Freelance Journalist Interview with Jack Oughton

Jack Oughton, today’s interviewee, writes predominantly on lifestyle and entertainment and is currently available for freelance work as well as ad copy assignments. He can also be found masquerading as a talking owl on Twitter as @koukouvaya.

About your journalism:

What do you write about?
Lifestyle and entertainment: film and gaming (PC and Mac specifically), net culture. Interviews too. These seem to go quite well because I ask patently ridiculous questions that make for mildly amusing reading. Also more recently I’ve started writing on technology. Before I started in journalism I was doing ad copywriting every now and then, and I still do that at every chance I get – I enjoy the challenge of trying to sell stuff with words.

In my own capacity I write about physics, philosophy and similarly boring things, but there’s either no money whatsoever in that or I’m doing it wrong. I’m also a serious photographer and I am pursuing the photojournalism route. I really admire photojournalists, having balls of steel seems to be on the job description. Saying this I’ve not been a journalist for a long time so this may all change pretty soon!

Where are we likely to see your work?
FHM Online, Empire Online, Skiddle, Computeractive. Hopefully in Wired soon. I’m completely, utterly hellbent on writing for Wired. I also have a couple of ‘one offs’ in quite a few places.

What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
Most memorable? I don’t think my work is very memorable, it’s usually light reading and it’s not like I’m bringing any social injustices to light or doing anything monumental. But the copy for the lifestyle journalism I’ve done at FHM is always fun for me because they give you a free reign to take nothing too seriously. And that’s basically my approach to life.

One of the best recent things was doing the Ace Combat 7 preview for them. I’m a big fan of the series and have never lost that stupid boyish enthusiasm for fighterjets and explosions. So I got to basically let rip with the Top Gun cliches, intermittent bursts of typing in ALL CAPS and generally just having fun with it. It’s one of those moments where you get to write about something you’ve already been talking about for years and so it feels intricately familiar.

What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
I’d love to interview the spiritual thinker Eckhart Tolle – from what I have heard and read from him, he has an amazingly powerful presence and I’m sure he would be magnificent in person. I think he’s the most enlightened man I know of. I’m really not too sure what I’d ask him, I’d probably go in with a few rough questions and then try to play it by ear. Or just sit there and see what happens if I say nothing.

Feature? I’d love to write a massive piece on fusion power that encouraged a whole load more money to go into the field. It’s such a promising area as there are so many bright new prospects that can help us achieve fusion sustainably. Or an investigative piece on one of the last tribes untouched by ‘civilisation’ that live out in the massive forested areas around Brazil and Peru. It would be fascinating to document their introduction to the rest of the human race and how thousands of years of culture and technology landing on their head would effect these people. I think it’d be a bit like first contact with aliens for them!

About you and PRs:

Where do you source ideas for articles?
Very often things that PRs will send me. Sometimes waking up in the night with creative insomnia. Sometimes just focusing on a single topic in my mind ’til something comes of it. Interrogating my editor on what he/she wants. Free association. Stream of consciousness writing, Googling certain words/phrases and variations, with a thesaurus. Link hopping on wikipedia. They’ve all worked at some point.

How can PRs be useful to you?
Pitch me content relevant to what I work on – email me if you want to know. Invite me to events where I don’t have to travel arduously for ages (bloody hate that) – Correspond by email and let me know if you’d like a phone conversation. Let me know what I can do for you.

How and when do you like them to get in touch?
An email that comes across clearly as the invitation to a dialogue, not another unsolicited publicity blast. I like to talk to people and help them, so I welcome contact from PRs if they’re doing it properly, which isn’t hard.

Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
I think it depends on the event. Being invited to a screening or a party after a hard day’s work is almost always a good thing. In my limited experience of them, some trips can be great, and some can be crap. It’s the same way that a band can release a great album and immediately follow up with a horrendous album. I can’t think of a journalist I’ve met who doesn’t enjoy some kind of well done press event.

If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
I’d like everybody making informed pitches. Good pitches are great, because everybody wins and it’s how things are supposed to run – it can very often be a co operative effort. I look forward to good pitches – after all, I get stories and editorial content handed to me on a plate, which is wonderful. I also don’t know what to expect, which is the exciting thing about dealing with PRs.

And yes, like everybody in the world, I don’t like blind pitches or spam disguised as PR. It only takes one email to me to find out what story or client I can help you work on. And I will help you if I can. Funnily enough, blind pitching usually only comes from American firms that have somehow harvested my address. What ever gave them the idea that I wanted to be pitched in Spanish on some tiny Mexican band over and over again? It’s just stupid. PRs in the UK have all been pretty good to me, so thank you all.

About you:

How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
I’d either be in the music business (and failing miserably), taking portrait photos or selling supplements on the internet. All of these would probably be easier than trying to be an unstoppable juggernaut of ideas and pitching. Apart from the music business, which is just not civilised at all.

If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
I’d probably put it in the bank and think about what to do with it. And then spend it on a new camera lens. And then I’d think about what I’d done. Then go take some shots of the pavement through a fisheye lens…

What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
I read books in huge numbers at any one time, abandoning the ones I don’t like and then rereading the ones I do. It’s my filtering process.

Some I’ve got going at current include: Writing popular fiction by Dean Koontz, 38 Most Common Fiction Mistakes by Jack M Bickham, When I Stop Talking You’ll Know I’m Dead by Jerry Weintraub, Body Opus by Dan Duchaine and Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki.

Magazines: This usually depends on where I work. I don’t subscribe to any magazines, but I do read ridiculous amounts of the publication I’m going to/am currently at. I’m currently at Computeractive, so my bag is full of old issues of that. It’s really weird reading about the cutting edge of graphics card technology in 2009, and seeing promising ads for things that are now ‘old’ by I.T standards. It actually feels horribly, horribly wrong. I guess it helps you define evergreen content!

Blogs? I’m not subscribed to any but off the top of my head Tim Ferriss is pretty brilliant, at everything. Funny/stupid image blogs are endlessly amusing. I do like reposting the images on Facebook and tagging everyone inappropriately. Some health and fitness blogs as well, in the palaeolithic and bodybuilding community. I used to do that thing where you subscribe to every blog of remote interest via RSS then get to Friday and have an emotional breakdown when you try to read all the posts that have piled up. Now I just read wherever I end up on Google!
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