Author Archives: Rosie Birkett

Gourmet closure: does this sound the death knell for special interest magazines?

The news that Conde Nast is to close its specialist food magazine Gourmet is now official, after months of speculation that the title might be cut as part of the publishing house’s streamlining.

As a freelance journalist trying to carve a niche out for myself in food writing, the news has been (if you’ll pardon my pun) rather hard to swallow.

Of course I know that media, the way we consume media, and the way the media is funded is changing – and the internet revolution, the foodie blogosphere and twitter explosion are fast-usurping more traditional channels like print – but it still makes me sad.

I’m not alone, if the response on Twitter is anything to go by.

What hope is there for aspiring food journalists to ever make a living (or even a bit of their living) writing about our specialist subject if even the most famous of quality food publications, which has been going for 70 years is going to close?

We all know that steep drops in traditional forms of advertising forced the mag (like every other anorexic print publication around) to cut pages because of the shift from advertising to targeted online marketing, but what about the readers and writers?

We still exist – and now we’re left with a hole to fill. While I’m a fan of the online food content boom (I have a food blog myself) and I love its speed, relevance and interactivity, I still strongly believe that online content can’t fully replace magazines like Gourmet.

It was, as Jay Rayner says in his Guardian post about its closure: ‘The glossiest, the shiniest, the most indulgent’. 

The end of Gourmet is indicative of the general move toward free online content rather than investment in quality writing, and high spec, niche publications. Tim Hayward, Guardian columnist and food writer agrees, describing the move of the publishing house as ‘baffling’.

“Does it really mean that intelligent special interest reading isn’t valuable? If they can’t tap into market with a serious disposable income then what hope is there?” he asks.

Hayward, who is starting a printed food publication,,  for exactly the readers and writers abandoned by Gourmet’s closure, highlights the gap in the market left by its passing. “It’s about the medium as much as the writing, about having the object there in front of you. Sitting down at the coffee table with it was slightly like pornography and you can’t claim that that can be replaced by online for that audience.

“The reason I’m starting Fire and Knives is because no one was talking to that group over here. Now that’s been corked – you’ve got to wonder what it’s going to mean for everyone else. With Fire and Knives I’m taking advertising out of the equation, which means it’s much easier to set up.

“We’ll still have to make money eventually – but it’s just figuring out where from. We’ll probably end up having to go down a sponsorship route.”

So does Gourmet’s closure really mark the end of an era for special interest reading?

As Hayward points out, it’s the structure of the traditional magazine, with its expensive advertising and sales departments that is dying, rather than the readers and writers and hunger for quality content.

But how can we get around that? Will new models emerge for print publications or is the future typing  ‘luxurious chocolate cake’ into Google Images whenever we want our foodie fix?

Rosie Birkett is a freelance journalist specialising in food, travel and lifestyle writing.

Mad to start freelancing in the recession? I’ve been carrying the foetus of freelancing

One really great thing about freelancing through a recession is that you don’t have to worry about being made redundant. Of course, you’re at the mercy of budgets as much as the next journo, but there is something to be said for being your own boss and not having to worry about that steely possibility that you could soon be facing a life-changing moment.

It’s not that life-changing moments are necessarily a bad thing (indeed, it was a spate of redundancies at a previous job that kicked me into my best career move to date) it’s just that they are a usually very stressful – especially when the control of your life is taken out of your own hands.

Which brings me onto my next point – control. I’ve been freelancing now for a good nine months. Indeed – and bear with me on this one – that leads rather splendidly to an analogy: I’ve been carrying the foetus of freelancing, and I’ve now given birth. Because the truth is, I’m loving it. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve been lucky to get enough work to see me through, perhaps it’s that I’m not in a stuffy office with anyone breathing down my back, perhaps it’s because I can cook lunch rather than chow down on a squashed sandwich, or perhaps it’s just the fact that for the most part, I’m in control.

I decide what time I get up, what time I finish and what time I (note the recurring theme here) lunch. Freelancing also releases you, to some extent, from the bureaucracy and politics of the office. I don’t want to give you the wrong impression here – for, as my previous posts will testify, there is a certain amount of being ignored, late payment and managing your own (yawn) tax involved, not to mention the development of RSI from refreshing the inbox obsessively – but on the upside, at least you can blip while you process your expenses.

In other news, I was asked to go on the Radio Kent breakfast show again to talk about the rise in popularity of ethnically diverse restaurants – another nice little foray into broadcast journalism, and I was impressed by investigative journo-flick State of Play. Aside from discovering that Russel Crowe has definitely grown on me, I liked the way it reflected the conflicted but semi-dependent relationship between print and online journalism – and the fact such a high profile Hollywood thriller was adapted from a BBC series.

Rosie Birkett is a freelance journalist and sub-editor who specialises in food, hospitality and travel. She can be contacted on rosiebirkett1 at She also blogs at and at You can follow the series ‘Mad to start freelancing in the recession?’ series here here.

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Mad to start freelancing in the recession? Don’t panic!

Needless to say, my New Year’s freelance resolutions didn’t last long, especially not the one about not procrastinating (I mean, have you seen the talking cats on YouTube?). Maybe I should get into viral marketing… Anyway, since we last met I have come up with a belated addition to that little list – thou shalt not take on too much at once.

This current climate is one in which budgets and staff are being cut – forcing new freelancers to enter the market place, and as as an existing freelancer out on your own it’s easy to panic about commissions. Will there be enough to get by? Will it look bad if I say no? Will they pay me if I say yes? Are my rates too high or too low?

It’s understandable, in light of this, that you might jump at any work that comes your way – but one thing that I’ve learned over the past, very hectic three weeks – is to know your limits (unless you want to spend a string of weekends burning the proverbial candle). Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining about having work during a recession, in fact, I’m a big fan of it, but I really have realised that it’s important to stop panicking.

The nature of freelancing is sporadic, manic even, in some ways – there will be quiet times when modestly-paid web stories or blog posts will be a godsend – but when you’ve got a few big commissions on the go it’s important to leave time to be thorough, rework things and have contingency time in the case of family crisis (and don’t they always happen at the wrong time?).

Maintaining the definition between work-time and home-time is crucial, otherwise you’ll find yourself living in a constant state of guilt – fretting about looming deadlines when you’re eating bread and jam, and taking your copy to read on the loo. That’s no way to live my friends, no way at all.

On another note, I issued my first threat to a rogue payer. After dozens of phonecalls, subsequent rebuffs, ignored emails and left voicemails (for some work I’d done in November), it was time to get heavy. Finally, after stating my case and assuring them that I would be getting my solicitor involved if they failed to pay me in due course, I got put through to the accountant.

“There’s no need to threaten us with court action Miss Birkett,” said the accountant. Oh, but there is – especially when you’re freelancing in a recession.

Rosie Birkett is a freelance journalist and sub-editor who specialises in food, hospitality and travel. She can be contacted on rosiebirkett1 at She also blogs at and at You can follow the series ‘Mad to start freelancing in the recession?’ series here here.

Mad to start freelancing in the recession? Thou shalt make overly-ambitious new year resolutions

Phew. I’m back, after a Christmas break in which my immune system saw fit to relax and welcome in a stinking cold, thwarting any grand plans I might have had about coming up with irresistible feature ideas, sorting out my contacts book and getting my accounts in order.

It was almost like the cumulative mental stresses and strains of 2008 congested in my head only to be blown out with gusto as 2009 arrived. Which brings me onto my next point – Happy New Year.

Ah, New Year, a time for reflection, reinvention, and of course, New Year’s resolutions. This time last year I was resenting being back at work – now (like many people in this country) I’m thankful to have any work at all.

So, as I dust off the last of the mince pie crumbs and attempt to wean my body off regular doses of red wine, cold turkey, Quality Street and every other kind of oral fixation I seem to have developed whist watching re-runs of Home Alone and the Antiques Roadshow, here are my top five, ever-so-slightly over-ambitious but necessary New Year’s, New Freelancer’s Resolutions / Commandments:

1. Thou shalt stop procrastinating. Any time I feel inexplicably compelled to tune into 80s videos (read: Foreigner, Toto and Chris De Burgh) on YouTube, or sneak into the kitchen to prepare a strangely frugal yet hybrid snack made from the collective ingredients of my  kitchen cupboards, I will resist. I will use spare time wisely: chasing invoices, brainstorming ideas, reading other features and researching. Twittering however, and other genuine modes of online networking, will be self-permitted and encouraged.

2. Thou shalt aim high. I must remember that my experience, expertise and capability are precious – and will not be tempted to sell myself  short or write for free. Because thou is worth it, right?

3. Thou shalt be more persistent. I will make sure I’m being proactive about pitching and will not be afraid to bang on doors – everyone else is doing it, after all.

4. Thou shalt diversify and leave thy comfort zone. Surely there is money to be made writing about all sorts of esoteric subjects I haven’t thought of yet?

5 Thou shalt blog, like there’s no bloggin’ tomorrow. Because it’s quick, effective, a great way of joining the debate and networking. I’ll be one of those bloggers with a book deal before I know it…

So, I’ll keep you updated as to how I get on with those – and why don’t you share any you might have with me? Right, I’m off to Dubai for ten days in an attempt to mix pleasure with work. Tune in next time to find out how I got on…

Rosie Birkett is a freelance journalist and sub-editor who specialises in food, hospitality and travel. She can be contacted on rosiebirkett1 at She also blogs at and at You can follow the series ‘Mad to start freelancing in the recession?’ series here here.

Mad to start freelancing in the recession? Networking, procrastination and press trips

Since my last blog I’ve been on a press trip with other freelancers, which is something I’d whole-heartedly recommend. To be in the company of others such as yourself, and share stories about late payments, vague commissions and (grippingly) how to fill out tax returns, is a massive comfort.

Or it is to me anyway, who is finding the isolation one of the hardest things about freelancing. Not having anyone there to look forward to lunch with, or a fellow soul to share tea-rounds with is tough. Not to mention the lack of the sorely missed ‘post-work drink?’ offer or someone else to get excited about a story with.

But it wasn’t just the camaraderie that made the trip worth it – I got some interesting inside info on which editors are taking freelance commissions at the moment, who pays on time and who to avoid.

Something strange seems to keep happening to me in my new guise as a freelance. It’s crippling writer’s block, (though some might call it internet-abetted procrastination) which usually sets in during the last few acceptable working hours of the day.

It’s happened thrice now, me filling my creatively-stumped time with Twitter conversations (does virtual networking count as work?) or chuckling at Charlie Brooker.

Then suddenly, I’ll get a burst of inspired motivation, or a profound idea, just as my housemates burst through the door with that end of the day, ‘so-glad-to-be-home-and-crack-open-the-red’ gusto, flinging open the door to our communal lounge to find me hunched and furrow-browed over my laptop positively scowling at the interruption.

While I’m not drowning in commissions, I’m starting to get somewhere with some magazines, and I’m finding that websites and blogs are open to pitches and more likely to respond (though obviously less lucrative). One thing I’ve discovered, which has been incredibly handy, is going back over old features and finding a new angle and new market for them.

Taking a previous interview or idea, updating it, reworking it (obviously checking you’re not breaching any copyright agreements) and finding a specialist website or blog that is interested has made me a few extra quid here and there. It’s not enough to live off of course, but as it does for those smug, bum-slapping mums in the supermarket ads, when you’re freelancing in a recession, every little helps.

Rosie Birkett is a freelance journalist and sub-editor who specialises in food, hospitality and travel. She can be contacted on rosiebirkett1 at She also blogs at and at You can follow the series ‘Mad to start freelancing in the recession?’ series here here.

New blog series: Mad to start freelancing in the recession?

Despite all that stuff about English degrees leading to flipping burgers, after leaving university I had the good fortune to run my own magazine with friends while temping at a local TV channel and then to work as deputy editor for a regional magazine. Since graduating, I’ve managed to hold down full-time editorial roles.

Until that is, I moved to London, did a maternity cover stint at my dream magazine – spent five months making contacts, gaining industry leeway and vital experience – only to find there were no permanant jobs going at the end of it.

Luckily for me, my most recent employers have been kind enough to give me shift work (a godsend if you can get it), which has given me the security to make a go of freelancing.

And so, just as the country entered recession and editorial budgets everywhere were cut, I have been thrown into the world of freelance journalism.

Suddenly I went from the safety of the office, its databases, reputation and regular income, to the forlorn makeshift study in the corner of my communal sitting room (because who has room for an office in London?). It was time to abandon Outlook for Twitter and to change from being the one receiving, commissioning and yes, I’ll sheepishly admit, occasionally ignoring freelance pitches, to the one doing the pitching.

In this blog I’ll chart my progress as I endeavour to make a living (albeit a meagre one) off my own back, the freelance way.

It won’t be so much of a ‘how to start out as a freelance’, but more of a collection of stories, anecdotes, and hopefully a forum for people in a similar boat to share ideas, advice and opinion. Welcome to the world of the newbie freelancer.

So as the invites from PRs for lunches turn miraculously into ‘I’ll be at that canapé reception – catch you then’ and the chill-inducing tone of commissioning editors everywhere sings out bluntly ‘never heard of you’ – I’ll be sharing it here, with you, along with (hopefully) the odd triumphant tale of why freelance is the way to go…

Rosie Birkett is a freelance journalist and sub-editor who specialises in food, hospitality and travel. She can be contacted on rosiebirkett1 at She also blogs at and at You can follow all Rosie’s freelance updates here.