Gavin Atkin is currently a freelance journalist and blogger specialising in health topics. Gavin started his medical writing at Pulse and then went on to edit The Practitioner for 14 years. He moved to the pharmacy magazine Chemist + Druggist and now currently freelances for health titles and blogs about boating.
Cision: As medicine is such a vast industry, what level of research do you undertake before writing on a specific subject?
Gavin: It depends on the job I’m asked to do – medicine, healthcare and the health service together are such a huge area that the work I get can be pretty varied. Sometimes what’s needed is a technical kind of piece, but it may be a piece exploring different viewpoints on a topic, a light but informative conference report, or a news or analysis piece.
The key for me tends to be finding someone who can give me a steer on the important points and who wants to talk. In addition to the practical issue of getting some kind of direction for my story research, I find other people’s enthusiasm is infectious.
Cision: Do you think medical or scientific journalism has changed since you started writing?
Gavin: Thanks to the Web, there are so many sources available to us now – far more than there were – and I think we’re all so much better informed now. Also writers are often in a position where there’s no sub and no editor to rely on. What they write goes straight online and I think you need to be very confident to be happy working in that way.
Another change that has come with the development of the internet is that a journalist’s output can appear in different forms – in addition to news and features, these days I often find I’m working on training materials, and I know that’s true for many other journalists writing for professional and business audiences in particular.
Cision: How useful a tool do you find social media to promote your journalism?
I use WordPress to create my weblog about boating, intheboatshed.net, which gets 2,000 to 2,500 hits a day, and has brought a kind of fame – and some nice invitations and writing jobs over the years.
WordPress and YouTube also get used to post the learning material for some traditional music classes I run twice a month.
Cision: How does your relationship with PRs work? What kind of information do you wish to receive? Do you have any advice for PR professionals?
Gavin: Even in the age of the internet there are times when the only way to get a story is by talking to real people, and that’s where press relations comes in. Journalists should be polite and grateful for the help they receive.
That said, I much prefer PRs who learn about the subject they are working on; it’s always good if they can share a little more information than appears in the release. A good PR is also interested to find out why I need what I’m asking for, and tries to help. The attitude of, ‘This is what we’re giving out, take it or leave it’, frustrates journalists and discourages them from using anything else from the same source.
One more point: the best press events are the ones where the aim is to educate as well as put a story over.