Freelance journalist Neil Jones covers subjects as diverse as the oil industry and operatic music. In this week's focus he tells us more about what this work entails.
About your journalism:
What do you write about?
A slightly bizarre combination of oil industry well engineering technology, health and safety and opera. Very rarely combined!
Where are we likely to see your work?
Most of my reviews and features on opera are in a specialist magazine called Opera Now. I also write for a Norwegian classical music magazine, Klassick, and occasionally review for The Scotsman. My safety articles appear in RoSPA’s Occupational Safety and Health Journal while my oil industry stuff is for BP’s intranet and for Shell’s externally facing global technology magazine.
What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?
I recall visiting the army base where the British Army trains their bomb disposal guys (or Ammunition Technical Officers to give them their correct title). An incredibly brave bunch of people, amazingly laid back and laconic on the surface but clearly brilliantly competent. Visiting the Ferrari factory for a Shell publication to interview their F1 director, Stefan Domenicali, was good fun as well. On the opera front, Beirut was a highlight (yes they do have western classical music there). But whilst they’ve been great memories I consider myself very lucky in that I find most of what I do is interesting and hopefully that comes across in my writing. (See http://www.cairnstone.co.uk/images/stories/rospa%20noise%20article.pdf for a recent RoSPA article while this http://www.cairnstone.co.uk/images/stories/norway.pdf is a more general piece for a Times special issue.)
What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?
To be able to attend the operatic themed party - including top quality singers - I have planned for my 100th birthday. Then to still have the energy and intellectual ability to review it - and be able to find an editor who wants to buy the piece!
About you and PRs:
Where do you source ideas for articles?
The ideas for my commercial stuff usually come from the clients but with my operatic and classical music stories it’s usually something I’ve dreamt up myself and sold in or as often as not developed from conversations (over a glass or three of wine is not unknown!) with my editors.
How can PRs be useful to you?
For in-house stuff they’re largely irrelevant. But with the RoSPA, opera and more general work they’re very useful in providing information, access to interviewees and stock pictures.
How and when do you like them to get in touch?
I’m open to offers of story ideas. For example, I’m very much open to opera / classical music story ideas with either a Norwegian connection or Scottish connection whilst on the health and safety front stories with an interesting quirk are always welcome. For example, I’ve just done a story for RoSPA on an arts residency that had HSE as its theme.
Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?
If I’m honest, mostly a distraction. The exception is ‘trips’ so long as they’re useful. I went to Russia last year with the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama to report on their collaboration with the Rostov Conservatoire for The Sunday Times. That was fascinating.
If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?
I’ll come clean here and reveal I’m also an Approved Tutor for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations so I tend to be pretty critical. In fact I find the standard of PR fairly reasonable but the one thing I would change is for PRs to be stronger in resisting having to include meaningless bullshit quotes from their chief executives - and others - in their press releases. If the quotes state the obvious then cut them out and say something more useful!
How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?
Driving big trucks. (And I have the license to let me do it!)
If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?
My father was brought up in Aberdeen and I’ve been in the area for over 20 years. That means I have long pockets and short arms. Consequently I probably wouldn’t spend it straightaway but put it in my ‘boy’s toy’ fund. That’s allocated for a decent low-mileage Alfa Spider in the not-too-distant future - assuming the commissions keep coming in of course.
What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?
Books: The Epic of Gilgamesh, Albert Hourani’s A History of the Arab Peoples and Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue. Magazines in my bag: none today but Autosport on Thursdays. But I’m enough of an egotist to read the magazines I contribute to - especially my own pieces! My excuse though is to see how they’ve been edited! Blogs: I follow a few people and organisations on Twitter, such as the BBC’s Scottish political editor, Brian Taylor, and Jake Humphries for the F1 gossip.