Telum Talks To... Tom Cheshire, Asia Correspondent, Sky News
Currently based in Beijing, Tom Cheshire covers the region as Asia Correspondent for Sky News. A TV news personality and a Royal Television Society awardee, he is also the author of The Explorer Gene, an account of the adventurous Piccard family. Telum caught up with him to find out more about his work, his book, the technology he loves, and his views on the relationship between journalists and PR professionals.
What’s a day in your life like as Asia correspondent for Sky News?
It tends to vary. Basically, half our time is finding, shooting and editing our own original stories, which we do from our bureau in Beijing. The other half is reacting quickly to breaking news: throwing all our plans out the window and trying to get on a plane to the scene as quickly as possible. For the last few weeks, we’ve been confined to Beijing because of COVID-19, trying to do as much as we can in and around the city. Usually, the schedule is doing live hits for the UK morning shows, then working to film and edit for a VT for the evening.
You have been travelling extensively across the region in recent years. How do you strike a balance between work and life?
Not especially well… Part of the job is dropping everything when the foreign desk calls, then working very long days while you’re on the story. But it’s also incredibly fulfilling and a privilege to tell these stories, and especially to meet the people we do. After a big deployment, we’ll have a few days off to recover, I find it’s good to go on long runs to reset. And also because we tend to eat a lot of junk food on the road.
You read classics at Cambridge University. What drew you to journalism?
Classics was a brilliant degree. Part of the fun of it was trying to make sense of a very different world – different politics, ways of thinking, systems of power – but also finding the similarities with ours. To some extent, journalism is a continuation of that. The idea of getting that extra insight, whether it’s from an interview, from research, from being there on that scene and conveying it to the audience, so they can understand a little better too. There are many different ways of doing that, of course. I started in print, writing very long stories and editing magazine sections. That sort of time to work out a story is quite rare but also satisfying. TV is different – a lot more immediate and often more thrilling as a result.
One of your coverage areas is technology. What aspects of technological advancements or gadgets do you enjoy covering most?
I started covering technology when we were really starting to understand how much influence and power the tech giants like Facebook and Google have. They went from the shiny saviours of Silicon Valley to something much more complicated – it was fascinating to chart that. That said, I also like gadgets! A friend has a portable Huawei printer that produces Polaroid-style pictures – I want to get one. I never liked Kindles but mine is now a necessity living in Beijing. Also, my portable lip mic, which I use to record voice reports on the move into my iPhone – it’s old school but an amazing piece of kit.
You were the author of The Explorer Gene in 2013. How did you come up with the idea of writing about the Piccard family?
I covered a story about one member of the Piccard family when I was working at WIRED magazine. I read more about the whole family and found them completely fascinating: how do three generations of one family each do such extraordinary things?
What is the most critical issue of our time?
We’re in a climate crisis and need to mitigate its effects as much as possible. That means pushing ahead with green tech like clean energy but also drastically reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. It’s the single biggest issue we face.
Any tips for PRs on building a healthy relationship with journalists?
Relationship is the important word – staying in touch and understanding that, for whatever reason, a journalist may not be able to write about this particular release. Actually, perhaps forget releases full stop – we’re more interested in information no one else knows, things that we can take and, through other sources, turn into a story. But in six months the time might be right, for an interview with a client or to feature their research.