I am Chris Wheal, a freelance journalist and trainer and I make new mistakes every day. You can learn from them. That is what chriswheal.com is all about: helping others by showing the good and bad decisions I have made, and am still making day in, day out.
I have provided a range of my work, some of them award-winning pieces. I have added some tips I have either been taught or use as a teacher. Then there’s my blog, which includes my thoughts on issues I face at work.
It may or may not be useful to you. Either way, let me know.
My curriculum vitae (CV) or resume (for US English speakers)
My compact CV is available on the Wheal Associates website (new window). What follows is a more detailed analysis of my work, projects and general rabble-rousing
Involvement in professional training
I am currently a board member of the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC) (new window) and help carry out accreditation visits to university multimedia journalism courses. I spent more than five years as a member of the editorial training committee of the Periodical Training Council (PTC) (lnew window).
While at Public Finance magazine (new window) I personally oversaw the training of the junior reporter, Damian Wild, through two level 4 National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in news writing and feature writing.
Damian was highly commended in the PTC’s new journalist of the year awards and moved on to become editor of Accountancy Age (new window) and then group editor at VNU publications. He then moved to be editor of Estates Gazette (new window).
I was subsequently involved in the PTC’s working party to revise NVQs. I left the PTC in 1995 when I went freelance because the PTC’s rules exclude freelances from membership (two other members of the committee, including its chair, John Pullin, were forced to resign at the same time).
A while back I interviewed on video the PTC’s editorial chair, Sara Cremer, and Damian Wild on what skills new journalists need (the sound has gone out of sync uploading to You Tube):
I have run training courses in journalism, most recently in online journalism and building an online presence, at the London School of Journalism (new window). I have taught news writing and writing for the web, and building your own website for the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), now the largest provider of post-entry training in the UK. I have done similar course for the Federation of Entertainment Unions and wrote its online course on building your online presence..
I have also provided writing for the web courses to organisations such as the OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA) examinations board, Graduate Prospects and the Commission for Racial Equality.
I have trained staff in magazine companies, such as Voice Newspapers and Informa, as well as English language publications in Brussels.
For several years I ran an introduction to journalism evening class at City University, London. I have given lectures at City and Westminster universities, as well as to MA journalism students at Goldsmiths College.
I frequently speak on careers in journalism, or on ethics, at universities and schools.
NUJ Professional Training Committee
I was the founding chair of the National Union of Journalists’ (NUJ’s) Professional Training Committee (ProfCom) and only stood down in 2016. This committee was set up in 2003 and I had the highest number of votes of any candidate in that first election, something I repeated until I stood down. The committee includes journalism academics and activists.
National Council for the Training of Journalists
I was the NUJ’s nomination to become a board member of the NCTJ (new window).
I had several discussions with City University (link opens new window) over beginning a DJourn. The proposed project involved an investigation into personal finance journalism, its influence and whether it led to the misselling of financial services products.
This would lead on to an examination of whether or not journalism should remain excluded from the regulation of selling financial products (journalism is currently written into the legislation as an exclusion).
After completing an initial reading list and revising the details of my proposal, as well as preparing a major survey questionnaire and a number of methodologies for measuring accuracy, I decided not to proceed at City.
City had put Dr Iain Stevenson in charge of journalism research, despite him having no experience of journalism. When I complained about Dr Stevenson, the head of department, Rod Allen, then lied to cover up his colleague’s incompetence.
After making a freedom if information request, proving Allen had lied, I received an apology from the university and a plea that I reconsider my research there, promising that Rod Allen would be leaving soon, which he did.
October 1995 – present Self-employed.
I have been self-employed through three different business models:
- October 1995 – January 1996 sole trader
- February 1996 – January 1999 partner, Wheal Associates, a partnership with my wife, Kate Wheal (new window)
- February 1999 – present, managing director, Wheal Associates Ltd (new window), a limited company established as a result of recruiting staff and taking on larger contracts
My main work throughout has been supplying news and features, researching, reporting, editing, news editing and feature editing. Clients include major business magazines and national newspapers.
We also produce magazines for membership organisations linked to the public services and I often carry out production, layout and pre-press work, using Quark Xpress, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Acrobat.
Journalistic highlights include:
In 2009 I was asked by AOL to launch Daily Finance in the UK. We launched in 2010. This was a bold experiment to run a website with no staff – entirely run by freelances from home. In its brief life I wrote 312,078 words on 522 posts.
By 2011 AOL had realised it needed somebody in charge in the office and hired Tom Flack, who I had worked with at Insurance Times. I was then involved, with Tom, in merging Daily Finance with a sister financial website called Walletpop into the new AOL Money (new window).
This involved working with designers and tech specialists, and setting up new templates as well as resolving design and uploading issues connected with CMS and photo sizes.
As the first full-time editor, Trisha Doyle, could not join ahead of the launch date in October 2011, I was launch editor, handing over to her a couple of weeks later.
After many years of working with The Guardian’s Society editor, David Brindle, I was approached to edit a housing supplement, published in April 2004.
I drew up the editorial outline, commissioned freelances to write the articles (including writing some myself), researched pictures, edited the material and worked with The Guardian’s in-house production team to lay out the pages, giving print-ready pages a final proof read.
The Guardian executive responsible said: “Everyone is delighted. I think it is one of the best that we have done.” And a senior editor said: “Congratulations on the housing supp. You certainly earned brownie points here (no fuss, delivered as per spec, on time and on message).”
A year later, I was again asked to edit the housing supplement, which was subsequently taken in-house
I have written many articles for The Guardian. My reputation among journalists was such that The Guardian initially sought me out to help launch Society Finance in January 1998.
I then provided a mix of self-initiated articles and those the editor felt I was the best journalist to handle. These included news stories and detailed analysis pieces. I was named the 1999 British Insurance Brokers’ Association Broadsheet Consumer Journalist of the Year for an article explaining why councils felt they had been ripped off by insurance brokers.
Guardian links (open new windows)
- Open doors (April 2004 housing supplement)
- Home truths (April 2005 housing supplement)
- Is the deal too good? (BIBA award-winning piece)
- Risk halts volunteering (news story I was asked to write)
- Hackney fire station closure (self-generated news story)
- Closure of care homes (analysis I was asked to write)
Editor of Insurance Times
When I edited Insurance Times it was a weekly tabloid newspaper. I initially helped out a new editor with little knowledge of insurance by acting as news editor. When that editor decided to leave after only a short time in the job, I was asked to step in as editor.
While there, I launched a daily title for covering insurance conferences (Conference Times), which included organising news coverage and photography for each speaker and post-conference events, plus managing the sub-editing and production, signing off at the printers after midnight each night.
I also launched a daily news service on the Insurance Times website (new window), ensuring the team posted 12 news stories a day, including three before 9am each weekday.
The last two people I recruited to Insurance Times have since gone on to national newspapers. Yvette Essen only recently left The Telegraph and Christine Seib works for The Times, now in the US.
I left Insurance Times after an ethical dispute with the managing director, Jonathan Shephard, over the editorial treatment of Independent Insurance, one of the paper’s major advertisers.
Independent Insurance, run by a bullying egotistical liar, Michael Bright, threatened to pull its entire advertising budget unless the paper ceased its hostile coverage. I refused to kowtow to the advertiser, knowing that Independent Insurance and Bright were covering up financial problems.
Within months of me leaving, Independent Insurance went spectacularly bust, owing Insurance Times, among others, a small fortune.
This was best covered by Private Eye’s Street of Shame column in July 2001 (pdf, new window). Both the publisher, Sarah Tunstall, and managing director, Shephard, were later sacked.
This pair both turned up again running the magazine trade body the Periodical Publishers’ Association (PPA) (new window), but Shephard got the elbow from there too after 18-months (Guardian story, new window).
I wrote extensively for Insurance Times and was asked to return to help the then new editor Tom Broughton when he took over, working two days a week for the new editor’s first two months.
I then wrote a weekly career’s column, called Up the ladder, for a year. And I then wrote the early morning website news copy (the subject of my first blog post).
Best of all I was in court to see Michael Bright squirm as he was prosecuted for fraud. He was eventually found guilty (Times report, new window) in October 2007 and sent to prison for 7 years. Despite being on holiday in Normandy, France, I went live on Radio 5 to call him a liar, a bully and a cheat. Life does not get much better than that. (blog of that holiday, new window)
Property People was a weekly A4 magazine for the social and private rented housing market.
I started covering for the editor’s holidays and was asked to run the magazine when she left. This included helping to recruit and train new full- and part-time staff, up to and including the handover of the editorship to a full-time replacement.
I was involved in helping the company secure Investors in People, awarded while I was editor. I stood in again several more times to cover for holidays, helped produce a spin-off careers guide and ran the magazine’s website.
I have written for several national newspapers, including The Times, Financial Times, Mail on Sunday and the Evening Standard.
I have supplied articles for newsstand publications including Time Out, The New Statesman, Men’s Health, Fathers Quarterly, Eve, WH Smith magazines and Choice (for which I won the British Insurance Brokers’ Association Tabloid Consumer Journalist of the Year 2002 award).
In the business-to-business sector I have written for the likes of Post Magazine, Building, Financial World, Lottery Monitor, PLC Director, Accountancy Age, Municipal Journal and Healthcare Finance.
I have also written for websites, both corporate and commercial, such as AOL and Workthing.com. And I set up and edited a short-lived website called creativenew.biz, for the Creative Industries Observatory at the University of London.
Links (all open new windows)
- Take cover (BIBA award-winning article, Healthcare Finance magazine) pdf
- Beware cut-price cover (BIBA award-winning article, Choice magazine) pdf
- Time Out article predicting overruns in the London Olympic bid, pdf
- New Statesman Lottery supplement (page 12) pdf
- Lightning strikes in the Mail on Sunday
- A tender subject, Healthcare Finance as pdf
Politicians and celebrities
Despite my journalism covering business and finance, I have interviewed many politicians and celebrities.
I interviewed several Cabinet ministers, including the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Ken Clarke, plus a succession of Cabinet Office ministers in charge of local government.
I have also interviewed former prime minister John Major. And I first met Tony Blair in the early 1990s when he was the shadow employment spokesman. I have since interviewed several Labour ministers.
I also ran a series of articles in Time Out examining the Mayor of London’s early years in office and then interviewed Ken Livingstone, allowing him to answer the articles’ criticisms.
I provided a regular column for Local Government Chronicle asking celebrities what they thought of their local council. These included the likes of England cricketer Andrew Caddick, former West Ham and England footballer Trevor Brooking and the now disgraced “Svengali of Spin” Max Clifford.
As a result, I was asked to provide a similar article for The Guardian that included such luminaries as TV historian Adam Hart-Davis.
Links (all open new windows)
- Infamous delivery (The Guardian)
- Interview with Ken Livingstone (Time Out) as pdf
- The cost of Ken (Time Out) pdf
nb. The Greens sabre-rattled over the Time Out expenses expose until I provided them with evidence of Green leader Darren Johnson’s expenses largesse.
TV and radio appearances
I have appeared on numerous radio and television programmes. These include the Today programme on Radio 4, BBC Breakfast TV, Channel Four’s The Big Breakfast, Sky News, Sky Money, Bloomberg TV, BBC News 24 and BBC regional radio stations.
Watch me interviewed on Sky Money:
I was asked by Allianz (new window) – a major European insurance company – to provide media training for its staff. I have trained more than 100 middle managers how to think through the messages they want to convey and get them across clearly and succinctly.
I have ghost-written articles for many major companies, including banks, insurance companies and public service bodies, such as housing associations.
I have written advertising copy for organisations as diverse as Lloyd’s of London and the Laminated Glass Information Service.
And I have written for company in-house staff magazines and university alumni publications, either direct for the client or through commercial communications consultancies, such as Wardour Communications and Sunday Publishing.
Other clients include Abbey National, the Hyperion Group and Thompsons solicitors.
I carried out the London-based research for three books written by Geoffrey Elliott OBE.
The first was a personal history of the author’s Russian revolutionary relatives (contemporaries of Trotsky) who fled Siberian exile for London and established the Sobranie tobacco company.
I researched the family’s arrival in the UK, tracking ship movements and passenger lists. I then researched the history of the company, from its initial trademarks through to its eventual collapse during the Docklands development of Canary Wharf, including tracking down obscure interviews with the author’s relatives and obituaries in specialist magazines.
The book was called From Siberia with Love, published by Methuen in 2004. The Acknowledgements section reads: “Chris Wheal was as always diligent and professional in researching the story of Sobranie, shipping records and other more arcane subjects.”
The second book covered the Victorian financial scandal of the Overend & Gurney bank collapse.
The collapse of this Quaker-run bank resulted in several other banks going to the wall and the British government having to reassure the international markets that the country was not bankrupt.
My research included examining the launch, promotion and subsequent collapse of a number of phoney companies, plus some historical context about shipbuilding on the Thames.
It also included tracking down obscure court case documents and adding colour to the profile of a key player at the time, Albert Grant (the man who created Leicester Square).
The book was called The Mystery of Overend & Gurney – A financial Scandal in Victorian London and was published by Methuen in 2006. The Acknowledgements lists: “Chris Wheal for always diligent research”.
The third book The Shooting Star, about the Special Operations Executive in the second world war, is just out. It praises my contribution in these terms: “Whose research contribution on so many fronts, and his energy, are unsurpassed.”
I worked on several conferences and roundtables.
Working on a PR contract for property company Quintain Estates and Development, I was asked to promote the company’s keyworker website. I approached The Guardian and convinced the paper that there was a market for a conference and special supplement.
I then organised the other key speakers for the conference and drew up speaker profiles and the conference agenda. Two years later, The Guardian approached me again, no longer contracted to Quintain, to organise a follow-up, which I did.
I have also set up a major roundtable discussion for The Guardian’s spin-off publication for senior public sector decision-makers, Public magazine.
I proposed the idea, found a sponsor (£20,000) and invited all the panel members, including government minister David Lammy, to a roundtable discussion on the rising costs of claims against public bodies – known as the claims culture.
I have never been afraid to voice an opinion.
When the NUJ annual conference and national executive decided to ballot on setting up a political fund, I led a campaign against the leadership, urging members to vote ‘no’.
Despite few resources and having to battle to get the ‘no’ message across in the union’s publications, our campaign managed to win in the ballot, ensuring the NUJ remained politically neutral.
Links (all open new windows)
- Political fund article by Roy Greenslade (The Guardian)
- My article in The Journalist The other side of the story (Word)
- Press Gazette report of the debate
- Press Gazette report of NUJ’s defeat
August 1993 – September 1995 – Features Editor, Public Finance
The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, 3 Robert Street, London WC2N 6BH
Public Finance covered all aspects of public service funding and expenditure. The main areas it dealt with were local government, health, education and housing.
I was features editor at the launch of the new magazine (previously called Public Finance and Accountancy).
I took a lead role in implementing new technology as the magazine moved from typesetter to desk-top production using Quark Xpress and Apple Macs (the editor had never been through that process and did not know how to use the software). I stood in for the editor in his absence and was involved in recruiting new staff.
The opening feature of the relaunch issue covered the replacement for Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax, the Council Tax. As part of the examination I ensured the magazine named the first people in the country to successfully appeal to have their council tax raised, rather than lowered, to help increase the value of their home.
I organised media coverage of this story and even the Financial Times referred to the couple as Mr & Mrs Snob, prompting a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.
November 1989 – August 1993– Assistant Editor, The Engineer
Morgan-Grampian, 30 Calderwood Street, London SE18 6QH
I reported on the chemical industry, industrial relations, employment and health and safety.
I was named Morgan-Grampian’s weekly feature writer of the year in 1992 for a feature about an 18-year-old factory worker who lost both hands when a guillotine malfunctioned. This was despite the fact that the woman would not talk to me, as she had signed an exclusive deal (chequebook journalism) with The Sun newspaper.
Later, when I identified a malfunction in the equipment as the cause, the manufacturer began legal proceedings. After a week working off-diary on the defence, I was able to produce the evidence that allowed the magazine’s lawyers to defend the action successfully on the grounds of privilege.
Many years later the HSE did mount a successful prosecution of the manufacturer.
On The Engineer, I worked alongside Bill Goodwin, then being dragged through the courts and eventually found in contempt of court for refusing to reveal his source of confidential information.
Several years later the UK government lost this case in the European Court in Strasbourg.
I, Bill and four others were all made redundant in 1993. I was the National Union of Journalists’ (NUJ’s) Father of the Chapel (FoC) (union shop steward) at Morgan-Grampian for several years.
December 1987 – November 1989 – Reporter, then Employment Reporter, Electronics Weekly
Reed Business Publishing, Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey, SM2 5AS
My first job included writing news and features on the electronics industry weekly tabloid. I was soon given a page a week to edit on employment and training matters.
I first covered the Trades Union Congress (TUC) on Electronics Weekly, the year Eric Hammond led the electricians union, the EETPU, in a walk-out just ahead of their expulsion.
The EETPU union was to be expelled over its staffing of Rupert Murdoch’s News International’s new plant at Wapping.
I went on to cover six consecutive years of the TUC.
BA(Hons) Modern European Studies, 1987, Ealing College of Higher Education, London. This included four main subjects: history, geography, politics and economics, plus a language – I studied Spanish.
There were also two honours options. I studied European Settlement Studies and Art, Music and Ideas in the Making of Modern Europe.
Study involved attending university in Pamplona, Spain, and my thesis was on The Influence of the Spanish Civil War on Picasso, Dali and Miro.
Two A levels, Havant 6th Form College, Hampshire
Geography and Physics
Five O Levels, Crookhorn Comprehensive, Hampshire.
Maths, English Language, English Literature, Physics, French
- I set up and chaired the Financial Journalists’ Group for several years, for which I organised background briefing events for journalists, with five or more speakers from opposing positions on the same top table answering questions from journalists. The role also included running an award for the best press office in a financial services company.
- I was a school governor for six years at Baring Primary School in Lewisham until 2006. I was a co-opted (later called community) governor. I became vice-chair of governors. I helped the schoolchildren produce a full-colour magazine once a year.
- I was founding chair of a parents and carers group at my children’s primary school, Myatt Garden, which has since become a Parent Teacher Association. I also established and chair the parents’ forum at my son’s secondary school, Deptford Green.
- I have served on the national executive of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom and briefly on the national executive council of the National Union of Journalists.
- I am a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA) (new window), a reader at the British Library (new window) and the National Archives (new window).
- I am chair of the trustees of NUJ Extra (new window), the charity for NUJ members, former members and their dependants. This charity was established in 2006 after I steered through the merger of two former charities.
- I am a vice-president of Charlton Park Rugby Football Club and, until recently, a member of the London Society of Rugby Football Union Referees.
- I am a member of the National Trust, the Campaign for Real Ale and the Trail Riders’ Fellowship.