Jo Interviews Courier Newspaper Journalist

Michael Alexander The Courier
Michael Alexander The Courier

Courier Journalist Michael Alexander has covered a few stories for Jo in the past so she thought it would be great to turn the tables and ask advice for ‘getting into the press’

What would you say is the best way a new business owner to be featured in the local Newspaper?

In a nutshell, make sure they know about you! The Courier has a dedicated business section and business editor so best bet would be to drop an email or make a call to alert the department of your search for publicity.. If a new business has opened, it would usually be possible for a (free) story to appear in print. The size of the story would likely be governed by how many jobs were being created. But it would also be worth thinking of a good human interest angle to ‘sell’ the story to the press. If it’s not possible to run a news story, and/or if you were looking for greater coverage with more control over content, a paid-for advertorial – orchestrated in association with our advertising department – would be the best way to go.

Which bloggers to you read the most of?  Any particular person?

I regularly look at and participate in social media (Twitter/Facebook) and read news websites (including creation of content for The Courier website)  , but I’m going to sound like a right dinosaur here and say I don’t regularly follow any bloggers. That said, a former DC Thomson colleague Linda Isles does write a blog called Do Not Touch the Lobsters and whilst I don’t follow it religiously, it is always a good read when it pops up on social media.

What is the best way to contact a journalist and when?

Email is always a safe bet for getting in touch with a journalist if it’s something not immediately time sensitive. That way time shouldn’t be an issue.

If it’s something more urgent, however, then don’t be frightened to pick up the phone- it’s usually a good idea to follow up emails with a phone call anyway. Journalists, like everyone else these days, are deluged by emails, and whilst it might not be intentional, it’s very easy for an email to be submerged and inadvertently forgotten about. Twitter is also another way of making contact – but not great for anything that requires a detailed explanation. Personally, if someone sends me a tweet and I look at it on my phone at 10pm, then it’ll be forgotten about by the morning. So following up with a phone call in office hours is always good!

Is there a story that you have covered that has had a profound effect on you?

During my 22 years as a journalist (reporter, features writer, news editor, Fife chief reporter and latterly lead news feature writer),  I have covered a rich tapestry of news and features.

News stories have ranged from grassroots coverage of local sheriff courts (drugs cases, fatal crashes, domestics),  High Court murder trials (eg Mikail Kular murder), fatal accident aftermaths (multi-car crashes wiping out NE Fife teenagers) and council meetings,  to breaking the story that Prince William was to be a student at St Andrews University, and the G8 summit at Gleneagles  in 2005 where we were in the company of President George W Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bob Geldof  the day after the so-called ‘Battle of Gleneagles’.

Some of the saddest occasions in my early days were speaking to widows in the immediate aftermath of a husband or partner being killed in a road accident – sometimes just hours after – and learning when to respect someone’s grief and privacy.

Other enjoyable highlights have included flying with the RAF at Leuchars, going on manoeuvres with the Army in Germany and Croatia, visiting the European Parliament , covering the Open championship and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and going on tourism ‘press trips’ to the likes of Iceland, Latvia and Switzerland.

Yet often the biggest achievements as a local news reporter weren’t always the high profile stories – it was satisfying, for example, to get  a ‘result’ on behalf of a local pensioner being wronged by the council – and for the victor, they would be massively grateful.

(On a personal note, using my investigative skills to track down my grandfather’s long lost war time relatives in Poland a number of years ago also brought a tear to the eye. Witnessing a murder in the depths of the  Belize jungle and spending time in the slums of Bangladesh have also left their mark).

What would you say to someone inspiring to get into Journalism?

‘Eyes and ears!’ It’s important to have an inquisitive nature about people and places and to keep eyes and ears open. Never be frightened to ask ‘why?’ when writing a story. Also, don’t under-estimate local news. At the end of the day life is local and local news is often simply  a microcosm of the world.

Have you always wanted to be in the world of Journalism since a young boy? What or who first inspired you?

I enjoyed writing short stories at primary school – but was about `13 or 14 when I first thought about being a journalist. It was around that time in second year when you had to start making course choices. My favourite/best subjects at that stage were English and Modern Studies and with a keen interest in current affairs it seemed like a natural choice. In sixth year I wrote off to DC Thomson/The Courier and was offered an interview. But I did better in my exam than expected and went to university instead (studying Geography, politics and management). In my fourth year at Uni, I again wrote to DC Thomson/The Courier, as my local paper, and was successful in getting a job. I’ve worked in various writing and management roles since.

Do you think public blogging and ‘instant news’ has affected journalism and printed news? If so, in what way?

There’s no denying these are tough times for newspapers but the strength of papers like The Courier continues to be its grassroots network of reports and adage that ‘Local Matters’. Citizen journalism is fine. But The Courier needs to continue its reputation as a trusted impartial source of local news whilst also carrying regional, national and international content.  Our features in particular, looking at issues and interviews in more depth, also pride themselves on being exclusive content. This, and the improved layout of The Courier, all helped it to be named UK Regional newspaper of the year 2016. That said, The Courier website gets more hits than ever – and it’s currently all about how the printed paper and the website complement each other.

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Jo Macfarlane is an award winning Scottish hand poured luxury scented candle maker, based in the beautiful East Neuk of Fife.

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