What I’m thinking right now

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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.



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.

Sounds nice.

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.

So yeah, again: it's time.

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.

passage from an imaginary novel

When i first moved to London i remember i was shocked the first time i saw a group of lads on the tube in football shorts, coming back from a game somewhere. I remember thinking that they didn’t belong somehow. London wasn’t for football, it was for fashion, for art; for gays, and smart young career women, and talented young geeks with a hilariously ironic fascination with trash culture. Footballers could have everywhere else, and did. London was for us.

As i grew older and more accustomed to the city’s dull parade, and my ever-increasing loneliness began to outweigh my snobbishness, and my only response when i saw a group of lads in football shorts was to note which ones had nice legs.

New goal: sleep in on the weekends

This might sound odd, given that I’m trying to be more productive. But my social life does cause me to go out late on Friday and Saturday nights and, though I don’t like staying out till dawn like I used to, I’m not ready to start going home from a party at midnight either. I’ve perfected the art of staying in during the week, and when the weekend comes I want to reward myself.

The problem is that I tend to wake up at 9.30am or so the next day, often leaving me with only 4-5hrs sleep. This leaves me grumpy and hungry all day. It’d be much better to sleep till noon, wake up rested, and still get things done in the afternoon.

So how to do it? My unscientific answer, for now, is: medicate. Nytol seems to ensure I sleep a good eight hours, even if I go to bed very late. In the long run, I’d like that to be unnecessary, and I think cutting down on caffeine when I’m out will help. But for now, that seems to work.

New goal: Go to bed at 11pm every weekday

I don’t have to get up till 8, so I needn’t go to bed that early. But right now I spend the 11-12 hour watching TV, and all too often that turns into the 12-1 hour. I want to regularise my schedule and stop working late, and that means locking in bedtime.

I don’t have to go to sleep right away; I can read. But no reading on the iPod touch or the computer, only paper, or i seem to get overstimulated and stay up.

(by “weekday”, for this, I mean Sunday-Thursday, by the way)

I’ve set the alarm on my watch to remind me. But I think it’ll be hard. Last week I did it on Monday, then on Tuesday, even though I had to get up at 7 the next day, I just stayed up till 1am watching BLOODY Flashforward.

New Goal: lose five stone

Not really a new goal, just a new, more organised approach to it. I know it’s a lot. But that’s what I need to lose to be a healthy BMI of around 22. Right now I’m at 33, to my horror.

In a way it shouldn’t be too hard – I know if I cycle to work, cut out snacks and eat sensible meals I do tend to lose weight. It’s just that doing that consistently is surprisingly difficult.

I’m considering starting going to Weight Watchers meetings again – the one I went to before was crap, but that might have been a one-off.