29 February 2008

4.0 on the Richter scale with a 6.0 aftershock

Not 24 hours after the earthquake shook the UK (but not here - we slept through it), my brain decided to have its own cataclysm. As seizures go, it wasn't too bad. I've had worse. I think - but I'm not entirely sure - that I was in bed at the time. I just don't know as my memory of everything between 9.05pm on Wednesday evening and 6.00am on Thursday morning is wiped.

Regular readers will know I have epilepsy. I've always been upfront about it, my attitude being if you can't handle it that's your problem, not mine. Officially, I'm disabled, although I don't feel so. I lead a fairly normal life. The tag "disabled" becomes useful at times, as I'm entitled to certain benefits that help me manage my condition.

Today, however, I was twice made to feel uncomfortable about my seizures, for perhaps the first time ever. Yesterday, when I woke up feeling like I'd been flattened by a Scorpion Mark 3 tank then run over backwards by a JCB after being whacked on the head by a sledgehammer, it soon became clear I was not going to be able to work. So at 8am I rang my corporate client and explained that I wouldn't be able to do an interview planned for 9am. Then I crawled back to bed and slept for a good 6 hours.

Surfacing mid-afternoon, I chatted to my client and naturally she was curious about my epilepsy. It was only after I'd chatted quite freely about it and we'd moved on to rescheduling the interview that I learned that she was, in fact, on speakerphone and her director had heard everything.

I could have shrugged that off, except that on phoning the interviewee at 9am this morning, I was somewhat disturbed when he said:
- I hear you had an incident yesterday.
- I was taken unwell, I replied, and unable to work yesterday. Inside I was seething that my client had passed on personal information that was of no professional interest whatsoever, and in fact was not theirs to pass on. And there was something about the word "incident" and the accompanying tone that really upset me because I felt for the first time I was being judged for something beyond my control.

Epilepsy doesn't affect how I do my job, except maybe 2 days a year that I'm indisposed in the aftermath of a seizure. Plenty of wage slaves take far more sickies than I do for colds.

My day was not going to get better, though. At the bank later in the morning, my business banking manager had the temerity to ask me:
- how long have you suffered from that, then?
- I don't suffer from it, I replied through gritted teeth. (Only when you make patronising assumptions.)

I took revenge when he tried to flog me a pension I don't want, by telling him there was not much point in buying it when I might drop dead from SUDEP tomorrow.. the flush on his face was priceless.

A reminder to students

A couple of times a year, I get a CV and cover letter from some student looking for a work placement. One arrived this morning and was fairly typical.

There was a lengthy cover letter - slightly over a page long and dense with text that was littered with spelling mistakes, poor grammar and punctuation errors. It was addressed to "Dear Sir/Madam" and went on to enquire about a possible work placement in advertising.

I truly despair of what universities are teaching today's students. Or rather what they are not teaching them. It is inexcusable to send a 23-year-old out into the world of work with such poor literacy skills, for one thing. Especially when they are doing a degree in media and English literature.

The lack of research skills acquired is equally deplorable. Whoever dug up my details - whether the careers office or the student herself - could quite easily have quickly checked if I might be suitable to contact. A few seconds' googling would have produced my website, on which it is very clear that I'm a sole trader working from home, as well as my name. Not much point, then, in addressing the envelope to "FAO Recruitment" or me as "Sir/Madam". Not only that, but a look at my website would also have shown that I have nowt to do with the world of advertising at all.

What a waste of a stamp. I felt slightly sad for this particular student as I emailed her back to explain why I couldn't offer her work experience (although I refrained from saying she'd have no chance with me anyway because of her poor English).

Is it really so difficult for students to do a little homework before bombarding anyone slightly within their radar with their CVs? Every single application I have received since going freelance has been the same - a badly written and badly targeted enquiry. I guess the companies out there who would be happy to offer a placement also despair at the quality of applications.

So, to any students (or uni career officers) who are reading this: do your research, use a spell-checker, get someone to proofread your letter, ask someone for feedback on your CV and do your research...

26 February 2008

Five things...

...you didn't yet know about me.

1. I once had an on-off fling over several years with a very famous Fleet Street hack* when I was a teenage apprentice journo. And no, before you ask, it did not advance my career. Probably quite the opposite.

2. I never completed my indentures as the mag I trained on went bust 6 months before I would have qualified. This was in the days before you could study hackery at university, so I don't have a degree in journalism. Or any NCTJs.

3. I don't have any shorthand either and I type with 1 and 1/2 fingers. Why? Because the mag I trained at was run on a shoestring and couldn't afford to send me to day release college. I manage.

4. My favourite meal is roast chicken with all the trimmings and when I'm not slaving over a keyboard I am slaving over a hob. I have twice been a professional cook (between hacking jobs) and am damn good at it.

5. I sometimes pick fights with colleagues. But only over professional issues I feel passionate about. These might include the NUJ, the correct use of English and whether one ought to fiddle one's expenses. Well, you might think that, but I couldn't possibly comment.**

* Ask all you like but my lips are sealed. I don't kiss and tell.
** Disclaimer: I have never fiddled my expenses. I hate it when others do.

25 February 2008

Hacking kit

I tidied my desk yesterday and unearthed my brand-new, all-plastic, credit-card-style NUJ membership card, which had got buried under papers. The letter it came with suggests I "keep it with me". Well, er, yes. I'll probably sling it in my filing system - the one marked NUJ. But seriously, I can't see the point of shoving it in my wallet and schlepping it wherever I go when I venture outside. For one thing, my purse is already crammed full of plastic - bank cards, loyalty cards, discount cards, my EHIC card - the stuff I do actually need on me. Secondly, I have a press card, which frankly would be far more useful should I find myself suddenly caught up in a newsworthy incident and need to ID myself.

But it got me thinking about the kit I use, whether on a regular or occasional basis. As I'm home-based at the legendary Wordsmith Towers, most of my kit is straightforward. On the general front, I have a Skype phone that doubles as a landline phone and is pretty useful. I don't often use it for Skype calls, but I love the professionalism of the chat facility (MSN/Yahoo I view as for kids). My mobile phone often lurks forlornly in my handbag or on my desk, unused and unloved. I rarely give out my number - I'm home all day so if people need to reach me, they can ring my landline (or Skype me). Mobile phones are purely for calling cabs when out. I'd be stuffed without my Rolodex and my Excel file of contacts.

On the editing front, I have a pretty large collection of dictionaries and reference works (plus bookmarked sites in my browser), which pretty much covers what I need for that line of income. I don't work on hard copy so don't need huge stocks of pens in various colours.

On the writing front, my favourite toy is my wonderful Olympus WS-200s digital recorder. I bought it last summer and it gets used a lot. I'm almost exclusively interviewing over the phone and I tape every one. I even used it last week to tape a lengthy briefing discussion with a corporate client so I wouldn't miss anything vital. I have 2 adapters for it - one being a jack-plugged extension that sits between the phone and the recorder, the other being a sucker thing on a lead that you can stick to a handset. The recorder sits in my desk drawer when not in use, for safety, but is small enough to cram into even the tiniest pocket when I'm on the hoof.

In my handbag, I keep a small notebook which is handy for jotting down ideas or other important work-related stuff (I got sick of scrawling phone numbers on the backs of bus tickets). At the last count, I had at least 7 pens in there. At least 3 are red as I have a habit of defacing correcting menus full of spelling errors and grocers' apostrophes (I have no shame). I also keep spare batteries for the recorder because it's sod's law that on the day I need to tape someone the battery will go flat and I'll have forgotten to bring spares. Otherwise, it's just my business cards, my press card and my diary.

22 February 2008

Media diet week 8

Press: my copy of Press Gazette arrived on time yesterday, thank gawd. Last week's issue still hadn't arrived by Monday so I had to phone PG to request another and of course they were out of stock. I've been promised a back issue though, so I can't wait to catch up on out-of-date news. Not yet had time to do more than glance at this week's, though. My favourite story this week was run in the Guardian, a hilarious and true story of a Turkmen TV station and a humble cockroach. Obviously, it's not funny for the poor 30 hacks and editors and other staff who were sacked as a result of the starring début of an insect. But really, you couldn't make it up...

Blogs: the main blog story this week has been the sorry tale of Max Gogarty's travel blog in the Guardian, which I refrained from commenting on at the time as the rest of the world was busy doing so. (Just google Max Gogarty for the whole story if you're desperate to know what I'm wittering on about.) Suffice to say that Charles Arthur, tech editor at the Guardian, has pretty much summed up my views on the matter. I'd only add to his remark about the Guardian's "duty of care" in that Gogarty should have been warned before publication that blog comments can be brutal. Announcing a duty of care after the event is lax, to say the least. It was still a crap piece of writing, though, and one that has damaged the Guardian's strong brand.

TV/radio: call me easily amused but I love Hotel Babylon, so I was glued to the screen when series 3 kicked off on Tuesday. I know it's escapist nonsense, but at the end of a hard day, sinking onto the sofa with a glass of wine and an episode of trash tv can sometimes be just the ticket. And Torchwood's still on, too - this week's episode had a shock ending that left me open-mouthed. I'll say no more, in deference to fans who have yet to see it.

Books: I ordered a huge stack of stuff from Amazon last week and it's all arrived. I now have 3 crime novels to devour (including one I bought on a whim as it's set in Cheshire), a book that used to be a blog (more on this when I read it, and yes I still live in hope that some kind publisher out there will offer me a deal for this wretched blog, not that it'll enable me to retire) and John Barrowman's autobiography. And while we're on the subject, is it me or are we seeing the start of the Barrowman backlash in the tabloids? The Sun's run two stories in two days - one on him kicking shit into a theatre audience and one on him exposing himself. Shurely shome mishtake? I'm currently racing through Ray Robinson's Electricity, which is brilliant. The anti-heroine has epilepsy, but it's incidental to the plot and while it's not "my" epilepsy, it's a damn accurate portrayal of life when your brain short-circuits...

21 February 2008

Dressing for success?

I have a confession to make.

I've spent the entire day in my dressing gown.

There, I've said it.

One of the joys of freelancing is the various freedoms denied those on PAYE. One, obviously, is no longer having to commute. Compared with my last job, I have 2 more hours in the day that are mine to fill as I please instead of jockeying for a seat on a filthy, crowded train in the rush hour. I am also free to do as I please, with no boss breathing down my neck dictating what to do and how to do it.

My favourite freedom is not having to "look the part". Most days I wear jeans and trainers while at my desk. Obviously, if I'm out seeing people, I make more effort - heels, full make-up, jewellery - and if I have business meetings, I'll dig out something formal, like a suit. And then there are days like today, when I just can't be bothered. So, after my morning shower, instead of hunting for clean socks and a fresh top, I just put my dressing gown back on and went to work. Downstairs. I spent quite a bit of time on the phone today and no one had any idea I wasn't sitting in a white shirt and some chic black trousers. (Last year, I had a massive wardrobe clear-out and gave all but 2 of my suits to the charity shop. I hadn't worn them in 4 years.)

I know for a fact I'm not the only freelance who doesn't always get dressed. A lot of my colleagues work in their pyjamas. And some work in bed, on a laptop. That's a step too far for me. I do actually like to be up.

It's also important not to get too lazy - it's a fine line between being sartorially rebellious and not letting yourself go. On the days I opt for the dressing gown, I make sure I brush my hair, powder my nose and dab on some mascara, just as I do when I'm wearing jeans and trainers. Should circumstances dictate and I find I unexpectedly need to go out, I can be dressed in 2 minutes and still look presentable to the outside world.

Tomorrow I'm training so it'll be gym kit first, followed by - ooh, let's see - jeans and trainers, I expect...

20 February 2008

The perils of impending stardom*

There has been an atmosphere of controlled chaos at Wordsmith Towers today, with an undertone of hysteria threatening to break through at any moment. It's been a long day and I am exhausted.

I was balancing on a Swiss ball and taking instructions from my brand-new personal trainer, when the phone rang.

- I'd better get that, I muttered. I was sure it was going to be the Sunday paper that commissioned me yesterday. To my shock, it was a TV company asking me to appear on a news panel. My trainer was impressed as I fielded the call, hid my surprise and managed not to tumble on the floor.

After my trainer had gone, I sat down to rework - yet again - my draft column for the red-top. Meanwhile, the phone began ringing off the hook. The TV company, again. Someone who'd read an interview I gave for a PR firm's newsletter, wanting to offer me work. A freelance colleague I'd sent my draft article to for advice as this was an new arena for me (and thank gawd, as she diplomatically pointed out where I was going wrong and how to fix it). The long-suffering significant other calling from South America (don't ask). The red-top's picture desk ed, wanting to send a photographer so they'd have a decent byline pic.

I had earache by lunchtime from the phone calls and was also ravenous as I had forgotten breakfast. And yesterday's planned emergency supermarket dash had already been postponed to today and there was no time for it. If it hadn't been for the bar of milk chocolate I'd grabbed from the corner shop yesterday morning, I might have fainted from hunger.

I snarfed down the chocolate and carried on reworking the column until finally I felt happy with it. No sooner had that gone across the ether than the TV company began bombarding me with emails. And then the ed at the Sunday, wanting more details. When the phone rang yet again - this time a regional newshound wanting to cover my TV appearance - I was ready to weep.

But there was no let up. My daily editing jobs arrived and I was under pressure to turn them around fast. There's no escape from a 3-hour time difference when your client wants to go home for the night.

Finally, I stopped at 5.30. Then it was a mad dash to get out of my gym gear (which I hadn't had time to change out of) and get some make-up on and drag a brush through my hair. With seconds to spare I checked my now-acceptable appearance in the mirror and let the snapper in.

By the time he was done, so was I. Done in. Yikes, I'm glad I'm not a celebrity - I'd never be able to cope with demands for a piece of me on a daily basis.

Things I failed to do today:
- read the news (no time)
- chase some unpaid invoices
- chase some pitches for a response
- pay a cheque into the bank
- send an urgent invoice
- put the washing on
- eat properly
- scream

Things I stupidly did today:
- agreed to take on yet another editing assignment
- got the name of the TV presenter wrong on a forum, where I'll never live it down
- offered to help the TV company with location shoots on Friday in my home town (Am I mad? When I have deadlines?)

Things to look forward to tonight:
- wine
- fish and chips
- Torchwood

* said with tongue firmly in cheek

19 February 2008

Swings and roundabouts

Freelancing can be a real feast/famine existence. And after last month's extended session of ill health, I was definitely feeling hungry. I struggled to work while I was sick, even passing some stuff on to others, and didn't have the energy to look for new work either, unsurprisingly. So January was thin, earnings-wise, and February has been too, to date.

I was going to blog today about the great pitch void, because pretty much all the pitches I've sent out in the last few weeks have flopped. I'm stuck with one great story I just can't place. I have another great story that I offered to a specialist mag, only for the editor to mail me back this morning to say the publisher's just axed the title, so now I need to find another suitable outlet. Other pitches have not been responded to and even sending chaser emails has not resulted in feedback. I was feeling pretty despondent last night as my editing work has also thinned temporarily.

Things shifted dramatically today, however. First I was offered a regular and lucrative ghost-writing job for a corporate. Then, by just happening to be in the right place (ie the right website) and the right time this morning, I landed a one-off column for one of the Sunday red-tops. Hopefully, that will lead to more work. And then I was asked to do a nice editing job as well. Negotiations are still in hand for jobs 1 and 3 but I'm confident they'll go ahead. I'm also expecting the green light for a pitch I sent to an overseas client. If everything goes according to plan, I expect to be very busy this week and next.

15 February 2008

Media diet week 7

Press: no Press Gazette this week, grrr! It's supposed to plop through my letterbox on Thursday. Occasionally it arrives on a Friday instead. So I was not pleased when the postie didn't bring it this morning (although I did get another, tiny, win on my premium bonds so I don't totally hate Royal Mail). PG had better arrive tomorrow. Or else. I'll catch up on the internet otherwise. But it won't be the same. I picked up a copy of Dare last Sunday while in Superdrug - it's their freebie mag. Have only had a brief flick through but it looks ok. Not sure I'd read it regularly though, it seems aimed at people at least 20 years younger than me. Surely not all Superdrug's customers are fashion victim 20-somethings?

Blogs: Sally at Getting Ink launched Getting Ink Requests, which I mentioned earlier in the week. But I'm happy to plug it again because it deserves it. And has already spawned an imitator over at Journalism.co.uk. Dave Lee, the nation's most famous student blogger, also blogged about Sally's experiment and caused a small furore.

TV/radio: I still miss Pandora. I'm struggling with Last.FM. Inputting favourite artists was so easy on Pandora but seems really difficult on Last.FM, which is neither intuitive nor user-friendly for the over 25s. And it keeps banging on about scrobbling, which sounds extremely painful but is apparently something to do with selecting music based on what you play on your PC. I hate the assumption that you have an MP3 player of some sort. I don't and am unlikely to ever get one, so scrobbling is lost on me. Sanity was restored with TV - EastEnders has been reasonably good this week, Torchwood is at last really developing the characters (especially Ianto), Mistresses had a rubbish ending but satisfied my need for some trash telly and, er, that's it. I don't watch a lot.

Books: I've read very little this week. I'm about 30 pages into Playing Away by Adele Parks, a ghastly chick-lit novel that came as a free cover mount on January's Eve and has failed to engage me so far. I'd throw it in the bin but I was brought up to revere books, so I'll give it to the charity shop instead. John Barrowman was on Front Row on Radio 4 this week, talking about his autobiography - normally, I'm too tight to shell out for hardbacks and am happy to wait for the paperback, but after listening to him talk about the writing of Anything Goes, I decided I couldn't wait. I ordered it from Amazon and it arrives Monday. So that's next week's book sorted.

14 February 2008

PR annoyance of the month

The difficult-to-place story saga has taken an uncomfortable twist.

Earlier today, I emailed the PR to keep her posted about my efforts to sell the story, explaining the problems I was having placing it and what I proposed to do. I've just had a response that makes me want to spit blood.

In short, the PR asked me which newspaper wanted the story but had no budget for it, how much I'd have expected to earn for it if there had been a budget and - get this - if I could find out if the section ed would take it for free because if so, the company would pay me instead.

I was so shocked, I was momentarily speechless. Then I let fly with a string of curses. And then I sent back a diplomatically tart response that I couldn't accept payment as it would compromise my neutrality. Not to mention my credibility. If I wanted to be paid by the company, I'd apply for a job with them.

This has left me wondering how common a practice this is among PRs and if any hacks have ever taken company money in such a situation.

13 February 2008

On Googleski Boulevard

I had a temporary panic earlier. Having decided to install Google Analytics on one of my websites instead of Statcounter, which I normally I use, I was somewhat taken aback.

Logging back in to my Google account revealed everything was now in Russian. Some 30-odd years ago, in what seems like practically another lifetime, your humble wordsmith studied Russian briefly while a stripling teenager struggling to make sensible O-level choices. (The very fact I've mentioned O-levels dates me.) Alas, I barely remember those heady days of learning the Cyrillic alphabet and such bizarre phrases as "Pyotr in skafe" (Peter is in the cupboard - don't ask). I have retained only the important stuff, such as how to order vodka, say thank you and toast the room.

So I was a tad flummoxed when my Google account displayed essentials such as Alerts, Gmail and Blogger in an alphabet I forgot how to read long ago. Returning to Analytics and instructing it to use UK English as the default language had no effect.

In the end, in desperation I logged out of Google and logged back in again. Calm was immediately restored. Everything was once more in HM Liz 2's English. Cue a huge sigh of relief.

It seemed a toast was in order. I eyed my favourite bottle of Stolychnaya but it felt like I might be tempting fate. So, dear reader, here I sit, heady on the fumes of a 20-year-old Armagnac. All is well at Wordsmith Towers.

Pitching and tossing

Ever tried pitching a story that no one wants? I was offered a gem of a feature idea 6 months back but decided it needed time to simmer before selling it. Now I'm on the case and I just can't place it. One editor did want it, actually, but has no freelance budget and can't buy it. Two others I offered it to don't want it at all even though it's right up their street. The problem is the story has an "adult" element that is no doubt putting off any potential takers. I pitched another mag today in the hope they might pick it up. Otherwise I'm going to put it on the back burner for a while and see if editor no. 1 has some money again soon.

Last month was hideously quiet because of illness. Now I feel like a swan, gliding gracefully on the surface yet pedalling frantically away below in an effort to catch up and earn some money again. If I hadn't had my regular editing jobs in January I'd be living on gruel right now. I'm also struggling to source some interesting stories for an overseas client - rather difficult when not much is happening news-wise in that particular arena.

On a brighter note, I have a new copywriting job in the bag (start date to be decided). I rang my Lovely Graphic Designer for a chat about the work as, once again, we'll be sharing a client. It was good to catch up but I was also heartbroken to learn my LGD is moving office. For the last 3 years, he's been in a studio across the street from me - the convenience has meant it's been very easy to organise meetings or just get together for a coffee and kvetch. Soon, he'll be out in the sticks in what sounds like a very nice converted farm building but will be a bugger for me to get to without a car. An interesting challenge lies ahead. Mostly my disability is not an issue, but it will be if I want to see my LGD.

The Greenslade effect continues apace. I'm enjoying the extended rise in readership levels. Long may they keep tuning in. At this rate, I'll be owing Roy not a pint but a whole flaming brewery...

11 February 2008

National recognition

Well, blow me! That nice chap at the Guardian, Roy Greenslade, has given this blog a mention in his weekly column in Media Guardian. Greenslade is giving a well-deserved nationwide plug to the new case-studies website that I mentioned in my last post.

I nearly fell off my chair in shock when I saw this humble wordsmith getting a nod in the last paragraph. And he has described my blog as "engaging". I'm almost embarrassed. Certainly enough to stop me putting "A star is born" as the title, as it occurred to me some readers might think I was being arrogant instead of my usual sarcastic self. But still, the endorsement was enough to send my stats mile-high (I hate that phrase, seeing as I went totally metric in 1991, but somehow kilometre-high doesn't have quite the same ring).

Thanks, Roy. I owe you a pint.

PS, the blog is still for sale if any publishers are interested. ;)

09 February 2008

Do you have a story to tell?

If you do, you might like to head over to Getting Ink Requests. This new website will be showcasing journalists' pleas for what's known in the industry as case studies. Despite the rather clinical term, it really means we just want to talk to ordinary people who have a story to tell. That could be you, or someone you know.

Will, you get paid? That depends. A lot of the women's weekly magazines will pay for "real life" stories. Newspapers generally do not. Unless you've had a fling with a top footballer, in which case the tabloids will almost certainly pay.

Money aside, almost everyone has interesting things going on in their lives. Your story could inspire others, help them, act as a warning or just give them that "feel good" feeling. So if you have something to say, check it out.

Likewise, if you're a journalist or PR, you could find it very useful.

It's really good to see colleagues coming up with new ways of hooking up with the general public - this is one such initiative I'd like to see flourish.

Media Diet Week 6

Press: shock waves went through the industry yesterday when Bauer (a large German publishing conglomerate) announced it was closing a number of prominent UK magazines. The magazines were previously owned by EMAP, which was broken up some weeks ago and sold off in chunks to various buyers. The Bauer casualties were First and New Woman, the former a title I was in last autumn (not as a writer but as a case study for colleague) and the latter on my monthly mag buy-list, for no other reason than I like the fashion coverage. Now we're all wondering what'll close next next. There's no doubt freelances are facing a tough year ahead, which will be exacerbated by further titles being axed.

Blogs: has everyone stopped blogging? Things are awfully quiet in the blogsphere this week. Few of my favourite reads have been updated and I've not stumbled across any new and interesting blogs either. Let's hope things pick up again soon.

TV/radio: thank heavens for BBC iPlayer! On Tuesday, I did something unheard of - I thought EastEnders was starting at 8pm, when we all know the Tuesday episode starts at 7.30. I was gutted when I wandered through just before 8pm to see the closing scene before the duh-duh-duh... Never mind, I'd catch it on the 10pm repeat on BBC3. And so it was that just before 10pm, I strolled back into the Wordsmith Towers living room, where I'd conveniently left the telly on, on BBC1, to discover I'd also managed to forget to watch Mistresses! I watched the 'Stenders repeat then dashed back to my PC, installed iPlayer and caught up with the missed episode. I was impressed by iPlayer - with a decent-sized flat screen (which I have), the quality is pretty good, the buffering was smooth (although I may have just been lucky) and although it had a digitised look, it was almost as good as watching the telly. I can see me catching up on lots of things now.

Books: my time in the company of Rupert Everett is almost at an end, with just a few pages to go. Back when I was at university on a career break, I would read a minimum of 5 books a week. Not just course books, but fiction and other things for the pleasure of it. Where does the time go. These days, it takes me a fortnight to read one autobiography. What's next? I don't know, but I could do with a suitably gory serial killer whodunnit.

05 February 2008

Productivity and annoyances

The bug that's been haunting me for the last month appears to be in retreat at last. Despite problems falling asleep last night (which required a quantity of brandy to rectify), I felt more energised today.

Cue a flurry of activity - I pitched several mags and papers with some feature ideas, sent a cheque to my web host for services rendered and invoiced some clients, which I should have done on Friday last week but didn't due to lack of energy and general feeling of illness.

Next, it was time to overhaul my CV. The last time I applied for a job (and got one) was well over 6 years ago. Since then, I've tweaked the old resumé as needed, especially when attaching it to client pitches, but I have decided to apply for a full-time job (don't panic, I'll still be freelancing, IF I get it {fat chance} ). The CV needed major surgery. I chopped and cut and slashed and burned. Then I sent it to a trusted hack pal who has the ability to hire, for an honest opinion. It came back scrawled in the digital equivalent of red ink. I was momentarily shocked, but the trusted colleague was bang on the money. Hey ho, there are several more hours' work ahead. 'T'will be worth it.

Fingers crossed...

Meanwhile, I may be back in the union, but the union's not backing me... I have my reissued membership number, but will the NUJ recognise it on the website and let me log in to all the exciting behind-the-scenes stuff? Of course not. That was too much to hope for. Hey-ho again, I'll have to get on the phone. Tomorrow's phone round also includes booking a haircut I should have had a month ago except I've been ill, ordering a bottle of calor gas in case of a cold snap, so I don't die of hypothermia in my office, and chasing a company that promised me a refund several weeks ago. Oh, and chasing some of today's pitches.

03 February 2008

The writers' strike

Over the last 12 weeks or so, I've been following the news about the writers' strike in the USA. At first, I just sort of dismissed it as "one of those things". I mean, it's only about TV scriptwriters, right? Do I care if Scrubs production grinds to a halt? Not really - I don't really watch a lot of TV and I'm not really a huge fan of US TV programmes (the last time I watched a US series was way back when, when I developed an unhealthy liking for Thirtysomething). But I've been thinking.

The Writers Guild is clearly very powerful, if it can wreck award ceremonies and disrupt the production of TV programmes. And I'm impressed by the solidarity shown by actors across the pond in not crossing picket lines.

As I confessed in my last post, I have rejoined the NUJ after a break of some 15 years. One reason I hesitated rejoining for so long is that I think it is toothless. Granted, any union is better than none, but despite being a believer in the power of the union, I've never felt the NUJ was much cop. When I first entered my trade, the union had a stranglehold on Fleet Street that could only be described as unhealthy. I knew the person who had invented "unworked overtime" which the union forced employers to pay - a top-up on top of overtime rates, which the workers got on an overtime shift even if there was no work for them to do and they spent the time in the pub. That's just daft. And it was scenarios such as that that encouraged Thatcher to trash the unions, a situation from which they have never recovered. I'm glad the closed shop has ended; I never approved of it as it encouraged a "jobs for the boys" atmosphere and nepotism.

But what power does the NUJ have now? Not a lot, I'd say. When my reapplication was approved, the accompanying letter said "see below for details of your local branch officer". I looked and it said "position vacant, call head office if you need to talk to someone". How depressing is that? I live in a city that has two commercial radio stations and three local rags and between them they can't muster a branch officer. I wonder why I bother for £15 a month.

I'd bend over backwards for a union that had the power of the Writers' Guild. Can you imagine if the NUJ called a strike? No newspapers appearing every day, magazine production somewhat erratic, and picket lines and boycotts supported by those on the periphery of the industry...

I guess not. I'll just keep taking the pills and dreaming.

It would be nice, though, wouldn't it?

01 February 2008

Media diet week 5

Press: another week of illness has kept me confined to the house for all but the briefest forays into the wider world. As usual, I've been reading the papers online. The only new publication I've glanced at is The Journalist, in-house publication of the NUJ.*

Blogs: no new discoveries this week. Intriguingly, the TV Controller is back and blogging again, and it looks as though he's backing down in the face of possible libel suits...

TV/radio: last night's episode of EastEnders was a cracker. June Brown held the entire episode as Dot Cotton in a ground-breaking one-hander. The half-hour flew past and I almost shed a tear or two several times. Very emotional and draining stuff.

Books: I'm well into Rupert Everett's autobiography now, at least halfway through. Which means it's unputdownable and has been a welcome companion as I settle for sleep at night. The only other books I've picked up this week have been finance dictionaries and other reference works.

* Confession time - I bit the bullet and rejoined after a very long absence.