I mentioned to Dave that I’d like to visit an italian cafe near his flat. It’s a beautiful old thing and I said I couldn’t imagine any better way to spend an afternoon than whiling away a few hours there, over the paper, chips and coke.
Dave’s response? “But in a cafe I can’t have my comfy chair. I’d rather stay home, drink red wine, and listen to Beethoven.”
Dave likes to imagine that he’s both a talented chef and a real foodie. He also thinks he’s deeply multicultural, and likes to bang on about the diversity of Hackney, where he lives. Yesterday for example, over a thai meal, he talked about the meal he’d had the previous night (we’d finished a project, and he’d gone out “with my mates to get bladdered”. Another colleague had just mentioned the range of worldwide foodstuffs available in Kilburn.
“I went out last night and had ‘Jerk’ chicken,” Dave replied, “which is a Caribbean delicacy.”
To put this in perspective, Jerk chicken seasoning is £1.39 at any decent-sized Tesco’s.
This is a rant.
My Twitter feed is awash with fellow journalists expressing their rage and disgust at the closure of the News of the World. 168 years of brave, quality journalism destroyed overnight because of the action of a few bad apples, they say. Good journalists who loved their paper losing their jobs because of bad management decisions. A tragedy.
To which I say: I don’t recall their sympathy the last time the government refused to help a struggling British business in order to prevent redundancies. I don’t recall the News of the World’s brave journalists sticking up to defend the miners when Thatcher went to war with them; I recall them cheering her along all the way. The News of the World has been an enemy of ordinary British people for years, feeding them a non-stop diet of drivel and scandal while happily spurring on the destruction of British manufacturing, the slow stagnation of real wages, and the dismantling of the welfare state.
Throughout the sordid revelations of the last few days, Murdoch’s defenders have pointed to the News of the World’s brave campaign victories. But even the actions it cites as honourable stink. Like Sarah’s law, the supposed child protection victory that has been consistently opposed by children’s charities as likely to hamper the rehabilitation of sex offenders and encourage vigilante violence.
Vigilante violence is, of course, something the News of the World is intimately familiar with. Rebekah Brooks was editor of the paper when its campaign of naming sex offenders – slammed by police – led to an innocent paediatrician being targeted by a moronic hate mob. Not to mention the racist attacks spurred on by its hate campaigns over asylum and immigration.
The genuinely important pieces of campaigning and investigative journalism of recent years, like the Guardian and later the Telegraph’s reporting of the MP’s expenses scandal, had nothing to do with the News of the World. Its only interest is in titillation; the only wrongdoing it’s interested in exposing tends to involve toes being sucked and illegitimate babies being fathered.
So this is not a tragedy, and every one of those who’s lost their job needs to accept that they sold their right to feel like a victim the moment they took the coin of this irresponsible, racist, sexist, homophobic rag. Will the Sun on Sunday be any better? I doubt it, but we can hope. If, in twenty years’ time, we look back on the return of British public life to some vestige of seriousness and sanity, today may well be seen as the first great turning point.
I’ve realised I’ve been looking at this the wrong way. The reasons I came up with in my previous post why I shouldn’t go freelance now, are maybe just things I need to address before I can go freelance. So all I need is a plan to overcome them.
I’m thinking this because I looked at b2b jobs and, ugh. I just didn’t see anything I at all wanted to do. Some of them were terrifying: imagine spending your whole time on the phone to energy traders, desperately trying to get someone to tell you something no-one else knows so you can get it online twenty minutes before everyone else. That’s a part of journalism I don’t want to be in.
Of course, there are magazines I could much more happily work for: Marketing and PR magazines, for example. But I don’t think those jobs are easy to get, and I don’t see any right now. I applied for one amazing tech journalism job, but I don’t think I have a chance.
But what’s more: I simply don’t want to be a business journalist. I never have done. I’m only doing this job because I needed a way into journalism. If I take another business journalism job, I’m branding myself.
My fundamental worries about freelancing are about my ability to get stories. But, let’s be honest, I can either do that or I can’t, and if I can’t, I’m not going to be a journalist no matter how well I write. I need to dive in, I think, and sink or swim. One more year working full-time on business journalism isn’t going to help me make contacts. If I want to write news, I need time to go out and get news.
The flipside, of course, is that I really, really need to leave this job. So I need a plan, which overcomes the obstacles i mentioned before, and gets me out of here, fairly quickly, without going bankrupt.
1. Start driving lessons. Use the fact that I have a proper salary right now to get this done, then it’s done. If I start at the start of July – June is looking too busy – I can be done by late September.
2. Keep blogging, and try to start reaching out to sources to beef up your blog posts, and promoting it to build an audience. All this will be incredibly helpful in giving me credibility when I start writing proper features.
3. Go to as many networking things as I can. I’ve avoided these things like the plague, but I have to start advertising myself. I’ve had some business cards made!
4. Start looking for a flat. That way you can get the mortgage side of things dealt with by September. So basically in July and August saturdays are going to be driving lessons and flat viewings, and Sundays are going to be blogging.
5. Earn extra money, and put it aside to use as a cushion when I first go freelance. Do this by:
6. Getting any, any freelance writing or editing work you can. Amazingly, I’ve started with this – I’ve just signed a contract, thanks to a friend of mine who connected me, to write tech and digi news for a website. It’s total drivel, I’ll do 20 minutes a day for 100 Euros a week, but that comes to about £350 a month before tax which I can slap straight into a savings account. (I suppose I’ll have to sort out the tax myself though, which is morbid).
By September, I can have a driving license, some income, some savings, and some contacts. Then I’ll just have to take the plunge.
My most obvious option, given what I want to do, would be to just leave and go freelance. I could do a mixture of freelance editing and b2b writing, and tutoring, to pay my bills, while blogging and pitching stories. This would hopefully lead to stories getting accepted, commissions, and within a few months I could be a fully-functioning news journalist writing stories I’ve come up with myself.
But there are a host of little problems in the way, or not so little.
1. Freelancers need connections. I have none.
2. Freelancers need the kind of sources that enable them to see stories no-one else has seen. Right now, I don’t have those kind of sources. I could develop them, going to conferences and meetings and chatting to people, but it takes time – time when I wouldn’t be selling stories.
All these are issues I’d need to address – a bit at least – before leaving my current job. But it’s not easy to do any of this on top of my job; I’ve been trying. I don’t want to resolve to stay as long as it takes to publish a couple of freelance pieces, and find I’m still there in a year.
I do sometimes wonder if I’m cut out for freelancing at all. I’m an experienced feature writer, but I’ve never done news reporting. I already have problems in my current job thinking in terms of gripping stories and not just analysis. Could I really find interesting enough ideas to get editors’ attention? Nerdy old me? Deep down, don’t I just want to make boring reports for think tanks?
Also, a freelancer can never really relax – he should always be working on a story. At least with a salaried job, once you go home, you can relax. But then, if I’m trying to do general pieces on top of a job, I can’t relax in the evenings at all – that’s a bit like the last few years, where I’ve always been at least theoretically ‘working on something’ in the background.
But assuming I do want to become a freelancer, I also see various reasons why it might not be the best time to do it now.
1. Money. Money is of course the primary reason I’ve stayed in my current job so long; I had to pay off the personal loan I took out to sort out my credit cards and loans. Even now, I still have a £2000 overdraft. Fine if I have a salary. But going freelance would involve probably earning very little for the first few months. I need really not just to be out of debt, but to have some savings.
2. I need to learn to drive. This is a prerequisite for all sorts of journalism work. But, it costs money (see 1).
3. I kind of want some stuff. I know that may seem a little silly. But I’ve only been earning a reasonable amount since I paid off my big loan last year, and I haven’t had a chance yet to actually have cool stuff. You know, an iPhone. An iPad, for god’s sake. Some new clothes. As a freelancer I could be scrimping on everything for another year or two.
4. I need to get a mortgage. A salary could be useful with that.
What all this is leading to is that I think I may have to play a long game, and get another job in business journalism. Another year or so of salaried work will help me improve the financial situation, and teach me some useful reporting skills. Then I could aim to move to a newspaper’s business desk, and then ultimately out to broader reporting.
But I don’t want to wake up at 40 and find I’m a business journalist. It’s miles away from what I wanted to be a journalist for.
I need to think about this some more.
I had a blazing row with my boss last Friday. I’ve been working till ten most evenings, coming in at 8.30, trying to get our latest issue finished. Then he told me off for not fixing a problem I’d brought to his attention a couple of months ago. Apparently, I should have demanded more forcefully that he fix it.
I was tired and irritable. But still, I just had to stand up for myself. For several weeks, ever since I started working four days a week, he’s been hyper-critical. He clearly thinks I’m halfway out the door and not working hard. The truth is I’ve had just as much work to do in less time, so I’m working my ass off.
I don’t really know, looking back, why I’ve stayed in this job so long. I’ve hated it for a long time. There’s just always been a reason not to move on. The central problem is that I’ve wanted to move on from business journalism to news, which isn’t an easy journey to make. It requires me to produce material in my spare time, which I’ve basically been failing to do for four years. That was why I went four days a week in the first place.
I feel now, though, for the first time, that my current job has reached such an impasse that it would be worth leaving even to go to another business journalism job. That sounds very defeatist; but it’s not, strangely. It’s more that before, I was idly thinking about jobs I’d like to move to but not in any realistic way. Now I’m trying to really get to grips with it.