16 September 2008

Black holes and recession-proofing

Not a reference to the large hadron collider, but it might as well be.

My pitches are all currently vanishing into nowhere right now. Unfortunately, this is the freelance's lot and I know enough not to take it personally but it's still frustrating. One particular story I've been trying to sell for weeks. It's topical, it has the right amount of sleaze attached to it and it raises serious questions about the conduct of a certain section of the press. One editor was kind enough to respond fairly quickly with a "no, it's not quite right for us" but the other one is resolutely ignoring me. I wish this ed would just mail back and say no.

I'm trying to place another story, a health one, with a mag I've written for a few times already. Despite follow-up mails designed to elicit a firm yay or nay, this ed is ignoring me too. Grr.

It seems to be the season - other freelances I know are also being blanked. It's not personal. And times are hard right now in the industry as publications tighten their belts - the credit crunch means less advertising being sold, means fewer pages, means fewer slots to fill. And staffers being "let go". One staff colleague lost their job last week. I hope this person won't be the first of many amongst my circle. My local paper's pagination has been slashed - not that I write for it, but it's an indication of tougher times to come. It's now so thin I'll have trouble lining the cat's litter tray with it.

I'm lucky that I have enough non-journalism work (other writing jobs and copy-editing) to keep me going. A number of colleagues today were talking about the stock-market turmoil in the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and asking me for advice (finance is one of my specialisms). Undoubtedly some of them are going to hit a rocky patch as the economy stutters. It's definitely the time to diversify - I already do that, but some freelances I know are looking at teaching part-time or taking on bar work temporarily, just to pay the bills.

My own plan, by Xmas, is to move into new areas in my fields. I had a tentative offer to do some pro-blogging today - I don't know if anything will come of it but it's definitely a time to expand my expertise. And as I'm planning to move again soon, I'm also considering new training in InDesign so I can take on in-house shifts as well.

5 comments:

The Bureauista said...

I'm going to diversify into freeganism and living in a squat. Or maybe I'll start betting on which bank is going to go under next.

ms_well.words said...

Shame you're having a hard time with your pitches, but as you say, you're not alone.

Did you see Alex Klaushofer's piece in The Journalist last week?

If you don't care about p***ing them off, send these commissioning eds a copy of the NUJ's new "good practice guidelines"…

wordsmith_for_hire said...

@the_bureauista none of them will go under. Not after Northern Rock, no way would the government let a retail bank fail. Besides it's the investment banks that are on dodgy ground that will go under first. Just make sure any savings you have are spread around.

@ms_well_words Seen it. Tried not to snort with laughter. Ok, the advice is all well and good but does the NUJ honestly think all commissioning eds will suddenly sit and say "oh dear, I've been beastly to those poor freelances. I resolve to be much better"? Of course not? Those that have manners already use them. Those that don't aren't going to amend their uncouth ways because the NUJ sent them a memo.

The reality is that commissioning eds are really busy - 100s of emails every day, for one thing. Is it any wonder you hear tales of comm eds routinely deleting - unread - all unsolicited pitches? I've been guilty of it myself on a bad, I mean busy day.

ms_well.words said...

@wordsmith_for_hire Quite agree; toothless, pointless, won't do a bit of good. I guess the NUJ would argue they're "doing something" for freelances…

wordsmith_for_hire said...

I wish the NUJ *would* do something for freelances! But I'd like it to be something concrete, like getting publications to up rates, which have barely changed over the last decade or so (and in some cases have been slashed downwards) or to pay within a month of filing instead of on publication, which could be months away. I despair of all the hot air and the only reason I pay my subs is to have my press card. (Warning: Tim Gopsill is likely to post here now protesting that the NUJ really is doing masses for us!)