Telum Talks To: Joanna Hall

Telum Talks To: Joanna Hall

By Rhys Evans

When it comes to preparation, I research, research, and research some more. I double and triple-check everything, and I’m a stickler for accuracy.

Telum Media spoke with Freelance Journalist, Joanna Hall, about her writing approach and the advice she has for PRs.

What inspired you to pursue a career in journalism?
I was a bookworm and always writing, even in my free time in high school. Early on, I had much encouragement from one particular English teacher who was big on teaching the art of storytelling. She drilled into us that, like any art form, writing requires creativity, vision, skill, and practice. So I practised a lot. Later, when I was living in Mexico City in the 1980s, I was asked to write an opinion piece for a free expat newspaper about my experience of being Irish and a young newbie from London living in the crazy, colourful, and dynamic city it was at the time.

The feedback I received was so positive and complimentary that it inspired me to make a go of a career in writing when I returned to London. So I did just that. Fortunately, I also had a few key mentors in life and the world of writing, including the legendary author and journalist, Phillip Knightley, and the literary agent, Darley Anderson. I owe much to their encouragement, honesty, and wisdom.

In your experience, what are some of the key differences between working as a staff journalist and freelancing?
There are many differences, pros and cons. For most of my career, I’ve either worked as a freelancer, a regular contractor or contributor, or in key roles within my own media business, which is quite different from being a staff journalist. Freelancing offers more freedom, for example, but it also goes hand-in-hand with more risk on many levels. Ultimately, I feel I’ve approached all my work the same way regardless. Discipline is essential to getting the job done and meeting deadlines, prioritising what needs to be done and what can wait, and good communication with your editor or client.

What has been a memorable or challenging story that you've covered in your career?
There have been many spanning a career of 35-plus years. One of the earliest was an informal “chat” with one of my dance idols, the legendary Russian ballet dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, on a flight from London to New York, that became the basis of a profile piece for an arts magazine in the UK. I also loved working on a multi-page retrospective feature on the singer/songwriter, Jeff Buckley, for the April 2002 edition of Rolling Stone in Australia, commemorating the fifth anniversary of his passing. I got to interview some wonderful people who shared memories of Jeff as a friend, a performer, and his 1995 and 1996 tours in Australia.

On the health and wellness side of things, I’ve especially loved receiving positive feedback about stories that have helped people make better choices in life, or alert them to a potential health problem. One of the most memorable came from writing an in-depth story on salt and the dangers to our health for Men’s Health magazine. A male reader took the time to write to me via the magazine with thanks because the feature had encouraged him to ask for a heart checkup. It revealed that he was a “dead man walking” due to high blood pressure and a couple of coronary blockages, and a life-threatening heart episode was averted.

Freelancing often involves working on diverse topics, with multiple deadlines. How do you approach the research and preparation process? 
When it comes to preparation, I research, research, and research some more. I double and triple-check everything, and I’m a stickler for accuracy. I also research interviewees and case studies (where possible) thoroughly before talking to them, and I double-check even the most basic of facts with them, so I can be as accurate as possible. You’d be surprised how simple things like the spelling of a surname or an age can be wrong, and end up circulating as such.

I also keep meticulous notes, emails, interview recordings, and transcriptions. I aim to seek out diverse sources of information and perspectives where possible to avoid bias unless it forms a relevant part of a story. Overall, I want to present a well-rounded view of a topic to help people make good, informed decisions. Because I write features rather than news, however, my work is largely designed to be positive and empowering, rather than controversial.

You've previously used Telum's Media Request service to connect with experts. How do you like to work with PR professionals?
Telum has been a great resource for finding experts and often case studies, along with quality story ideas to pitch to media outlets. When it comes to working with PRs, and there are some I’ve worked with for a long time, I’m happy to chat on the phone initially if there’s a story I might work on. But, I prefer the majority of communications to be by email so I have a physical record of exactly what’s happening and when.

Additionally, you can never keep me too informed! I’d rather know if there is an issue with anything early, such as tracking down an interviewee or a change of heart in being interviewed. And I would rather hear “no” than get no response to my communications as it doesn’t help anyone and just wastes time.

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Joanna Hall

Freelance Journalist

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