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Fresh ideas, free thinking; Holly Brockwell

Holly Brockwell is a tech journalist, probably best known for her much-followed Twitter account, @holly. She has contributed to a number of publications including the Guardian, and was voted The Drum Woman of the Year in 2015 for her website for women who love tech, Gadgette. Lucy Moss caught up with her to talk about the future of digital publishing, being a woman in a traditionally male industry and birds. 
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05.31.19
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Jade Hicks

Tell us about yourself and the work you do.

I’m a technology journalist and prolific tweeter. I write for publications including the London Evening Standard, Gizmodo, Techradar and lots of others.

I’m all about making tech accessible for everyone – in my opinion, technology is the closest we’ll get to actual magic, and I want to make sure as many people enjoy that as possible. I’m also a big advocate for women in tech and the media, and eradicating the sexism I’ve seen many times in this industry.

 

What and who inspires you?

 Probably not the people I’m supposed to say! I’m always inspired by people who go after their dreams while trying to make the world a better place, so to that end my friend Sami Mughal, who manages to be an engineer, tech blogger and therapist is pretty much the king to me. I also hugely respect and admire people who dedicate their lives to helping animals, that’s something I’d like to do more of when I don’t live in London and can actually have some space. I’ve got 14 birds, mostly rescues, but I’d love to run a proper parrot sanctuary like the incredible Kelly’s Rescues does. She never turns a bird down.

 

Do you have a side project?

For a long time it was Gadgette, the online magazine I made for women who love tech. But I’m winding that up now, because I just have too much else on!

My new side project is a secret (seriously, I’ve signed a contract!) but I’ll announce it as soon as I can.

 

What’s been your favourite project you’ve worked on to date?

I think the most interesting one was WikiTribune – I got to work directly with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on his new crowdsourced news website. I was there less than a year but it was such a fascinating idea and I learnt so much in a really short time. That’s the brilliance of startups – it’s like working on fast-forward. Intense, but rewarding.

 

Tell us the three most interesting things you’ve come across recently.

  1. Fabby Look (iOS, Android) – Google’s free app that uses AR to instantly change the colour of your hair. Invaluable for people like me who can’t make their minds up.
  2. Entertainment System– a band that does some really excellent rock covers of videogame music.
  3. The Huawei P30 Pro– (there was always going to be a phone, it’s me after all!). The zoom and camera on this phone are insane.

If you like interesting things in general, I would highly recommend subscribing to James Whatley’s ‘5 things on Friday’ newsletter. I get all my best stuff from it.

Fabby Look

 

If you could give your 18-year-old self any business advice, what would it be? 

I kind of want to say “don’t go into advertising” – a lot of creative people, myself included, go into advertising/marketing and PR because it’s a way to get a good salary straight out of uni, and use your writing or artistic talents. For me, though, I found it immensely frustrating because all my writing went through endless layers of signoff and by the end, none of the words were the ones I wrote and I didn’t feel I could be proud of the work. I didn’t develop much as a writer in those seven years.

That said, I did find that experience enormously useful for adopting a commercial mindset, and it got me established in London, which is a tricky city to make home – so perhaps I’d tell myself “do go into advertising, but only for a couple of years.”

 

What advice would you give to businesses when dealing with social media and its associated pitfalls?

Don’t feel like your brand has to be on every social platform just because it’s the “new big thing.” I keep hearing companies stressing about “how to go viral on TikTok” and other such nonsense. I think like people, certain brands suit certain platforms and it’s better to do one social network really well than half-arse five of them.

 

What are some of the current challenges in your industry and how do you see them being overcome?

 Journalism in general has some massive issues at the moment, mostly around how to make money without covering websites in garish ads. But tech journalism specifically has some interesting issues, too.

We still need more women, more people of colour, and more people with a different angle on tech. For instance, I met a visually-impaired guy at a recent event and the questions he was asking about accessibility at our group interview were a breath of fresh air (give him a follow). A lot of tech coverage is from similar people with similar takes, and I would love to see more clashing ideas, alternate viewpoints, and different priorities.

As with every area of journalism, we’re also very stymied by the current money-making models, meaning talented writers spend a lot of time crafting headlines to please a search engine rather than a human being. I don’t know how we get past that (no one does right now), but I would love to see a model where we get to spend time and money on crafting an important in-depth story rather than bashing out ten more “when is the iPhone XI released?” SEO posts.

 

With all the recent news about closures and layoffs in digital publishing, how do you see the future for the industry?  

From where I’m sitting, it’s definitely freelance. I know it’s very difficult to establish yourself as a freelancer and make enough money to live on, but it’s so, so liberating. I would really struggle to go back to a salaried job now.

This way, I get to pick and choose the things I want to write about and who I want to write for, negotiate my rates, take time off if I need or want to, and actually spend time in the flat I pay a fortune to rent with my lovely pets. Working from home has been amazing for my mental health – I never did get on well with bosses and offices. I also have some long-term health conditions so this way, I can just collapse into bed at a minute’s notice when needed, or nap all afternoon.

It has its downsides, of course – lack of stability, no paid holiday and so on – but with the industry as it is, I can diversify my risk by writing for lots of publications rather than hoping one will stay solvent enough to pay me for years to come.

I feel much more in control of my destiny this way. It’s terrifying and thrilling all at once.