Grilled: Gideon Spanier, business journalist who writes for The Times and the Standard; Broadcasting Press Guild chairman

The business journalist on telling stories well and the power of Twitter.

Describe your feelings as you come into work…
I feel like a sponge, soaking up as much as I can from social media, the papers, news sites and the 7am stock market announcements, and looking forward to the day ahead.

Why do you do this job?
It’s fun and unpredictable. I get to find out things first, have privileged access, ask difficult questions and talk to some of the most interesting and intelligent people. To repeat the old saw, it sure beats working.

As a child I wanted to be...
Lots of things. Since both my parents were journalists, I liked making my own newspapers with pens, paper, glue and scissors.

What is the worst time to pitch to you?
It is always the worst time when the pitch is weak, badly explained or irrelevant. Phoning first, before emailing, is usually a nuisance, unless I already know the PR.

What is the best time to pitch to you?
Via email during normal working hours. Do your research and know what a journalist is likely to be interested in. Be persistent and call if you don’t get a response.

What makes a great story for you?
Anything that’s new or surprising or intriguing or involves special access. It could be information or an int­erview or a trend that hasn’t been spotted before. But it must be told well. So many stories are told badly.

What is your view of PR professionals?
PR continues to grow in influence as people become more worried about their reputations in the social age. A smart PR ‘gets’ the story, knows how to tell it well, is a fast conduit to the real decision-maker such as the CEO, and can be a mischievous source – more often about their clients’ rivals. I don’t think that all PR is insidious, but it is worrying that some organisations now go out of their way to block contact with journalists. Given a choice, I will go directly to the client and cut out the agency.

Do you have a favourite PR person? Why?
No names. But the best PRs know their company or client well, respond quickly, don’t mislead, want to help and are proactive.

What one thing gets in the way of you doing your job?
Not enough time – to speak to everyone, to follow up leads and to dig for new information.

Is there any subject that you find so boring or offensive that you just won’t give it oxygen?
No story is too boring if told well. The problem for some PRs is what they think is a story is a bore. I am reluctant to write about a person’s private life, but it can be justified when someone is in the public eye.

What gives you the biggest job satisfaction?
Landing a scoop or an exclusive interview is always a high. Sometimes it is just writing an article that I feel does justice to the story.

The greatest pressure on me is…
To break great stories and keep up with technology. Too many journalists are not paid enough, leading to a worrying exodus – not least into PR.

What is your management style: shouter, weeper or supportive friend?
Supportive friend. Shouting is OK only to make yourself heard across a newsroom on deadline.

Which outlet do you most admire for its news coverage and why?
Twitter. Even though it is a platform, not an outlet, it has become the most important way that journalists break, discover and share news.

What is your greatest career fear?
Being irrelevant. Most journalists have a touch of pessimism and paranoia about them. That’s not a bad thing if it keeps you on your toes.

What’s in your lunch box?
A smoked salmon bagel is always a winner.

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