Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Founder, Writer, and Editor for the Bushwalking Blog, Neil Fahey.
Neil Fahey is currently a writer and editor for The Bushwalking Blog, a website dedicated to adventure travel and hiking that he founded in 2008.
Medianet sat down with Neil to discuss his career so far.
You have worked as a web designer and I.T. consultant and as the founder, editor, and writer for The Bushwalking Blog. How did working in these roles prepare you for future endeavours in your career?
I launched my first online publication at the age of 15. I was a computer and music nerd who couldn’t afford enough new albums to satisfy my hunger, so I hatched a plan to build a music review website for up-and-coming bands.
I hand-coded the site; learning the HTML programming language as I went, and then quickly set about cold emailing PR and marketing people from record labels. Before long I was receiving more CDs and cassette tapes in the mail than I had time to review. My parents had drilled into me that there was no money to be made being a writer, so it was only natural that I’d end up working in I.T., but I was freelance writing by twenty-one and was building another online publication by twenty-seven.
Nerding out on computers and writing is kind of what I’ve always just done. Everything from the day my Dad brought home our first PC to now has prepared me for what I do now and what I’ll continue doing: using technology to build cool things and communicate with people.
How has working in these different roles taught you the most about yourself?
For most of my life, I’ve felt like a creative who didn’t have any innate creative talents the way other people seemed to.
It’s only recently that I’ve had the revelation that I am creative. I might not write poetry but I craft words and tell stories. I might not mould sculptures, but I build things with technology!
What first drew you into hiking and what inspired you to dedicate a blog to it?
In 2008 I started planning a three-month trip around South America and Central America and I’d had the Inca Trail on my bucket list forever. There was a small issue in that I’d spent nearly my entire adult life in front of computers and had mostly let my fitness go by the wayside. So, since hiking is the best way to train for hiking, I started to hike at every opportunity.
Hiking changed my life. Not only did I lose weight, get to know my body, and increase my self-confidence, fitness, and agility, but my wanderlust intensified. I was suddenly driven by an urge to explore every square centimetre of Australia and beyond!
I wanted to see places other people didn’t, particularly places that could only be found on foot. In trying to satisfy this urge, I found a massive gap in online resources for hiking trails so I set about filling that gap. There are now countless websites and apps to find detailed information on hiking trails but back in 2008, I was pretty much it. I was already freelance writing at that point so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.
Since then, The Bushwalking Blog has become much more than just a hiking blog but in the world of SEO you can’t just change your domain name unless you want to start from scratch, so I’ve stuck with the name.
I’m still in love with hiking and as a result, it’s still very hiking-heavy.
Australia is such a unique place in terms of landscape, culture, and indigenous history. Where is your favourite place to hike and what has been your most memorable experience while travelling?
I’ve hiked so many different types of the Australian landscape that it’s pretty hard to choose, but there are two places I will always be drawn back to.
The first is the Larapinta Trail, which winds its way through the West MacDonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory’s Red Centre. Apart from the unique outback scenery, there’s something almost spiritual about hiking such an arid landscape where you know humans have been roaming for tens of thousands of years. The cultural significance of every place you find hangs thick in the air. They say up there that the red dirt is like crack; people always keep coming back for more!
The other place is more familiar and actually less spectacular, Cathedral Range in Victoria. I was hooked from the first time I took on the almost rock climb to Cathedral Peak and then hiked The Razorback, rock hopping and clambering over, under, and between the massive boulders along the range’s ridgeline. I formed an immediate connection to the place and I’ve been back countless times since. To add another layer to all of that, I dragged my now wife up there back in 2014, kicking and screaming I might add, to propose to her near Cathedral Peak. I’ll go ahead and say that was my most memorable experience while travelling.
What's a commonly held belief about your job that you disagree with?
It’s a pretty commonly held belief that blogging is just a hobby and that bloggers are just amateur writers. I haven’t done my website’s brand any favours by having the word ‘blog’ in the title, that’s for sure.
The reality is that, while blogging may be a hobby for some, the line between blog and online publication can actually be very thin. I treat The Bushwalking Blog as a serious business and it’s helped, well, continues to help, take my career as a writer, builder, and entrepreneur to some very interesting places. I’m working on something right now that might just change those people’s opinions about bloggers and blogging.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting out in your career?
If you want to write, start a blog in the niche you’re most interested in writing about. Write and publish as often as you can, ideally every day but once a week at a minimum.
Share it publicly and learn how to build an audience around it by using SEO and social media. Your writing will improve and your skillset will become more marketable.
At best, you’ll find that doors will open for all kinds of writing work through serendipity. At worst, you’ll end up a better writer and will have a folio of work to show while you grind the pitching cycle.
What makes writing and working primarily digitally and online so unique?
It can be lonely work. Your mental health is something you need to pay seriously close attention to when you spend so much time working solo.
If Covid has taught us anything, it’s how important connecting with other humans face-to-face is for our mental health. Even though I’m more introverted than extroverted, I’m often grateful that I still have another job where I work with people in person.
For those who don’t, I recommend joining online or in-person writing communities, utilising co-working spaces, and attending events and meet-ups.
What is your research process?
That entirely depends on what the piece is that I’m writing. For the most part, the internet makes research ridiculously easy these days.
If I can’t find solid information with a quick Google search, I’ll find sources and contact them directly. I write a fair few product roundups and reviews, so in those cases, I obviously want to get my hands on those products if possible. If I can’t do that, searching for reliable online reviews from real consumers is my go-to.
What are your pitching preferences?
I prefer to be pitched by email, but don’t have a preference on days or times. I don’t tend to respond to pitches if they’re not currently relevant to me, that feels rude but I just receive so many.
Follow-ups are fine but if I haven’t responded to your pitch and one follow-up, there’s probably not much point persisting. If you’re sending a long press release, include an intro with a brief summary and any thoughts on how you think it applies to me or what kind of article you think I’d be likely to publish about it.