From Carly Rae to Opeth, WhistleOut Australia’s Alex Choros has ‘eclectic musical tastes’ sewn up in this week’s 5 Minutes. Read on for his music picks and so much more.
What do you do and where does your work appear?
I'm the Managing Editor of WhistleOut Australia. I make occasional contributions to our sister website Reviews.org, and write a weekly column for Gizmodo Australia and Lifehacker Australia.
Anything else in your career you’ve been known for?
Before ending up in tech journalism, I did a whole lot of freelance video work.
What did you really want to be when you were growing up?
A film editor or director. At the least, I've still got "editor" in my job title.
Which story or stories are you most proud of?
Given telco is our niche, I like being able to focus on stories other publications wouldn't necessarily cover. Last year amaysim acquired Jeenee Mobile, a telco that reinvested its profits into providing free or discounted phone plans to Australians living with disabilities, but promptly killed those initiatives. My piece focused on this, which wasn't an approach I saw taken elsewhere.
I was also pretty happy to break the story of Telstra no longer offering NBN 100 plans to customers not on FTTP or HFC, as it really makes the difference between "good NBN" and "bad NBN" abundantly clear.
And while it's not exactly profound journalism or anything, back in 2018, I made a dumb smart home face-off video where I asked HomePod and Amazon Echo to play weird sounding metal bands to see which one handled the requests better. I still can't believe my publisher Joe gave me the go ahead.
What's your secret superpower?
An uncanny ability to memorise phone and NBN plans, even if they're no longer available. I wish I could use that brain space for something more useful.
What are three top tips you can give PR pros for working with you effectively?
Try and understand what beats we cover before pitching. I'll still read most press releases even if they're not relevant just to keep up with what's happening, but follow up phone calls about why we haven't written about your camera or printer can get a little frustrating.
I always prefer an email or a text message to a phone call. Even Twitter DMs are fine during business hours.
If you're going to provide information ahead of embargo, a decent lead time is always appreciated. A press release sent out at 6pm ahead of a 12am embargo is almost always going to fall into the "too hard" basket. A one-hour embargo is straight up cruel.
How do you like to start a PR relationship if you've never been in touch before?
Just a friendly email is typically your best bet. And if you happen to be around Crows Nest, I'm typically more than happy to make time to grab a quick coffee and chat in person. Well, when things are a little bit more normal.
What's the most important lesson you've learned about journalism?
Treat everyone with respect. This applies to colleagues, writers at other publications, PRs, sources, and subjects. The industry is small, you never know who you'll end up working with down the line.
How do you hunt for good stories?
Dig deep in CISes and fine print. Ask lots of questions.
What's been the biggest change in the industry over the past decade?
I've only been in tech journalism six years, but even in this time, it feels like the industry has shrunk. Smaller websites have disappeared. Larger websites are being run by fewer staff. It's a problematic shift; technology touches almost every facet of our lives, and the industry's cadence keeps increasing, but there are fewer journalists to cover these stories.
What do you think is the most important issue facing the tech industry today?
Ethics. The ubiquity of tech means the industry is grappling with ethics in so many different ways right now. We're seeing so many conversations about whether Facebook and Twitter should delete Donald Trump's posts, equality, encryption, the internet as a human right, exploitation in the gig economy, and more. The tech giants are some of the most powerful companies in the world, and they need to be held to account for ethical short comings.
What's the biggest issue facing journalism?
Resources. I'm incredibly fortunate to not be the only full-time writer on my site, but that seems like a luxury in the tech space. There's an ever-increasing amount of news, but it's becoming harder and harder to keep up, let alone set time aside for a more in-depth investigation or a longer form feature.
Exclusives are everything. Discuss.
PR driven exclusives serve the brand in question more than your readers. It's always a thrill to come across a genuine scoop, however.
What do you wish you'd never have to explain to readers ever again?
5G isn't melting your mind, causing coronavirus, or killing the bees.
Name a recent story you wish you'd written.
Tegan Jones' piece on why SMS over Wi-Fi matters for those living in Rural Australia. It's an eye-opening read about the hardships those without proper coverage deal with, and many of us take for granted.
Who is the best journo in the industry and why?
Kara Swisher. She's a wonderful writer, a masterful interviewer, and incredibly switched on. Joanna Stern is a close second. Her video reviews are flat out amazing, and always explore consumer technology through a unique, creative lens.
Which industry publications, podcasts or other productions are on your unmissable list?
The Verge, WIRED, Engadget, and pretty much any Kara Swisher podcast.
How do you keep up with what your colleagues are writing?
For the most part, Twitter.
Which app has changed your life more than any other?
MSN Messenger. As a painfully shy kid in school, I found it a lot easier to talk to other kids over a computer, rather than in person. Not only did it help me build some social confidence, those chats formed or solidified several friendships that are now essentially lifelong.
Favourite screen-free hobbies?
When I'm not in front of a display, you'll find me in the kitchen, playing drums or guitar, on a hike, or in the middle of a moshpit.
What's your best party trick?
If I'm hosting, over catering.
What’s your go-to song at karaoke?
Call Me Maybe. But after enough beers, anything where I can work in a black metal rasp. I may have concerned a few colleagues with my rendition of Marilyn Manson's The Beautiful People at last year's WhistleOut Christmas party.
Favourite sporting moment?
Intentionally left blank.
Have you ever been said to resemble a famous person or character? If so, who?
I used to have glasses with blue lenses for scotopic sensitivity. Depending on the length of my hair at the time, I'd get heckles of "Elton!", "Ozzy!", or "Lennon!". While it was clearly always about the glasses and hair, in retrospect, it’s kinda funny that people thought slinging names of rock gods was meant to be demeaning.
What's your favourite game of all time?
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Pretty sure I've replayed it more than any other game.
Name five discs you'd want to be stuck with on a desert island?
Baroness - Red Album
Carly Rae Jepsen - Emotion
Sleep - Dopesmoker
Nine Inch Nails - The Fragile
Opeth - Deliverance & Damnation
What was your favourite TV show of the 2010s?
It's so hard to pick. Twin Peaks: The Return and The Good Place were straight up incredible. Does Better Call Saul count, given it's not technically finished yet?
What vices do you lean into when you're chasing a tight deadline?
A cheeky beverage. Most of my tradeshow coverage to date has been brought to you by a delicate balance of caffeine, alcohol, and adrenaline.
What's the most ridiculous buzzword in the industry?
"Powered by artificial intelligence." If there's no threat of it becoming sentient and enslaving humanity, is it really AI? Artificial intelligence is a fascinating field and machine learning is being used to achieve fantastic results when it comes to computational photography, but the term is thrown around a little too flippantly.
The PR fairy calls saying you can have the interview of your dreams. Who's it gonna be?
Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. If I can get my hands on a truth potion, Huawei's Richard Yu.