My Media Day: Ewan Spence, freelance writer, podcaster and commentator

EWAN Spence has been writing online since the turn of the century, through – he says – “a mix of traditional freelance work, ‘collaborative websites’ and championing his own sites”. He has had work published in Forbes, The Guardian, BBC News, STV and the Daily Record. He counts the Eurovision Song Contest among one of his specialisms.

He submitted this on Friday, February 21.

What exactly is it that you do?

By a process of elimination, I’m a storyteller.

Right now, my regular work can be found in three main sites. First up is Forbes, where I am a contributing writer, talking about mobile technology and the impact this has on individuals and businesses. I continue to work in the ‘smartphone space’, through All About Windows Phone, looking at Microsoft’s mobile platform on a daily basis.

Finally, I’m one of the leading commentators and reporters on the Eurovision Song Contest, through ESC Insight. Right now, 37 countries all have to choose a Song for Europe and the contest in May, which gives me around 25 ‘X Factors’ to cover between now and the end of next month.

One of the delights of working online is the huge range of tools that I have available to publish my work. That could be a major publication’s online site (such as Forbes), it could be a podcast published via iTunes, a community-based site on a niche subject, or even my personal blog. Throw in engagement channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and there is a huge canvas to work with.

The canvas might be huge, but all of them need words in some form – be they written, spoken, recorded or filmed. I take ideas, reporting, commentary, analysis and more, to turn them into engaging content.

So yes, I’m a storyteller.

What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?

Actually, yesterday was a little different, in that I was packing bags for a short trip to Latvia; it is holding its ‘Song for Europe’ national final this Saturday, so there was the usual panic of following the packing checklist. Other than that, it was a day of covering the bases with the daily articles required over a number of websites, and a touch of research and planning in the afternoon.

And 20 minutes trying to remember where the passport is!

The huge South by Southwest festival is coming up next month. This will be my ninth year there, this time reporting for the community site, SXSW Baby!, so I’m fielding a lot of press releases and ‘please talk to our company’ messages each day, as well as previewing the films and music that are showcased over the 11 days.

As mentioned,the Eurovision Song Contest is a moving target right now, with four or five live shows from around Europe each weekend. Finding stories and keeping up to date with obscure Swedish schlager bands is an occupational hazard, so that needs time and effort to look round news sources and reach out to artists, management and various European broadcasters for news and information.

Being a freelancer, there’s always the routine of looking out for pitches, following them up, and hustling for the next gig.

How different is your average working day to when you started?

In one key area, it hasn’t changed. I look down and I see a ‘qwerty’ keyboard facing me, goading me for the few thousand words that need to go through it each day.

Where the words go, that has changed. I’m very much conscious of how money is made around creative work, online. Ten years ago, I think it was enough to know that articles would be placed next to adverts, and that was enough. Now I not only need to be able to write, but I need to be conscious of where they are going to be placed, when they are going to be placed, how they are read (and not just by humans but also by search engines and web crawlers), how they are linked to online, and lots of other small factors that can affect the number of readers of a single piece by an order of magnitude.

How do you see your job evolving?

The online world is rapidly evolving, and part of the joy of reporting on it (and working in it) is that there’s no real roadmap to the next big thing.Podcasting is a wonderful example, evolving from the earliest shows of two people around the microphone at home into much larger productions, with on-the-ground reporting, large casts and investment in post-production.

But the skills in scripting and hosting a podcast remain the same,. They’re also transferable skills into the world where YouTube recommendations can push a game to the top of the iTunes charts, where you can jump into local or national radio broadcasts, or be the ‘talking head’ on a news report.

So part of my job is continuing to try out these new tools, to be inquisitive  and to see where the value is and get ahead of the game.

There will always be a thirst for content, and my job has to be to get content into places where it will be seen, today and tomorrow.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Being able to write about things that I love, and managing to put together a career is pretty satisfying. Getting up each day and looking forward to what the day might provide gives a wonderful feeling of freedom and ‘anything could happen’. It means I can start with a smile that remains with me for the rest of the day.