After over a decade as a freelance technology and business journalist, Gary Flood was recently appointed editor of PublicTechnology.net. Today, he explains how his role at Sift Media is a synthesis of journalism old and new, and why what’s happening in the public sector is one of the most important social and business issues of the age.
After 10.5 years as a prolific freelancer, you’ve joined PublicTechnology.net as editor. What was the impetus behind the move?
I genuinely see opportunity here. A big part of the attraction is working with Stuart Lauchlan, my rival, colleague, best bud and now boss of many years! (Stuart and I were blood rivals on the news desks of Computer Weekly and Computing, he on the latter, right at the start of the 1990s, and we’ve been inciting each other to be the best we can be ever since.) Stuart is head of Editorial at Sift Media and has done I think an outstanding job building a great team and encouraging best practice.
In many ways, I see the job as combining new and old sorts of journalism – the hard news disciplines of my old print weekly days, to the analysis and commentary that I was doing with Katy Ring (who is also, of course, now part of Sift, with her K2 analyst service) back on Software Futures in the mid ‘90s, to the satire, almost, of my ComputerWire stint when I was in the US later that decade. I also am genuinely interested in the subject matter; I think what’s happening in the public sector is one of the most important social and business questions of the age. I also have to say, to be frank, that freelance writing is a very tough gig these days. There are just so few outlets now; as Stuart says, ‘the world has changed’. So this move caps a lot of what I have been doing in my career and also provides the culture, structure and environment I think I will get a lot out of.
How do you think your long career as a freelance journalist will impact your new role at Sift Media
It’s sort of done. My priority has to be the site and what we are trying to do. Outside that 9-5, I may still do other sorts of writing. I am doing a Masters degree for fun in the wonderful subject of Rhetoric part-time and if I have any energy after that I’ve always fancied doing a Creative Writing course. That damn novel will get published one day!
What are your plans for PublicTechnology.net?
I think we have fantastic potential to make it the default destination for the public sector ICT community. That will also, of course, include, to some extent, Big Society players if the Coalition is serious about its plans to open up provision of services, but it certainly includes local and government sector professionals and leaders, suppliers and think tanks, users, unions, the list goes on. The UK public sector is 40% of UK Plc’s turnover, remember – that’s £669bn. I also look forward, with relish and a glint in my eye, to competing with my chums over at the Guardian! They’ve had it easy too long.
You began your career as an AI programmer at Logica. How did you make the jump into journalism?
I think I am notorious for saying there were no girls in programming. I see no reason to change the answer.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your work as a media trainer and copywriter?
I think I am sort of done with the former, and I’ll tell you why. I think I have ended up training people to deal with me – and there are few people like me any more. Journalism is, I think unfortunately in some ways, not as competitive and ‘confrontational’ as it was ‘back in the day’. I also think towards the end I was being hired to be mean – to be ‘Gary Flood,’ who to be honest isn’t the same thing as the real one. I had a couple of bad experiences there when I knew I was being tougher than I needed to be and it made me feel uncomfortable. Never say never and all that, and I have good mates and clients in PR I’d always take a call from on this, but… As for the copywriting, again, if I have capacity outside the PT.net commitment, I’d take a view. Having said that, I always liked what science fiction author Brian Aldiss used to say was his motivation as a writer: to keep beer in the fridge and his mistresses in dresses, so you can’t have enough money there.
What are you looking for from the PR community going forward?
Case study opportunities about successful use of ICT in the public sector; opinion pieces relevant to our sector’s needs; discussions about how we can work together to get your client’s message out to the community on commercial terms; and so on. The next few years in our country will be a time of massive change, possibly even disruption, around what we write about. So join in the conversation!