What new members want
WHAT DO London Freelance Branch members, especially new members, want? At April's LFB meeting a panel of recently-joined Branch members described their experiences of coming into journalism and why they joined the Union, with suggestions on what the Branch and the Union could work on. The panel, whose aim was "to create discussion and debate" was instigated by Elizabeth Ingrams, LFB's Membership and New Members officer, herself a member for just two years.
New members speak: left to right - Brian Belle-Fortune, Francesca Marchese, Zaki Dogliani (speaking), Elizabeth Ingrams, Rashmee Roshan Lall, Dan Davies, Yousif Nur, David Wilkins
David Wilkins and Zaki Dogliani are recent graduates. David reported from South Africa and for BBC Lincolnshire and BBC Guernsey before starting an NCTJ course at a small college in Brighton. Zaki is a recent University of Bristol politics and Italian graduate who worked for the student newspaper while at university and has since worked for outlets including BBC Country File and now writes mostly for magazines and trade journals.
David experienced severe difficulties as a journalist with visual and hearing disabilities on a training course. After "employers like the BBC bent over backwards" to help, David joined his course only to be told "if you can't do video (or social media) you can't be a journalist anymore." Big names like Gary O'Donoghue (the BBC's blind Washington DC correspondent) were "last year's journalist" while "today's" journalists had to be able to do everything, or so David was told. He described being "sent out of the room" during his first shorthand lesson because his braille writing machine "made far too much noise".
The "college were left without anyone to advise them" from the NCTJ and "I was left with nothing." Both colleges and the NCTJ "need to do better, provide advice and support for people with disabilities." (If you've ever wondered why the layout of the online Freelance is so basic and "old school", it's because plain text gives our members with sight problems a better chance of reading it with their software that converts text to voice.)
Zaki, a former student newspaper journalist, is now active with the Student Publications Association, and in talks with a contact within the NUJ about training for them. He says journalists on student newspapers are "threatened with expulsion or funding being cut for exposing the truth" while "student unions... often should be thought of as publishers just like any other." He suggested established NUJ members giving impartial one-to-one advice sessions for students on how to get into "secure well-paid work" and on choosing journalism courses - "we need to ensure that... students aren't pressured into taking expensive postgrad qualifications unnecessarily." (Zaki's article on the work of the SPA will be linked from here shortly.)
Brian Belle-Fortune, music journalist, BBC researcher and former intensive care nurse, started out in the 1980s writing on the dance music scene, "enjoying the rave and doing a bit of writing,". Now his written work "demystifies intensive care".
Brian identified the increasing obstacle that is "press officers, communications managers, they have the ear of the king, if you can't get past them you can't get your job done... I'm having doors closed in my face right now. How do we go forward?"
Yousif Nur has been with LFB for just eight months, and writes about music, "a little bit of Middle Eastern music and politics" and "a bit of tech". He's not the only panelist to admit joining the NUJ "looking for revenge" after a national daily's website hired him as a moderator on the "basis of no contract" and then sacked him for being too thorough. Since joining LFB, Jusuf's "skillset, prospects, even my confidence has shot up."
Rashmee Roshan Lal has worked for many outlets including the Times of India and the BBC World Service and edited the Sunday Times of India. She's been with the been with NUJ for just five months. She discussed rates for blogs - often lower than for words that end up in print. At the Economist, for example, whose rates are in Rashmee's among the better ones, there's an understanding that paid-for blog content can be less "finished" than content for print.
There were questions form the audience on the "massive difference between print and digital" and "how to deal with digital editors expecting so much more for... a lot less money.".
Francesca Marchese, writing in English and Italian, has been in London for three years now. She set up Giornalisti Italiani a Londra (see here) a group of 100 London-based Italian journalists, including many Italian nationals on MA journalism courses in London, at City University in particular. Like many compatriot colleagues, Francesca finds her pitches to Italian media get replies telling them "Pay? We usually don't do that, it's your honour" to be published at all. Editors "know they will get articles and research for free... A lot of people face the same problem but they are ashamed to talk about it."
Dan Davies, a broadcast journalist and playwright, did a bit of radio, worked with AP, and now mostly makes films for Al Jazeera and works with a film company on feature documentaries. He identified "pay structure issues in social media. New online viewspaper "The Canary... supported Corbyn when no one else did", yet "underlying it is the most neo-liberal model imaginable... you get 50 per cent of the clicks generated from your story." This is, says Dan, "the Uberisation of journalism... You're asking people to take the risk of an entrepreneur... for, if you're lucky, £180-200.". A long disussion between Dan and The Canary followed about "the benefits of... pay."
Dan noted that chilling effect upon theatre producers of the practice of actor's union Equity regularly getting on the phone to them if they believe there's even a possibility of actors not being paid. Editors,he suggested "need a call from the (NUJ's) Industrial Council every six months" asking them what their rates are.
Magda Ibrahim, who was unable to attend in person, raised via the Branch Chair Fi O'Cleirigh the issue of the costs of childcare for freelance journalists who are parents with young children. Sometimes there are times when freelances with young children such as herself pay out more money for childcare than they bring in, noted Magda. Fi noted that there are new freelances who are absolutely struggling to get purchase. Many people starting out now are never going to have a choice between a family and a full time career in journalism.
One of the many ideas that came out of the meeting was for some kind of rating system for journalism courses, especially those that offer "no realistic prospect of getting anything" work-wise on graduation. Elizabeth cited the expensive "Guardian Masterclasses" along the lines of "Become a novelist in one day".
There was also support for reviving the Union's Cashback for Interns campaign: see www.londonfreelance.org/interns
- There are new member's meetings for new and recently-joined LFB members, provisionally on the last Thursday of each third month, with the next one due on Thursday 28 July. They're usually at the Camera CafÀ, Museum Street, London WC1 (nearest Tube: Holborn). Watch the Freelance and the LFB Twitter feed for more details. There are long-established and experienced freelances on hand at these meetings to offer friendly advice.