a lot more money. I studied Japanese at university and joined Arthur Andersen as a graduate trainee, advising Japanese expatriates on their UK tax position. I spent two years studying for painfully boring tax exams then as soon as I qualified I gave it all up, went back to college and studied journalism.

If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
I’d invest in a V1 or Z1 camera. Coming from a broadcast journalism background I can shoot, edit and present to camera so if I actually had access to filming equipment I could produce video content to accompany a print story. I’m sure I could stretch the budget to cover a pair of Fendi shoes too.

What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
Three books and all because they’ve related to something I’ve worked on:
Whatever she wants – Confessions of a Male Escort. I interviewed a representative of a sex workers charity for a piece on the legality of prostitution. He told me about his own background of being an escort and this is the book he wrote about it.
Bunker 13 – A novel written by top Indian investigative journalist, Aniruddha Bahal. I was in Delhi in May researching child sex trafficking and came into contact with him. We had lunch with his armed bodyguards hovering behind us. They follow him wherever he goes because of threats against him following his investigation into a defence procurement deal. He gave me a signed copy of his book.
Wines of the World – Bought optimistically after completing a recent wine course. The bookmark has stayed on page 13 for the last four months.
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