Tag Archives: food

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 hotmail.com. She also blogs at thelondonword.com and at fiftyfourfoodmiles.wordpress.com. 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 hotmail.com. She also blogs at thelondonword.com and at fiftyfourfoodmiles.wordpress.com. You can follow all Rosie’s freelance updates here.

Hurricane twitterer Mark Mayhew on rebuilding after Ike and Gustav

Mark Mayhew, who used microblogging service Twitter to update from New Orleans as Hurricane Gustav hit, is using a range of multimedia tools to document efforts to rebuild towns and cities affected by Gustav and Hurricane Ike.

Starting with Twitter again, Mayhew has set up the @RebuildHouston channel to update on the recovery efforts in the Galveston and Houston area. He’ll also be posting longer reports, videos and photos to CNN’s iReport site.

“I’m leaving New Orleans as part of a two person crew who has a van that is “locked and loaded” (my associate’s term) and should be arriving in Houston on Monday morning. We have stockpiled food, tools and we have an EVDO-enabled laptop with a digital camera (that can shoot vid as well,” writes Mayhew on iReport.

Mayhew hopes local journalists will get involved with his coverage, creating a ‘collaborative journalism’ project.

He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty either – posting the following ad for ‘”pay what you want” clean up/home repair/property management’ on Craigslist:

NUJ’s Journalist magazine to launch website?

The April edition of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) magazine the Journalist is available only as a downloadable pdfa decision criticised by some, who argue that a dedicated website for the publication is needed.

However, according to an introduction to a feature in the current issue, there are plans afoot to launch such a site: “The Journalist Editorial Advisory Board is already working on a plan to go online with a site — a proper website, not pdfs — launching later this year. The relationship to the printed magazine — and to the union’s official website — are under discussion.”

In the feature, Chris Wheal, freelance journalist and chair of the NUJ Professional Training Committee, says a multimedia website for the union could demonstrate its ability to do multimedia content ‘in a planned, well thought-out and funded way’. Wheal also suggests that such a site might require a full-time editor’s post with less responsibility for union duties.

Reactions to the PDF version featured alongside this article show little support for an PDF-only Journalist. “This completely undermines our faith in the newspaper and magazine business. Many members will not bother to access the NUJ site,” says one commenter, while another suggests the experiment will ‘damage links with members and decrease their support’.

This month’s trial has certainly provided some food for thought, but what’s the answer: pdf, hybrid or online-only?

William Reed moves into vertical search

More publishers are moving into the world of vertical search it would seem, as William Reed Business Media announced the launch of a specialised search engine for the food and drink industry.

According to a press release, therightinfo.co.uk will provide over 60,000 contacts and details of 40,000 companies in the industry across 30 companies, incorporating all The Grocer‘s content.

The publisher will be hoping to replicate the success of Zibb.com, the business search engine produced by Reed Business Information, which attracted around 350,000 unique users last month.

First screenshots of Times Health Club community site

Times Online will tomorrow launch the Times Health Club, its new community website for people wanting to stay fit, loose weight and eat well. Here’s a screen shot of the new site:

Times Health Club

The community aspects will allow members to enter profiles, contribute to forums and send messages to one another. The Health Club will also carry editorial on living well, offer advice and allow members to keep diaries on food, exercise, weight loss and other issues.

The site has been developed with the team behind the Saturday health section Body and Soul, and will contain content from the supplement.

Happy New Year – and good luck looking for a new job…

Spare a thought for the staff at The Post in Cincinnati. The local paper had been publishing for 126 years but on New Year’s Eve it printed its last edition and by New Year’s Day a web-only version had risen from the ashes to replace it – although staffed by just a smattering of former employees.

Just two reporters are expected to work fulltime on the new website from a former staff of fifty. With the shortfall in stories being made up by freelancers, the wires, the public and the local TV station.

So you’d think, given the time of year and the circumstances the paper found itself in, there would be call for a bit of a wet New Year’s wake? Not even that.

Gawker has a memo from management to the staff detailing the grim realities and processes they have to go through as the newspaper shuts down. It details how staff are even unable to drown their sorrows at their own leaving do:

“John Vissman will arrange for food, beverages and treats for all as we get the last editions out, clean out our desks and say good-bye. But . . . tempting as it may be . . . please do not bring any alcoholic beverages into the newsroom. Let’s go out like the professionals we have been these last, difficult weeks.”

Pro or not, I don’t think one for the road would have been too much to ask…