Journalist Profile: Peter Darbyshire

Peter DarbyshirePeter Darbyshire is a busy man. As a big reader, I’m always in awe of anyone that has the ability and determination to write a novel. Peter is not only a well-established and prolific author, but he’s also the Deputy News Editor at The Province, one of the region’s most influential papers.

He loves his job and this passion partially explains his success (obviously talent is a factor too). Read on to hear how he does it.

What do you love most about your job?

Knowing that every day is going to be a surprise and a different challenge. While the nature of the work I do is generally the same, the news always changes. There are ups and downs with that, of course. Working on days like when Curiosity landed on Mars brings tears to my eyes. Working on days like 9/11 or both tsunamis brings different sorts of tears to my eyes. Even the bad days can be rewarding though, as you sift through the chaos of breaking news alerts and wire stories and tweets and live video feeds and whatever else to make sense of what’s happening for your readers.

How do you juggle being an author and journalist?

I don’t find it that difficult because I’m the sort of person who always likes to be working. When I’m not in the newsroom, I’m happy to be sitting at my desk at home working on my latest novel or story rather than watching TV or playing video games or whatever it is that other people do. And the two definitely influence each other.

I’ve written plenty of books articles or columns that have come from my contacts in the writing community. And news stories have definitely led to fictional stories for me. For instance, my last published novel, The Warhol Gang, came into being after I read a couple of different articles, one about neuromarketing and one about a man who kept pretending to be an emergency responder at accident scenes. The two met up in my mind and mutated into a novel. So the two fields are a pretty combination for me.

You’ve published a number of books. Which are you most proud of and why?

Like most writers, I’m most proud of the book I’ve just finished. It’s called The Apocalypse Corpse, which is about all I can tell you about it, as it’s not published yet. But generally I don’t think a lot about my books when I’ve finished them. I’m too busy thinking about my current or next project.

So, for instance, right now, I’m partway through a new novel – set in a newsroom! – plotting another one, editing a couple of stories, and plotting a storyline for a collection of weird western stories that I’ve been publishing and want to expand (I write genre fiction as well as literary fiction). Not a lot of time for thinking about books that are done.

What do you look for in a story?

What’s the issue? We live in an age where it’s no longer enough to simply report a news event. We have to focus on why it matters to people, and we have to enable people to talk about the story in ways that are meaningful to them. We’re no longer simply broadcasting what we choose to be the news to a passive audience. Now we’re engaged in a constant exchange with our readers.

At The Province, we use Facebook and other social media to distribute stories because that’s where people are, and where they’re comfortable discussing the events of the day with each other. So the stories that are really important to us are the ones we know that people will want to talk about and as a result may actually affect change in the community.

Look at any of our special series such as Boomerangst, about the plight of seniors in our communities, or Operation Phoenix, about the Downtown Eastside, to see how we’ve prompted real change in our society by giving disenfranchised or forgotten members of society a voice and engaging in meaningful discussions of the issues affecting their lives.

What’s your biggest bug bare when working with PRs?

Oh, there are so many…. People who spam me with generic releases that show no awareness of our newspaper and its readers at all. Press releases sent to people who haven’t worked at the paper in years – or who work at competing papers. Aggressively phoning/emailing me to the point I have to block you.

I understand PR is a tough and thankless job. It’s kind of like the media that way. But I think the best approach for PR professionals to succeed is to build respectful relationships with people in the media – which takes a lot of work and means having to understand why the media may not be interested in whatever it is you’re pitching.

I think it’s also important for PR professionals to realize the traditional media is only one outlet for them these days. There are other ways to get the word out about your product, such as social media. Companies must build their own communities online and become their own media to those communities. Don’t just push out press releases – engage in discussions with people, and give them a reason to trust and support your brand. Hey, that’s the kind of story we’d like to cover in the media.

What’s your favourite social network and why?

I actually like Google+ the best as a system because I think it’s the most flexible/versatile, and the most elegantly designed. But it’s also the least used, except for in certain tech circles and the like, so it’s no one’s default network yet. I think that may change, as its integration with everything else Google does will be hard to beat in the long run. But I think Google will definitely have to play the long game with this one.

Facebook is Facebook. Everyone hates it, but everyone stays on it because everyone else is on it.

I think Twitter’s days are numbered. It’s just too noisy and too limited, and I don’t see any real vision for the future from the people running it. I suspect G+ will eventually take over from it in a lot of ways as more users try G+. But who can really say for certain in the online world? It could all be different six months from now.

What coffee shop are you most likely to be found in?

Well, I like Artigiano on West Hastings, but I rarely have time to linger in a coffee shop. I admit Starbucks has sucked me in with their iPhone app. I love the ease of being able to pay with my phone, and getting discounts and free drinks because of it. It’s a real game changer for the industry, and I think the other coffee chains had better follow suit quickly, as I see more and more people in Starbucks paying with apps.

What’s your personal career ambition?

To leave some body of work behind when I’m gone that will be meaningful to someone. I’d like to go out of this world having brought as many good things into it as I can.