In the latest of our ‘Meet the Journalist’ series, we spoke to Melanie Bonn, a reporter for the Perthshire Advertiser. Working part-time from her hilltop home near Loch Tay, she covers stories in the Perthshire area and devotes some of her column inches to writing about her smallholding, where she keeps a host of animals and tends to her orchard.
Melanie told us about how she got started in journalism, the challenges of maintaining a work-life balance and what she looks for in a good journalist / PR relationship.
Can you tell us a little about your professional background?
“I came to print journalism in 2012 through radio, first as a trainee news journalist at BBC Radio Jersey where I’m originally from, then spending some years in TV production for Endemol as a researcher based in London.
“Then I moved to a remote spot in Highland Perthshire, Scotland where I took a ten-year break to have children and start a croft and B&B business. With my youngest at nursery, I returned to news and features through Perthshire’s Heartland Radio. I was doing a theatre review for Heartland FM (where all the work is voluntary), when I heard that the Perthshire Advertiser was looking for a reporter. I found my spot and have held on tight, loving the territory of Highland Perthshire stories.”
What do you read and where do you get your news?
“I read Private Eye, online sources like Perth’s Small City Big Personality and Facebook, keeping my eye on local community pages.”
What have been your career highlights?
“Being able to work part time from home, so I was able to incorporate writing about my smallholding as a monthly feature. I keep hens, a dozen sheep and usually rear three rare breed pigs at home each summer. While small scale, it is intensely satisfying. There has been the ten years or so of combining keeping animals with dabbling in bee keeping, growing polytunnel salads and strawberry cultivation and creating a ten-tree orchard, all located on a wind-blown hill top near Ben Lawers, Loch Tay. Yes, it’s a big commute to work in Perth, but my lifestyle has more than compensated for the 90-minute cross country drive I have to put in.”
Best advice you have ever been given?
“Keep lots of notes.”
What’s the best story you’ve worked on?
“I didn’t know it, but the most note-worthy story happened when I’d been at the PA for just three weeks. I heard about Dull in Perthshire making overtures to Boring in Oregon, USA. It was a footnote of a community council meeting attended by myself and a total of four people in a small village hall in April 2012. With nothing else significant happening in Perthshire, my editor put it on the front page of the Tuesday edition – ‘Dull Gets Closer to Boring’. Within 24 hours it was being talked about on the Today Programme, the One Show and Sky News had a crew over in Dull. My story went global, with Bland in Australia coming forward to join Dull and Boring in a League of Extraordinary Communities and ‘Boring and Dull Day’ on August 9 being made a public holiday in the American logging town by order of the Senate. It filtered across the globe as an ‘and finally…’ oddity, appearing in Time Magazine, the Times of India and the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Mark Beaumont’s World record-breaking round the world cycle in 2017 was another very affecting story for me. I heard about it long before he went to begin the route from Paris, and I followed his practice rides around Perthshire (he was living near Crieff) and then saw him gradually pedal round the planet. There was so much joy in his eventual success, and I was impressed by the battle Mark fought to keep his wheels turning, despite a fall that nearly finished him.”
What are the advantages of a good journalist / PR relationship?
“A good PR person appreciates the need to hand over all the required components of a story so that all a journalist has to do is get the story clearly out there. With deadlines always a pressure, it makes so much difference if a PR person has provided a clear delivery of information, contacts to supplement what’s there given on a plate and a suitable picture that does not require chasing up.”
What’s the worst habit of a PR?
“Not swiftly answering a request for a comment, particularly when the news is bad about the company or individual the PR represents.”
What challenges do local journalists face today?
“Selling printed papers when the alternative is free and convenient.”
How do you prefer PRs get in touch with you?
“A suggestion of a story by email always works best for me. Coming to me directly by phone with an idea or giving a nudge to pick something up feels unwelcome and a bit pushy. Unfortunately, I’m rarely able to meet a PR in person.”
What stories or angles are you looking for?
“I love a people story, like when Taymouth Marina on Loch Tay recently suffered a fire that destroyed its restaurant at the start of a busy spring half term break. I enjoyed hearing how the resort got back on its feet operationally, with the general manager swiftly arranging for guests to be taxied into Aberfeldy to use the restaurants there and how guests were invited to a big dinner hosted by the manager put on within days at another part of the resort despite the restaurant being out of action. Judith at Represent was really helpful, getting professional pictures from the scene.”
Outside of work, what do you get up to?
“Outside of work I play football with a local ladies team, and enjoy being with my two daughters having family fun out and about in Highland Perthshire.”
At Represent we are crisis management experts and also have a wealth of knowledge about the agri-business sector. Want to contact us? You can email us on email@example.com or call us on 0131 526 3190. We’d love to hear your challenges and provide a tailored solution!