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Meet the media – Dan Oliver, .Net


Written by Paul Stallard
Source: Dan Oliver

Source: Dan Oliver

This weeks Meet the Media interview is with Dan Oliver, editor of web design magazine, .net. Dan also writes his own personal blog, www.willwriteforfood.co.uk, which he asked me to mention so that he would update it.

One of the tips Dan provides, is about not forgetting the junior members of a publication as they are the future editors of magazines. He also makes an interesting point that he doesn’t believe that the route of bad PR is the people on the end of the phone but in fact their bosses who have advised them badly.

Paul Stallard: Have you ever done any PR work and if yes what was the experience like?
Dan Oliver: I don’t really know how this happened, but there was a time when I considered a move into PR. I was offered a job at a place up in Manchester, but eventually decided to to turn it down. I’ve got a lot of respect for people that work in PR, because I know I would really struggle to write something creative about an inkjet printer.

PS: Do you think that most PR professionals read the titles you write for before contacting you?
DO: No.

PS: How has the increase of social media affected traditional journalism?
DO: When it comes to the definition of journalism, I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about blogging, and it’s very hard for me to talk about this subject without being accused of hubris. My honest opinion is that putting a blog on the net and writing some entertaining copy does not make you a journalist.

I trained as a journalist for three years at University, and did various work placements on newspapers for another two. In that time I learned about fact checking, staying on the right side of the law, ethics, story structure, interview technique, and many other skills that take time to learn. I’m not saying these skills can’t be acquired, but it takes time. I think the ease of publishing online means that many people are now calling themselves journalists, without knowing the fundamentals of journalism; that’s a concern.

However, if you’re talking about the ways in which social media can add to a journalist’s arsenal, it’s had an amazing effect. Twitter, for example, has enabled non-linear news stories to be covered in truly engaging ways (The Guardian’s G20 coverage being a perfect example). Add to this the feedback you can get via social media, and the audio and video tools that enable you to publish content on the go, and there’s never been a more exciting time to be a journalist.

PS: Have you had to change your writing style for online copy to incorporate SEO?
DO: I haven’t changed my writing style for the sites that I contribute to. Obviously, headlines are often made SEO friendly, but I leave that to the site editors.

PS: Is there a future long term for hard copy publications or will online rule?
DO: Online is obviously the future, and I think the days of the publishing behemoths are coming to an end; but there is a glimmer of hope for those of us working in print. Niche magazines appear to be bucking the trend of the downward sales spiral, especially if the latest round of ABC figures are anything to go by. For example, .net magazine – which targets a very specific niche in web design and development – has posted two consecutive ABC increases.

PS: What is your pet hate of PR?
DO: Lack of research. The amount of people that call us, having never read the magazine, is one of those things that never ceases to amaze me.

PS: What is the best way to contact you?
DO: Email/Phone/Twitter. And I’ll probably regret saying this, but I don’t even mind follow up calls. The main issue is always relevance; I don’t mind chatting on the phone with anyone about a story that’s relevant to our readership. If a call’s not relevant, your names goes on ‘the list’.

PS: What is your top tip for PR professionals?
DO: Don’t treat staff writers like shit; one day they will be editors.

PS: How many emails / calls do you get a day?
DO: I get 50-100 emails each day and 10-20 calls.

PS: Bar your own, which news titles do you read?
DO: Most of my reading is done online. I love The Guardian’s sites, and have quite a few blogs that I regularly visit. Also, I probably spend way too much time on Fark.com – “It’s a trap!”.

PS: What is the worst case of PR you have come across? You don¹t have to mention the company unless you really want to.
DO: I think most of the bad PR I come across isn’t down to the people on the other end of the phone/email, it’s usually down to their bosses.

PS: What is your favourite restaurant/coffee house for briefings?
DO: In Bath there are a lot of great places to eat out. If it’s a one-to-one then there’s a lovely French bistro called Beaujolias (www.beaujolaisbath.co.uk), and for large groups you can’t go wrong with Jamie’s Italian.

PS: Do you believe journalists are rude to PR professionals?
DO: I think some are, but I’ve always tried to be as courteous as possible with PRs. In fact, in some cases I think I’m probably too polite 😉

Previous interviews in the meet the media series:
Sally Whittle (17 March)
Peter Whitehead, FT Digital (24 March)
Alan Burkitt-Gray, Global Telecoms Business (31 March)
Alex Blyth (7 April)
Christine Horton, Channel Pro (14 April)
Jon Gripton, Sky News (21 April)