Meet the journalist: Jo Caird, Freelance writer and editor, including co-editor of Fest Magazine
Well this is the month to be in Edinburgh – The Fringe Festival, International Festival and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo all come to town. We here at Represent are lucky that our office is right in the centre of town, so we can soak up the atmosphere on our lunchbreaks and nip into see a show after work.
With all this going on, who better to talk to for our Meet the Journalist series than Jo Caird who travels up to Edinburgh every August to cover the eclectic array of events and shows that take over the city.
So, we sat down and spoke to her about Edinburgh, freelance journalism, how it works alongside PR and the types of stories she looks for in Scotland…
What do you read/where do you get your news (not your own)?
“Generally, I review the arts pages of the broadsheets and specialist arts publications like The Stage, Chortle and Exeunt for my news.”
Did you always know you wanted to be a journalist?
“Not at all. During my degree (BA English with Italian) I worked out that I wanted to work with words in some capacity, but it was only after doing a couple of stints of work experience and some theatre reviewing for my local papers that I decided to pursue a career in journalism.”
What have been your career highlights?
“There are too many wonderful experiences to include them all! But travelling to Derry-Londonderry to cover the burning of a ‘temple’ art installation by American artist David Best, and interviewing Canadian First Nations artists on the Haida Gwaii archipelago in British Columbia, were particularly memorable.”
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
“Only pitch stories you’re genuinely interested in – it’s very hard to get an editor excited about an idea unless you’re excited about it too.”
What, in your experience, are the advantages of a good journalist/PR relationship?
“Bringing great stories to my attention that I might otherwise have missed.”
What’s the worst habit of a PR?
“Chasing up unsolicited press releases. A friendly nudge from a trusted PR is (usually) okay,
if I haven’t replied to a personalised pitch, but anything other than that is a waste of both our time.”
What challenges do freelance journalists face today?
“Shameless rights grabs, payment on publication, and stagnant or falling rates of pay are all making freelancing increasingly difficult.”
How do you prefer PRs get in touch with you? (e.g. Email/phone/in person/Twitter)
“Email is always best. Twitter is fine for first contact. Phone calls are okay for trusted PR contacts. Face-to-face meetings are nice but it’s rare I have the time for them.”
What stories / angles are you looking for? In particular, in Scotland?
“As a freelancer, I’m always keen to hear about unusual arts stories, ideally with a timely peg. At Fest Magazine we try to highlight the best work at the Edinburgh festivals, helping readers navigate the enormous range of shows on offer.”
As a freelance journalist, how do you work in regard to commissions? Are you given a topic, or do you more often pitch your own ideas?
“It’s a bit of both. Some editors I work with – on inflight or customer magazines, for example – come to me with stories they want written, while with other publications I pitch my own ideas. The combination works well, introducing me to intriguing new topics I might not have come across on my own, while leaving me space to find stories myself.”
How can a show stand out during the Edinburgh festivals?
“There’s no formula to it. Usually one or more of the following elements is involved: respected artists or producers, an engaging idea, striking publicity shots, a recommendation from a trusted PR, a favourable quote from a past review from a good publication.”
What’s your favourite thing about Edinburgh?
“The sheer range of work on offer and the fact that you never know what you might stumble across.”
Do you have any recommendations on venues and/or shows for this year?
“My wish list of shows to see is incredibly long and varied, but I’m particularly looking forward to the hologram wizardry of physical theatre show, Toujours Et Près de Moi, Beth Vyse as Olive Hands: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, which co-stars Vyse’s baby son and My Left / Right Foot – The Musical, about an amdram theatre company struggling to comply with the equalities agenda.”