Work beyond the media

LEEDS-BASED freelance Adam Christie's regular work with both the Yorkshire Post and the local BBC "disappeared in an evening". Adam, who wrote much of the NUJ's Freelance Fact Pack (see here) for the union's Freelance Industrial Council (FIC) told October's London Freelance Branch meeting how he found work using his journalism skills "outside the media industry".

Adam Christie (centre): © Matt Salusbury
Adam Christie (centre) describes his experiences of broadening his economic base

Where is the work? Adam's carved out a niche in the health charity and Primary Care Trust sector, using a "very broad spectrum of skills". He designs and writes their websites, press releases and brochures, and advises on the target readership these should aim at.

Adam's FIC colleagues do similar work in other areas. One's a specialist in arts, doing small-scale PR. One is a sports writer getting work producing programmes for sports clubs. Others work for small or medium enterprises that need specific jobs and specific skills sets to do them, like covering events for trade union magazines.

Word of mouth brings Adam of lot of non-traditional journalistic work: "When you speak to people at press conferences, you shouldn't have any qualms about picking up the phone later and asking whether they need a journalist for a particular job."

Making notes at a big Non-Governmental Organisation conference and writing it up "could earn you a couple of hundred pounds a day." The small charities Adam does PR for pay Freelance Fees Guide rates, are used to dealing with 30-day billing, (make sure you bill them on time) and understand expenses, in stark contrast to some media clients we're used to working for. LFB's own Phil Sutcliffe is amazed to find his non-media clients actually pay a decent rate you can live on.

"The only limit to the type of work you can do is your imagination," says Adam. Get paid for trying to line up local radio interviews with an NGO when there's a parliamentary debate coming up, or arrange a day's media training with a board of trustees. In a recession, "when people are under pressure, they need to communicate better, to compete better: that is where they need our communication skills and our tight and concise prose." Don't forget the business and networking groups your local Chamber of Commerce runs: "they can be horrendous, but they can work for you." Adam recently got a call out of the blue leading to subbing work for someone he met at a Chamber of Commerce course years ago.

Former Sunday Times journalist Mark Watts told the meeting that many NGOs are commissioning investigative work, and their product is now better than the newspapers'. The story about Trafigura and waste dumping in the Ivory Coast, for example, originated with NGO research. NGOs "are constantly looking for journalists that have skills and specialist knowledge."

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