Journalist corner: James Parker, Managing Editor, netMAGmedia

Picture of Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy

Account Director, Taylor Alden

netMAGmedia’s Managing Editor, James Parker, joins us today to discuss his career highlights, what he would change about the journalism industry and more. We always want to get to know the journalists we speak to regularly more and James truly has a wealth of knowledge and experience.

How did you get into journalism? Was this always the career you wanted?

I graduated from Cardiff University many years ago (early 90s!) with an OK English degree, and I was pretty convinced I could make my way in journalism of some kind if I could ‘break’ into what seemed a very impenetrable industry. However I got a place on a three-month intensive periodical journalism course at the then London College of Printing and that, plus a couple of work placements (one at the Sunday Mirror!), helped me get my first position. That was for a hospital design magazine (now defunct) at Wilmington Publishing, in 1995, which I went on to edit for several years.

It was more a career that I felt well suited to, than ‘always dreamed of,’ but I was very happy to slot into the periodical publishing world and earn a crust.

How long have you worked for netMAGmedia?

I started at netMAGmedia in 2016, having had a stint in PR. To be honest, that was much harder than I’d anticipated, and I think I generally prefer being on the receiving end of clients’ articles!

What does a typical day look like for you?

We start at 8.30 am which means that Monday-Wednesday I have an early drive from west of Brighton out to our office in Healthfield in beautiful rural East Sussex. The other two days I am fortunate to work from a home office which means less energy spent on commuting! I spend the start of the day catching up on emails and discussing that day’s priorities with our team. Then, depending on the week, it will be a mix of writing, editing (often on page), out at events (possibly one of our round tables), recording a podcast, or meeting clients.

What is your biggest career highlight?

There have been several. At my first magazine, Hospital Development, we put together a commemorative ‘book’ (more of an extended magazine) to celebrate 50 years of the NHS, working with the NHS Estates agency and leading lights of hospital architecture. In 2001, I was invited to spend a week at a leadership seminar at Esalen, an amazing retreat in Big Sur, California, with US architect Wayne Ruga, in recognition of my contribution to leading the debate on healthcare design in the wake of PFI and other challenges in the UK. While at William Reed Publishing, I was proud of a yearbook we produced with a leading food organisation, the Provision Trade Federation. With netMAGmedia, we have turned around the reputation of our various titles with a much greater focus on editorial quality since I joined.

Have you had any “pinch me” moments?

The industries I have worked in (construction and architecture in various sectors, and food and drink), are normally not all that glamorous, while I find them fascinating and challenging. However, I have been able to meet and work with one or two major figures, such as great designers like the late Will Alsop, Richard Burton and Charles Jencks, and those still at the forefront like Sunand Prasad, Alex de Rijke and Sarah Wigglesworth. As may be obvious, I’m pretty enamoured with architects and their contribution to our built environment.

Looking back at your career path, is there anything you would do different?

It’s a difficult one, because all the roads taken have led here, and I’m in a very fortunate position to be able to write about subjects I really enjoy, and work with a great group of people. But I suppose that I could have taken another path rather than jump into the slightly more ‘air-kissing’ world of food and drink media, which is something I did as I needed a change at that point.

Is there anything you would change about journalism and the industry?

That’s a big question. I think in terms of journalism that less of a focus on the volume you can produce, and more on the quality in each case, would always be a positive. And the same probably goes in building. Output shouldn’t be measured by quantity; rather by quality but, of course, that’s harder to measure.

Do you have a certain process when you first receive a brief? Or, how do you decide on the features for each issue?

For our project report features (which are the in-depth pieces of work I spend most of my time on), we do have a set process. It means interviewing an architect, doing further research on the building itself, and ideally a site visit, and then trying to filter all that information into a readable 2500 words! We do have a fact-checking stage with practices, which really helps to ensure we document things correctly for future reference. Our features are largely dictated (theme-wise) using our annual features list, which helps both our readers and our advertisers have a range of opportunities to work with us over the year.

Do you have a favorite feature/article you’ve written?

While editing Building Products magazine in the early 2010’s, I interviewed Passivhaus architect Richard Hawkes at his fantastic home near Maidstone, which features a clay arch soaring over a box-like structure. I loved it.  

Is there anything you wish you could tell PRs to do differently?

Sometimes people don’t seem to understand the word ‘generic’ when we ask people to write non-product oriented editorial. While we like to offer clarity, it’s also difficult to persuade people that ‘advertorials’ masquerading as editorial don’t really give companies much credibility.

Do you have any particular goals for the rest of 2024 – career or personal?

I’d like to be a more present father to my two kids, although I do an OK job, try and stay healthy, and also try and see the positive in all things as we’re in a challenging world at the moment!

When you were a child, what was your dream job?

In my mid-teens, I wanted briefly to be an architect, but the maths scared me off. Now I’m doing the next best thing which is writing about architecture.