Interview with Freelance Travel Writer, Author and Communications Specialist, Catherine Best
Catherine Best is a freelance travel writer, author, and communications specialist with more than 20 years of experience. Her first book, Ultimate Caravan Trips Australia, will launch on November 16.
You first started your career in the media industry as a Journalist for Fairfax back in 2002. What was this experience like for you and how did it prepare you for future endeavours in the media industry?
I had worked previously for a publishing company in the UK and briefly as a TV reporter in a regional Channel 7 newsroom, but it was at The Courier newspaper in Ballarat where I cut my journalistic teeth.
I think there’s no greater training ground for fledgling journos than a regional newspaper where you’re thrust into covering breaking news, police rounds, politics, court, local government, and even sport.
And if the PM rolls into town, you’re it!
How has working in different roles such as an editor and a journalist in the media industry and beyond taught you the most about yourself?
My experience has taught me how adaptable and transferrable my skillset is.
One day, I’m swimming with whale sharks for a travel yarn, the next I might be writing about a cancer breakthrough for Monash University, or grilling an energy exec as part of a media training exercise.
How has the media landscape changed during your career? What has been the biggest marker of this change?
It’s changed enormously.
I remember at my first gig at Channel 7, there was only one computer in the building with internet access - now I’m showing my age!
Today, social media breaks many of the big stories and dictates much of the news cycle, and it’s unrelenting. The rise of citizen journalism has marked a massive shift in how news is reported.
Unfortunately, it has also disrupted the role of professional journalists and given rise to a culture of misinformation and sloppy click-bait reporting.
Did you always want to have a career in media?
I always wanted to write, that was clear from a very young age.
Media and journalism seemed like the most practical outlet in which to do that – but there’s a novel in me just itching to get out.
Travelling around the world definitely has its perks, but what are the difficulties with your work with travel, and how are you able to overcome them?
I’ve got three kids so travelling is always a logistical juggle.
It’s also essentially unbillable hours so I have to balance travel, when I’m ultimately not being paid, with productive work.
Australia is such a unique place in terms of landscape, culture, and indigenous history. What is your favourite aspect of this country and your favourite place to travel to?
I love this country.
We have such a diversity of landscapes; beaches, snow-capped mountains, deserts, and ancient rainforests, all wrapped up in the oldest living culture on Earth.
I’m a reef and rainforest person and love to scuba dive, so Tropical North Queensland is my happy place.
I’m also besotted with Western Australia. I love the rugged remoteness of the Pilbara and the Kimberley. The canyons, gorges, and waterfalls of Karijini National Park are spellbinding and blissfully uncommercialised.
What’s a commonly held belief about your job that you disagree with?
That travel writing is glamorous!
There are glamorous aspects but there’s a lot of hustling for stories, pitches that never get answered, jetlag, out-of-pocket expenses, and last-minute deadlines.
As a news journalist, I hated the perception that we’re all heartless vultures. I’ve cried at work funerals and after a week on the road covering the Black Saturday bushfires, I came home depleted and sobbing.
How do you compare working freelance VS working for an organisation?
I love the flexibility and variety of freelance life, but the work and cashflow cycle can be punishing.
Occasionally it’s nice to be paid for being a bum on a seat rather than per word, which doesn’t reflect the countless hours of planning, pitching, and on-the-ground research.
So far, what has been the most memorable experience in your career?
Interviewing Jose Ramos Horta and Xanana Gusmao in East Timor as a young newshound on assignment for The Courier. It was the perfect intersection of news and travel.
Swimming with dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef for a travel story was pretty cool, too.
If you could give advice to your younger self or to anyone else wanting to break into this industry, what would it be?
Hustle hard, that’s how I got my first gig, and work harder.
Read voraciously! it’s the best learning tool you have.
Persist, persist, persist. And always, always fact-check!
Catherine's pitching preferences:
Email. Keep it brief and specific to me and my interests, please.