Peter Conway says: Goodbye from me
01 / 11 / 2016
This is my last article as an air cargo journalist.
Though I hate the word, I am retiring. I am not going on to work in any other capacity or to become a consultant. I am just stopping.
Faced with such announcements, journalists like to look for the hidden agenda. Did he resign or was he pushed? Did he fall out with the management over strategy?
Well, here there is no such back story. No disagreements with the very excellent editor and management at Air Cargo News. I just thought it was time to refocus my life on other things.
What things? Well, nothing that will have much resonance for an air cargo audience. I am very keen on the flowers, birds, butterflies and trees of my little corner of the world (the southeast of England) and already devote a lot of time to studying and photographing them. I am a conservation volunteer, clipping and slashing at unwanted plants to improve the wildlife potential of various sites.
I am one of the organisers of a hiking club, which entails lots of happy hours spent checking and planning walking routes. I take part in various citizen science projects and I have one or two writing projects in mind on themes completely unrelated to air cargo or international commerce.
All of these things I already spend a lot of my time on, and now I just plan to spend a little more.
I have been an air cargo journalist for 21 years and have been writing the Air Cargo News Interviews for 17 of those years. By a happy coincidence the two people who got me into this business both now work at Air Cargo News. I am very grateful to them both.
One was a young man named Roger Hailey whom I met while attending a press event at the Port of Southampton in the UK. I was writing in those days about the perishables business, but was getting a bit bored with it. I had visions of maybe switching to a job on a shipping publication.
Roger at the time was editor of UK newspaper International Freighting Weekly (IFW), so I made my ambitions known to him at the press event. A short while later I got a call from another young man named Ian Putzger, who was editor of a magazine called Airtrade, a sister title to IFW. He asked me if I would like to write about air cargo.
I made the reply that everyone has made to me ever since when they have asked me what I do: “What’s air cargo?”
I had visions of express parcels being loaded into the belly of a Boeing 737 and couldn’t really see what would be interesting about that. But when you are young you will try anything, and so I said yes.
And so I fell into the lobster pot. Like many of us, I took a job expecting to do it for a couple of years, and two decades later here I am still.
I was captivated from the very first by this exotic world in which people flitted from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur to Los Angeles and played such an important role in global trade. It became my world too, my dream job.
And of course there were the people. I don’t have to say what a great bunch of people work in air cargo because we all know that.
It has been a great privilege to talk to you over the years. Just the Air Cargo News Interviews alone have involved 413 different people, a Who’s Who of the industry.
Even to produce a list of my favourite ones would fill this entire double-page spread, more space than I have.
So I have to content myself with expressing my sincere gratitude to all those who took the trouble to talk to me, when they doubtless had plenty of more important things to do − dispatching freighters, soothing shippers, meeting customers.
People have often said to me “you must know a lot about air cargo”, and of course I have picked up quite a bit of knowledge, one way or other. But as a journalist, it is never about what you know: it is about what the people you talk to know.
I have never forgotten that I am a reporter − that my job is to reflect the views of others. Without you I would have had no words to write.
Of course I realise that by talking to me all those chief executives and cargo managers were getting free publicity for their company.
But they also frequently shared with me business insights and knowledge that went way beyond that. They gave me their views on the Russian market or the future of freighters or what was really going on at airline X. If there was ever any wisdom or knowledge in my pieces, it was all theirs.
In this context, I have one parting observation about the industry. We old-timers must be forgiven a bit of nostalgia and the air cargo industry I joined was one in which − and it seems incredible to remember this now − a journalist could ring up literally anyone to get an interview.
Planning a trip to Singapore or Miami, I would fax the station managers of various airlines and forwarders and, mostly, find them happy to talk to me.
Special mention must be made here to Lufthansa Cargo and Emery Worldwide (a global forwarder later swallowed up by Menlo and then UPS), whose local staff were always particularly knowledgeable. Rivals used to justifiably complain that we featured them too much, but you could always be sure that they would provide excellent analysis.
Then in the mid-2000s everything started to change. PR people took over and said that journalists should not be talking to the station manager but to the regional manager. Then it was not the regional manager but a member of the senior management team. Not infrequently it then became just one member of the senior management team, who at the moment was away on a three-week trip with limited access to emails.
Then they said: “could you email us some questions?” People I had interviewed many times and who (as far as I know) trusted me to report them correctly said: “I am sorry, we cannot talk unless you go through the PR office.” The PR office said: “We are still trying to find someone to answer your questions,” and then ignored further emails.
The world must change, I suppose. Wilhelm Althen, founder of Lufthansa Cargo, said when he retired in 2000 that he was “handing over to the laptop yuppies”. I have been trying to coin an equivalent phrase for the modern age, but I can’t think of one.
But we are in a world where traditional journalism is just one tool in the media armoury. Today, there is Twitter and Instagram and YouTube and other online ways for companies to communicate.
I am proud that the Air Cargo News Interviews have always been good old-fashioned person-to-person interviews, not compiled from emails and internet searches.
I believe that such journalism still has a very valuable role to play and I am confident that Air Cargo News and its editorial team will continue the tradition, while also providing an excellent information service across the full range of media.
But it is back to those initial ten years that I will look with particular affection as I go forward into my new phase in my life. Yes, the world changes, and a lot of the change is good. But some things are also lost along the way.