25 February 2009

Humble pie on the menu?*

*I am trying very hard not to laugh this morning

Oh dear, oh dear...

The UK director of the client I ditched yesterday is all of a panic. The reason being that the client is in a very heavily regulated sector, particularly in the UK. Without a copy-editor who understands this industry and the regulations surrounding it (ie, me), the client risks inadvertently breaching the regulations and possibly losing its licence to carry out its business here.

We had a long chat on the phone this morning and I suspect the client is going to ask me to return. If so, I'm going to set out my terms very clearly and also insist on a contract in place of the very informal arrangement that previously existed, whereby I would do the work, keep a timesheet and bill on a monthly basis. If they want me back now, they will have to crawl over broken glass and do some serious grovelling. The client has always been very fortunate to have access to my services as I specialise in this particular industry (financial) and there are very few freelances working in this area.

I hold all the cards now. I must be careful not to corrupt myself with the power. MWAHAHAHAHA!

24 February 2009

Client dump

I bit the bullet this morning and dumped my fickle client. I have no regrets. The email I sent yesterday that went unanswered was answered this morning - it was a public holiday in my client's country and they hadn't bothered to inform me.

It was the last straw.

I had a long chat on the phone this morning to the director who pays my invoices and what he had to tell me was not good. It underlined that my desire to walk away was right and the director was fully supportive of my decision (what I've been through is beyond the director's control).

So I composed a firm but polite email to the department abroad, explaining why I was quitting. Half an hour later, they sent me more work! I did it, making it clear that would be the very last piece. The company is in a mess and I have no wish to be caught up in the internal politicking.

And, whaddyaknow! As I quietly shut the door behind me, another one opened when someone who'd enquired a month ago about offering me some copywriting work rang to say they definitely wanted to hire me. Result.

23 February 2009

Fickle clients revisited

Following up my last post, my fickle client has turned out to be a complete nightmare.

The trial day started off badly and went from frustrating to hair-tearingly disastrous. You've heard of road rage and air rage. Is it possible to have copy-editor's rage, I wonder? (Well, quite possibly if you've been reading Roy Greenslade of late, but that's another story...)

The copy I was sent was lifted off a newswire abroad and written in English by someone who is not a native speaker. My job was to turn it into house-styled clean and accurate prose. Which might not have been too difficult had the original writer not littered it with abbreviations that meant nothing in English and forced me to make inspired guesses, or even wild ones.

One report I was sent consisted of a mere 2 paragraphs but took 2 hours to sign off as a heated discussion ensued between myself and my overseas colleague who was forwarding the work as we could not reach agreement on the meaning of one word. At one point, this person patronised me and then called my expertise into question which, to be blunt, pissed me off immensely.

All the other work I had lined up for other clients ended up delayed or postponed, worsening my already darkening mood.

I did what any sane person would have done and headed out for drinks and food with a friend that night, and talked over my problem. I was torn between wanting to tell my client to stuff this particular job and recognising the importance of regular work that covers the bills. And decided I'd give it a month, tops.

Next morning, the overseas colleague kindly forwarded more copy without asking, even though I had only agreed to one trial day and was behind with other work. However, I agreed I'd do the editing until the end of the week and in the meantime consult the executive who actually pays my monthly invoice.

Day 2 wasn't quite so bad as Day 1 but on Day 3, no work turned up at all. None. Not a stitch. An email enquiring if I would be needed went unanswered.

Today I sent a very lengthy but politely worded email to the executive asking for clarification of my position and making it clear that I will not tolerate be treated with such a lack of respect by the overseas office. I await his reply but something tells me I'm going to dump this client sharpish as I'm fed up being apparently dropped, rehired a month later and then redropped 2 days after that.
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17 February 2009

Fickle clients

So, last month my most regular copy-editing client and provider of my core income dropped me with virtually no warning. To say I was shocked was an understatement as I'd considered this particular client to be recession-proof.

And, indeed, as it turned out, my being dropped had nothing to do with the recession. Or not much anyway, although it's fair to say they probably found it cheaper to muddle on in-house instead of paying me as I'm overseas to them and thus comparatively expensive.

I immediately set about plugging the gap by finding other work. I've been fortunate to be offered quite a bit of corporate writing work lately, largely unsolicited but some I have actively chased.

And whaddyaknow! No sooner do I fill up my days with other work than my ex-client comes crawling back to me to offer me more work. My initial feeling was to reject it but I doubt any of us can afford to be so fey right now. So I expressed cautious interest - this is not my old work but a new job entirely that will also be daily. The downside is that the original daily work only required me to be at the PC between 7 and 9 in the morning. The new job will oblige me to be available at a whim between 8 and 3, thus tying me to my desk for many more hours a day on the offchance that I might get sent work. This is going to have a severe impact on my other work activities, including limiting my options to go out, either for a break or to meet interviewees/colleagues/potential new clients.

Decisions, decisions...

I've agreed to do a trial day tomorrow. And then I'll see. I admit to being wary - if they can drop me once, they can drop me again and I don't like being mucked around. On the other hand, it's regular work that will pay my monthly bills again. Not an easy choice - I don't want to be motivated purely by money and yet I need to eat and keep a roof over my head.

I shall report back later in the week.

16 February 2009

Scoop and the world of make-believe journalism

I'm delighted that Radio 4 has decided to make Scoop its classic serial for the next couple of weeks. Although it's a satire, I think it's fair to say I've worked with several people like Corker (the world-weary and cynical overseas agency hack) and Salter (the hapless editor) in my time. Evelyn Waugh's characters may be parodies but they are rooted in a certain truth in the world of journalism. The times may have changed, our methods certainly have - 80 years ago no one could have even imagined today's technology-driven news-gathering machine - but the trade still attracts the same kind of people.

If you missed part 1 yesterday, it's on iPlayer right now with a Radio 4 repeat next Saturday evening. Part 2 is broadcast next Sunday afternoon.

The revival of Scoop got me thinking about other fictional portrayals of journalism. Quite possibly the worst-ever tabloid hack I have ever seen on TV was Polly Becker of EastEnders' Walford Gazette. Polly was allegedly an investigative reporter - yeah right, how many local rags did serious investigative journalism even 10 years ago? - but in practice was frustrated at having to do the court reports and NiBs (news in brief) that are the lot of most local hacks. Polly's great scoop was a front-page splash about a local Asian couple, Sanjay and Gita Kapoor. Gita left Sanjay after he had an affair with her sister and many months later she reappeared with a new-born baby, the result of a one-night fling - no one's business but the Kapoors and certainly not exclusive material, but somehow we were meant to believe that this so-called "scandal" (a scenario surely played out by hundreds of couples all over the UK every day) was enough to ensure Polly was poached from the Gazette by a Fleet Street red-top!

Utterly implausible, but at least we did actually see Polly and her sidekick Tony Hills filing copy, unlike some other fictional hacks. Carrie Bradshaw, anyone? Are we seriously meant to believe she can afford Manolos by filing just 400 words a week? Tintin? He only once wrote a story despite appearing in 24 adventures... A little closer to the mark was Mattie Storin in the splendid House of Cards, although the TV series killed her off whereas as in the original novel she gets her scoop by exposing Francis Urqhart (and he's the one who dies by jumping off the roof of the Houses of Parliament). My two favourite screen portrayals are Nick Mullen and Vernon Bayliss in Defence of the Realm. Who are yours?