Q&A with Tom Ball, CBR
As an agency we interact with the same publications pretty much every day and when a new journalist joins, we always want to get to know them and find out what makes them tick. Recently, I caught up with Tom Ball from Computer Business Review (CBR). He covers the cyber-security and fintech beats for CBR and we caught up to chat about what it’s like getting your first job in journalism:
First of all, how did you end up in journalism? “To be honest it was just a bit of luck really. I studied English at university and wanted to do something that suited my skills but I’ve also always been a bit of a news junkie. And I suppose trying to understand what is going on in the world around us is really the key requirement for any journalist. Getting into tech journalism was something of an accident, but I have to say it’s so fascinating, especially cyber-security. I’ve actually been a victim of a few online scams in the past as well, so I’ve got first-hand knowledge of what it’s like.”
Has journalism been what you thought it would be? “I don’t think I really had that many expectations but I’ll be honest, it’s been amazing to get feedback and engage with such a large audience, both in comments and online. It’s quite something when you realise how many people are reading your articles and seeing it getting re-tweeted by people around the world. It’s also interesting to see what grabs people – I’ve had a couple of articles really take off and it’s fun learning why those particular subjects or interviews do so well.
“Beyond that, I’m meeting so many CEOs and other high level guys which I didn’t think would be the case. I thought I’d be at my desk all day but you actually get out and about a fair bit. And it’s not long until you’ve picked up enough to start asking some good questions as well. I’ve had briefings where you think that something is a small area – say encryption – but as you unpack it, it becomes a huge issue that you had no idea about. Writing about stuff like that has really expanded my horizons.”
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned to date? “If I had to give someone advice, it would just be to throw yourself into it I guess. Go and speak to everyone you can, ask about anything you don’t know. I went to RSA in only my third or fourth week on the job and so the only real option I had was to dive straight in.”
How has it been dealing with PRs so far? “I’m probably really green still, but honestly, it’s been great. A lot of PRs are actually very knowledgeable and helpful, especially those that have been in the industry a long time. I’ve always liked meeting new people and chatting so dealing with PRs isn’t really a chore in that sense either. Obviously, PRs are always going to have their own agenda and I’ve heard about a few that have been blacklisted for getting your mobile and incessantly calling, but most aren’t like that and only get in touch with decent stuff. And given how many stories I get every day, I do find that knowing the people who pitch it actually does make the story itself more memorable.”
How do you decide what’s worth covering and what’s not? “It is difficult and you have to make a call on a case by case basis. Given the speed at which the industry moves, especially cyber-security, you have to be quite flexible. You can have your day planned out but if a major breach happens, everything gets thrown out the window.
“I think it’s even truer when meeting people. You have to make sure it’s going to be worthwhile taking two or three hours out of your day. But having said that, speaking to someone who really knows their stuff is incredibly useful. I met the CEO of Huntsman and the amount you can learn from interviews like that is amazing. They have an ability to communicate what they’re doing so clearly and concisely and that just makes what they’re doing so much more engaging.”