Dick O’Brien is the technology industry correspondent at the Sunday Business Post. Previously he has worked as a business reporter with the Sunday Tribune and was deputy editor with Business Plus. Here, he talks about his favourite interviewees – Irish entrepreneurs – as well as the future of the tech sector and how, if he wasn’t a journalist, he’d be a full-time cyclist.
What is your typical working day?
It depends on the day. Early on in the week I’d spend a fair bit of time researching pieces, conducting interviews and going out meeting people. On Thursdays and Fridays you spend most of your time writing.
Did you always have an interest in technology or did it develop over time?
I was always fairly interested, but it did develop a lot over time, particularly when I was covering consumer technology, where you tend to get a lot of hands-on experience of the stuff you’re writing about.
Is it important for your job that you have the latest mobile phone/computer?
Not particularly. Essentially, I write business stories about technology companies. As long as I have a half decent computer, I’m good to go. Having said that, I do rely increasingly on my iPhone to keep on top of things when I’m not at my desk.
Are you on Twitter and what do you use it for?
I am, although I wouldn’t post every day. I’ve blogged a lot in the past and I found it easier to get into a routine with blogging than with Twitter. I tend to use it to highlight interesting or quirky stories I’ve come across and occasionally post about stuff I’m covering. The most recent example of that would be the General Election count. I’d read Twitter more than I post on it, but the signal to noise ratio is fairly high, even if you’re quite selective with who you follow.
Does social media play much of a role in your job?
It does to a small degree and its mainly centred around Twitter. It’s useful for getting to know people in the industries I’m covering. I’d also use it for finding interviews or case studies. Now and then I’d throw up a post asking if people have experience or knowledge of X, Y or Z and invariably get a few responses.
Do you believe print can survive?
Yes, but not in its current form. News organisations can survive, but will have to begin developing their online offerings. If you look at the data coming out of the US, that’s where the readership and the advertising revenues are shifting to. Papers need to realise that while the content is the same, the medium is different. Just because you can put out a good paper doesn’t immediately mean that you’ll be strong online.
What are your most visited websites?
I use Google Reader to manage my RSS feeds and within that I’d track a big range of news sites and blogs. After that, it would probably be the Irish and British papers.
Who has been your most inspiring interviewee to date?
It’s hard to pick one. I’ve interviewed some big names in business like Michael Dell and Larry Ellison. But my favourite interviewees are Irish entrepreneurs. There’s a real “can do” spirit out there that I find quite admirable. You can always tell when someone absolutely loves what they do and that tends to rub off a little bit. Irish entrepreneurs also tend to be a lot more candid than their international peers. They’re not afraid to speak their mind and you can get great copy.
Do you think the tech sector in Ireland has a good future?
Absolutely. I’ll put it this way. At a time when unemployment is higher than it’s been in years, I talk to technology executives nearly every week who say they’re desperate to hire more people. There is a nice ecosystem here now. We’ve a lot of big multinationals who not only create jobs but also provide invaluable experience to people who go on to found their own companies. The range of supports for start-ups is getting better all the time and I think Irish companies are getting better at marketing themselves abroad.
How much of your work involves dealing with PR companies?
Some of it does. A lot of firms I’d write about use PR firms as an intermediary for dealing with the media and they can be quite good in terms of helping organising interviews and sourcing background material or pictures.
Do you read every press release that is sent to you? And what ones do you/don’t you?
It would be impossible to read every one, because we get so many. Releases that are clearly irrelevant to what I do get binned straight away. With everything else, I’d at least read the first few paragraphs before deciding whether it’s useful or not.
What makes a story pitch interesting to you?
Relevance. I get a lot of pitches and to be honest I’d pass on most of them. The main reason for that is the people sending them in don’t really understand what we’re interested in, sometimes to the extent that you’d wonder if they read the paper at all. At the end of the day, I’m a business journalist and if there isn’t a business angle there, I’m unlikely to bite.
Apart from press releases and pitches are there any other ways you like to be approached with a story?
I prefer email, but a phone call is fine too. People ringing you to “talk you through” a press release, is a bit much though.
If you weren’t working in journalism, what would you like to do?
Race my bicycle full time. I’m hopelessly bad at it, but I’d love that life, at least for a few years.