Welcome to ‘On The Record’ with YAP Global. A series where we speak to the journalists behind the stories that keep you up-to-date on the pulse of the digital asset, fintech, blockchain and cryptocurrency industry.
Despite an impending deadline for a feature story, two Fintech newsletters to write up and various other news articles nibbling into his schedule, Ryan Weeks exudes perhaps the most desirable and precious quality of any journalist worth their salt – to remain calm under pressure.
Ryan is a freelance Fintech journalist currently scribing stories for The Block and Sifted. With an impressive CV that includes stints with AltFi, Wired, and the Dow Jones owned Financial News, he has established himself as one of the leading reporters in the space.
Speaking from his newly assembled standing desk at his home in Greenwich, London, Ryan affably discusses his transition into becoming a freelance reporter, the effects of lockdown on the journalism industry, movements within the Fintech space and his first class honours degree in history.
Taking it right back to the beginning then – when did your interest in the crypto, blockchain, and Fintech crypto space first pique? What was it that first caught your interest?
“I think journalism has always been something that perhaps suited my interests. My first job was writing for a company called AltFi which I joined in 2013. I was the editor there for a few years and I was quite interested in the concept of peer-to-peer lending, which was topical back then but not so much anymore.
“I hadn’t really written too much on crypto at AlfFi, but that changed when I left to go to the Financial News not long after the ICO boom of 2017. Focusing on Fintech there meant focusing on what big institutions are doing with Fintech and obviously one of the more pertinent areas was crypto. So I wrote more and more about crypto there and then it just became a natural thing to focus on when I went freelance.”
So touching on this then, what was the key influence in the decision for you to go freelance?
“I became a freelancer in August of last year, and I think it really gives you a lot of opportunity to focus on writing things that you find really interesting. You can spend time reporting on exclusive stories as and when you have tips, then you can be working on more in-depth interview and profile features which I do quite a lot of, and you can’t always focus on those kinds of articles much when you’re working for a news organisation full-time.
“There’s a bit more flexibility in terms of your working schedule and admittedly it’s more lucrative! But working as a freelancer definitely suits me more these days.”
Working as a freelancer in the Fintech space, how do you go about sourcing your stories? Is it mostly your own ideas or are you approached or commissioned by PRs or journalists?
“It’s a real mixture of things. It’s quite similar to being employed full-time in the sense that you’ll have people emailing you pitches, or you might detect trends yourself in a number of stories around a similar theme and pitch your own ideas to an editor.
“But then sometimes I’ll get commissions from various news publications who’ll approach me, often to write a feature article or a profile interview. But those can sometimes be pretty tight deadlines and things can get pretty hectic with everything else you have on, but I enjoy it.”
It sounds like a very fast paced environment that you’re working in. Can you elaborate on and describe the worst pitch you’ve ever received?
“I can’t think of a single pitch that I’ve received that was distinctively terrible. I think journalists are probably a bit quick on occasion to slam bad PR pitches. People are just doing their jobs at the end of the day, but that being said there are definitely ways that you can get it wrong.
“I would definitely avoid being overly jargonistic. Part of our job is to explain complicated topics in plain terms and tell the reader why it’s interesting, and especially in this industry the job of a PR professional is to simplify these intricate stories. I’ve received pitches in the past that are heavily saturated with archaic terms and jargon and nobody knows what they’re talking about.”
Following on from that is there a single piece of advice that you wish that any PR professional would remember when pitching you a story?
“I prefer someone to be short and sharp, to get to the point and tell me why it matters early. Sometimes you’ll receive pitches that will just say ‘this is the story, would you like the full details?’ and I know some journalists believe that it adds needless complexity to the process but I quite like it because it gives you a license to do what you want with the information and you don’t feel as rude for ignoring those kinds of pitches.
“But the thing that I kind of say to everyone is that I don’t mind receiving pitches, and it’s no bother to me to have 100 press releases sent to me even if I’m not able to write on any of them immediately. Because I write newsletters too, sometimes there can be useful stuff for that and you’ll suddenly remember you got sent a pitch a while back that might come in handy for a feature so you never know when these things could be useful even if they might not be that interesting at first.”
Moving onto your work in the Fintech space. Do you find it difficult to keep up with it all because it’s a pretty turbulent industry with constant fluctuations and little consistency?
“It’s definitely hard to keep up because as you say there are so many different parts to it. I’d like to think I’m relatively up to speed with it given the work that I do across two different publications and my coverage of multiple different sub sectors within Fintech. But there are definitely areas of the industry that I know very little about, such as NFTs. So it can be tough but it’s interesting as well.”
How much would you say that the Fintech space has evolved during your time as a reporter?
“It’s evolved a great deal for sure. What is interesting now is completely different to what was interesting back then such as peer-to-peer lending, which was all the hype when I entered the space. Neo banks and digital banks have gained popularity over the past few years, possibly more so in the UK than elsewhere, and now you have global banks branching out into digital asset custody. So it’s changed a great deal and I’m sure that it will continue to change.”
I noted that you achieved a first class honours degree in history from Newcastle University. Outside of your work as a Fintech journalist is that something that you’re passionate about?
“I’d like to think I was very interested in it at the time, but I can’t really still claim to be an avid historian. I read a lot and occasionally delve into non-fiction historical books, but I wouldn’t say that it’s an avid interest of mine.
“But outside of work I’m pretty active even during lockdown. I’ve been running a lot and when we’re not under restrictions I do quite a lot of bouldering, which is definitely something that has become a lot more popular in London in recent years. I also write quite a lot outside of work as well, and writing for myself is something I’ve always enjoyed.”
To what extent would you say that the last year has impacted the way that you work with the world grinding to a halt to stop the spread of Coronavirus?
“It’s just boring isn’t it? Lockdown hasn’t really changed anything practically about the way I work. Obviously I’m not going into an office but as I’m freelance now so I wouldn’t have an office anyway. I might start hot desking when things return to normal just to change things up a bit.
“But I think where it will be difficult as a journalist is if you are just starting out in your career. Fostering relationships in journalism is so fundamental to the work that you do and when you’re talking to people, whether that be leads, colleagues, bosses and PRs, it’s about building trust.
“It’s very difficult to build that rapport with others when you can’t meet them in person, and if you have a roster of sources when you go into a period of lockdown you won’t be that affected, but if you don’t my guess would be that it’s quite tough.”
Could you describe to me what a day in the life of Ryan Weeks looks like?
“I start my day relatively slowly. I tend to try not to write that much in the morning as I’m often busy collating stuff unless there’s anything breaking that I’ll need to file quickly. I tend to go for a walk at lunchtime and get a coffee down in East Greenwich High Street.
“I’m running every other day, and my wife returns home in the evenings from her job as a teacher at a pupil referral unit. It doesn’t sound very interesting and there’s really not too much going on. Just lots of board games, a bit of TV, a bit of reading, just waiting on the days when we can finally go out properly again!”
You and us both, Ryan! Thanks for the chat.