We’re not used to being on the other side of the interview table. But when the opportunity arose for Cathy to be interviewed by the great team at Telum Media for their regular ‘Telum Talks To’ spot, we thought: why not?
You’ve recently gone into freelance journalism and opened content agency, Ginger Brown. How have you found the shift to freelance, and what’s the idea behind the new business?
My business partner Andrea Beattie and I worked for mX newspaper, and when it folded in 2015 we had a choice – try to secure one of a very limited number of roles in print journalism, get a job in Bunnings (the sausages were tempting) or start our own freelance business. We locked in C, Eddie.
I had worked as a freelancer for several years previously so the change for me was less drastic than for Andrea. But sometimes you need a kick to kick-start your career in a new direction.
The number of journalists who are now freelancing by choice or through redundancy as media companies shrink is enormous, so competition is higher than it was even five years ago. We were lucky enough to land a 12-month contract with the excellent team at The Huffington Post Australia after the collapse of mX to launch a small business section and create copy for that each day, and that was a brilliant start for Ginger Brown.
You could say Ginger Brown is divergent. Aside from writing independent journalism stories, we also pen native content pieces for HuffPost and ArtsHub, blog posts for content marketing firms and ad agencies, have re-written website content for architecture firms and schools and we also manage social media channels for small businesses as diverse as fine dining restaurants to doggy day care centres.
You launched Ginger Brown in September 2016. A few months in, what do you wish you’d known about freelancing when you started?
Running your own operation is a thrill – you are your own boss, you determine your own working hours to help balance your lifestyle and you have a choice about the type of work you want to do.
But it’s also a massive challenge. We are no longer just journalists with one job to do. Some days in the morning we will be writers, video producers and sub-editors, and in the afternoon we’ll be the accountant, the salesperson and the admin manager. You need to wear 50 hats to not only secure the work but create it, craft it, deliver it and get paid for it. I wish I’d known I had to improve my time management skills!
What kind of stories are you working on at the moment and are you working with any particular media outlets?
We are still working with the great crew at HuffPost in an ad hoc capacity – Andrea recently published a story about interviewing the cast of The Walking Dead at New York ComicCon and we write native content pieces too. We also write for respected arts industry website ArtsHub each month on a variety of topics, and contribute monthly to 4WD Australia Touring Magazine.
We have a few other irons in the fire – it’s all about keeping your name out there because we know better than anyone that the ground can shift at any time.
You’ve worked as a journalist and editor at trade, lifestyle and general news print publications and websites covering a varied set of topics – what have been the big surprises along the way?
Technology has changed so much in the last 20 years since I started working as a journalist. At my first job with Yaffa Publishing in Sydney we used QuarkXpress, we had no internet or email, contributors still faxed in copy and digital cameras were something from Star Trek. I’m astonished at how fast the media works works now – it’s exciting and constantly evolving.
Sometimes I have surprised myself by adapting to changes too. I have always tried to be a generalist and so to move between leisure magazines to weeklies to custom beauty publications to queer street press to major metro dailies and now to my own business with a bit of radio broadcasting thrown in is very gratifying.
You specialise in social media. Any key tips and tricks?
Don’t have every social media account under the sun because everyone else does. Pick the ones relevant to your readership / customer base and do them well.
Choose your tone carefully. Where a fun and convivial tone may work for lifestyle stories geared to a younger audience it’s unlikely to be appropriate for more serious news – and readers will let you know about it, too.
Engage with your audience – people love to be heard. But always be respectful, even when they aren’t. Listen to them, respond to them, hug them. Ok, that last one is a bit creepy but I think you get the point.
What’s your advice for young journalists looking to navigate the media industry?
By all means have a speciality but be prepared to adapt and to write about anything. Learn everything you can whenever you can and don’t say “no” too often. Identify someone to be your mentor and approach them, even if it’s just for informal chats once a month. The power of a well placed piece of advice is immeasurable as you navigate a very quickly evolving industry.
As the former union rep at mX, I’m a firm believer in the protective and collective power of the MEAA, so I encourage young journalists to join. I have no doubt there will come a time when you’ll need someone experienced to provide advice or to represent you in the workforce.
You are a Board Member for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival. How did you get involved and how do you manage to balance it with Ginger Brown?
I was editor of a queer street press title called bnews a few years ago and came to know and love the Festival. I always thought it would be a conflict of interest to serve on the Board and report on it at the same time but once I moved to mX the opportunity to join arose and I jumped at it. I believe we should all give back through volunteering, and MQFF is a very special event. It offers a safe space for people in the GLBTIQ community – and straight people of course – to come and see themselves represented on the big screen and celebrate our diversity.
Although we are the largest queer film festival in the southern hemisphere, it’s a very small team so the Board are very hands-on with assisting our staff of four to produce this 11-day event screening more than 170 feature and short films. In a time where GLBTIQ people are still unequal to their straight peers and our community is under attack from growing global conservatism, that job is more imperative than ever. When something is that important, you simply find the time to make it happen.
Most memorable story you’ve been involved with?
When Obama was elected in the US in 2008 I was working in the Sydney office of mX as a Sub-Editor. I picked up the front page story, wrote the headline, subbed the copy with sweat running down my back and then kissed it goodbye as it went to the printers. That edition became the first paper in the world to hit the streets proclaiming his victory, and a copy of it now sits in the Smithsonian Museum.
Coffee, Lunch or Drinks?
I’m a poor excuse of a Melburnian as I’ve never had a cup of coffee – I have a very long anecdote about a spoon I put in my mouth as a small child that I thought was covered in Milo. But I make up for this failing with my love of Victorian pinot noir.
If you could have a superpower what would it be?
I’m not sure that having gills is a super power but how amazing would it be to live underwater whenever you could? Sign me up.
This interview originally appeared in a daily email from Telum on Friday January 13.