By Jennifer Usher (@jmanos)
Through working with Alastair on several occasions (and sharing a few beers along the way) I realized that he is a straight-shooter. If you pitch him a client that might be a fit, don’t worry, you’ll get his honest reaction. Even better? He just may call your client old within the first sentence of the article. But it’s Alastair’s refreshing honesty that makes working with him both easy and enjoyable.
Since Alastair is comfortable quizzing the best and brightest on a regular basis, I turned the tables on him and let him play the role of interviewee for a change. Interested in learning why he started in journalism in the first place (hint: it all started on a Schwinn), hearing about an interview that left him sick, or the real deal on working with PR people? Then read on…
Twitter handle: agoldfisher
Bio in 140 characters or less: Reporter & editor for Thomson Reuters (covering venture capital and startups), veggie, sports fan, runner, beer fan, beagle owner and papa to two boys.
Why did you originally get into journalism?
The short answer I often say is because I was interested in a girl in college. Seriously, there was a social component to it. I knew a lot of the people on the school newspaper at a junior college I went to in Southern California—Cypress Community College. Even though I didn’t know what I was doing or how to be a reporter, it was so much fun. Then, three of us from that group moved up here to go to college at San Jose State to study journalism. Didn’t know what kind of journalist I wanted to be—sports reporter? Magazine writer? But I applied for and got a job at the San Jose Business Journal, and I’ve been in business journalism since. In all honesty, I was always interested in being a writer or to work on a newspaper ever since I was a little kid. I rode around on my Schwinn and I had a paper route when I was 8 or so, delivering the local newspaper. Also, when growing up, my friend’s dad was the editor of that same community newspaper, and I saw how much power he wielded and how he influenced the community. I wanted to be a part of that.
What is your favorite part of your job? Least favorite?
My favorite part is that every day is different. I may spend one day at a conference, shaking hands and meeting new people. And then, the next day, I’ll have several phone interviews lined up and stories to write. No two days are the same. I’m always coming across new people, learning about new things, writing about new stuff. That’s fun.
My least favorite part is deadlines. I’m awful at them. I don’t know why I’m in this business sometimes.
What is my favorite interview?
I did have a memorable interview once in around 2000 or so. I interviewed Ron Gonzales, who was then the mayor of San Jose. But I was sick as a dog. I remember sitting in his office with him, and my head was ringing, my throat hurt and I don’t remember a thing he said. I couldn’t wait to go home and lay in bed sick. I somehow wrote a profile. I later wondered whether I made him ill, and I felt bad, thinking about it. Not too long after, he disclosed he was having an extramarital affair with a city employee, and I no longer felt bad about getting him sick.
Which blog/column do you read religiously?
My Twitter feed. Does that count?
What’s your biggest pet peeve about working with PR people?
I don’t mind PR people as much as some of my peers do. Yes. PR people can be annoying, especially when they insert themselves in between me and a source who I’m trying to interview. But that’s part of the deal, so whatever. Actually, I find the marketing and advertising businesses fascinating, and I like to watch how it all works. What chaffs me is when PR people don’t take the time to understand who I am or what publications I wrote for or who my audience is. This is a relationship business, and I consider it important to know who I deal with and what drives the people I write about. I’m not asking every PR person to become my best friend. But I encounter many who just don’t get it. They’re clueless when it comes to what I do or what I’m interested in. I often think that the problem stems from the agency’s culture—that a new hire is given a media list and told to call and email and pitch journos and not do any critical thinking in the process. Unfortunately, if a PR person rubs me the wrong way with a pitch and doesn’t understand when I say I’m not interested, they’ll probably never reach me again.
I know you’re fond of beer, running and photography. Any secret hobbies that might surprise me?
Haha. I’m sure all the SHIFTers I know probably think I like to drink beer in my free time. Yes, I do. But I got to eat, too. I’m a vegetarian (almost a vegan), and I have been one for more than 20 years, so food is important to me, although I don’t cook as much as I used to. Running is fun, too, and it helps me drink that beer guilt-free. And I like to ride my bike and exercise and play ball with my son. As for the photography, I guess I’m just interested in art and playing around and having fun.