Journalism training – keep your skills up to date

Keeping your skills up to date is vital if you are to stay in work, especially if you are a freelancer. The NUJ runs a range of highly regarded skills training courses at its headquarters in London and at other centres in the UK. Usually between a half-day and two days, they are normally scheduled at weekends, making it easier for you to escape a busy work schedule.

New FEU courses Autumn 2009 – Winter 2010
A number of new courses, specifically designed for freelancers in the creative and entertainment industries, have been launched for Autumn 2009 and Winter 2010. For more information go here.

Pitch & Deal / Getting Started as a Freelance
Two of the most popular courses for freelancers are Getting Started as a Freelance and Pitch & Deal, both of which are repeated at regular intervals throughout the year. Members travelling from the continent can take the Eurostar rail link to St Pancras International (which is a short walk from Headland House).

  • Getting Started as a Freelance – cost for members is GBP 75 and for non-members GBP 105.
  • Pitch & Deal – cost for members is GBP 85 and for non-members GBP 125.

For more information on these courses, go to the Training page at the NUJ Head Office website.

Book your place as soon as possible, first come first served. Contact training@nuj.org.uk or telephone Training Dept on +44 20 7843 3717.

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Pitch & Deal / Getting Started as a Freelance – some course notes for freelancers from abroad

Trainer Humphrey Evans has put together a few notes showing how some content has been specifically developed for freelancers outside the UK. The following is just an outline …

Availabilities
Make sure that you are trying to offer as wide a range of services as you can to as wide a range of outlets as possible. A South African freelance and NUJ member who had based herself in Ashford, Kent, realised she could benefit by marketing herself to the South African publications for whom she predominantly worked with the all-encompassing slogan: Covering Europe from a South African Perspective

Business cards
Some cultures pay significant attention to cards. If handed a card by a Japanese contact, for instance, you show respect by properly studying it while holding it in both hands. In countries such as Belgium, with split linguistic loyalties, you can smooth things along by having two sets of cards, one in Dutch and English, the other in French and English.

Deals and contracts
Different cultures can have very different attitudes towards negotiations and contracts. Some cultures haggle quite openly, others prefer to let an agreement emerge in some nebulous fashion. Brits, for instance, tend to be embarrassed by direct references to money, although freelances have to address and overcome this inhibition. Some cultures stick to the letter of a contract, others will casually breach any agreement if it suits them. One British picture agency, for instance, has ceased supplying photographs to Spanish publications because they have decided it is just not worth expending the effort that has to go into badgering them to actually make the payments specified.

Earnings
Keep looking out for information about who is paying what for what. An article in the American Journalism Review (www.ajr.org) by Deborah Baldwin, for instance, reveals that the San Francisco Chronicle pays its Paris correspondent $200 a story – how many of those would you have to do to stay alive? The NUJ’s London Freelance Branch website, www.londonfreelance.org, has a section, Rate for the Job, where people list anonymously amounts they have been paid, which gives you a good start at seeing what British outlets have actually been paying.

English
English gets affected by the other languages spoken by people who are using it as a common tongue for working purposes. A whole range of semi-official Euro-English expressions have coalesced around the European parliament and European Union institutions. Competences, for instance, means areas of responsibility. You need to keep this Euro-jargon out of copy filed for British publications. Watch, too, for slang such as the parking instead of car park.

Freelance status
In the USA, court cases have sprung up questioning whether people not directly employed as staff reporters on newspapers – freelances? citizen journalists? bloggers? – can call on the press freedom protections of the first amendment. The US National Writers Union, which represents freelance journalists, linked itself to the United Auto Workers because the newspaper staff unions refused to accept freelances as members. In France, the word freelance seems to be going into the language because their word, pigiste, implies someone relatively closely linked to particular publications who is paid for contributions published rather than being on a salary.

Information
Start with the London Freelance Branch website at www.londonfreelance.org, which has an enormous amount of archived information about freelancing, including the general advice set out in the several dozen pages of the Freelance Fees Guide. Paris and Brussels branches have websites at www.nujcec.org/paris and www.nujcec.org/brussels. The US National Writers Union (www.nwu.org) has published a Guide to Freelance Rates & Standard Practice. Other journalist unions may well publish guidance about freelancing in their countries.

Invoices
Take these seriously – they are effectively bills telling your clients what you expect to be paid and when. The BBC, for instance, provides a two-page guide to freelances on how they should go about invoicing for work done for the BBC: it starts by saying you must make the invoice out to the BBC or the programme concerned, not to the individual who commissioned you. Some cultures are even more exacting: misspell a company or publication name in an invoice for work done for an Indian-based organisation and it may be months before you will be able to sort out the resulting difficulties and lay your hands on the payment.

Journalistic styles
In Japan, according to Siân Rees writing in Press Gazette, people do not want to stand out, so it is difficult for journalists to elicit anything but the most anodyne of statements from interviewees. On top of that, much of the media is locked into what she describes as the cosy kisha press club system, an extreme version of the UK Lobby which facilitates contacts between journalists and politicians, although weekly and monthly magazines do cover scandals and the dirty deeds of politicians.

Outlets
You need to research publications and other outlets that may take your work. Benn’s Media Directory, Willings Press Guide and Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory provide multi-volume listings of publications in the UK, Europe and the world at large. BRAD, British Rate and Data, lists UK publications with their advertising rates – which probably tells you something about the freelance fees they are prepared to pay. All these have websites. You are unlikely to be able to afford subscriptions, whether in print or electronically, as these run into hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds a year, but you may be able to find them in large reference libraries.

Payment
You will need to explore how you are going to receive payment from other countries and in other currencies. Some organisations will just post you a cheque made out in their currency. Talk to your bank before paying it in to make sure the charges for handling it are bearable. It may be worth putting cheques through in batches, for instance, if your bank charges a fixed fee for transactions. Alternatively, you might think of opening a bank account in a country from which you expect to get regular payments. Multi-national credit cards and electronic payment systems may also be worth looking at.

Politenesses
Different cultures have different codes of interaction. French speakers in France and Belgium, for instance, will probably respond best if you approach and address them in a more formal manner than you might be accustomed to in Britain. Dutch speakers in Belgium and the Netherlands may well be happy with something much more easy-going.

Press cards
Your National Union of Journalists press card will get you a long way. (Non-NUJ members may be able to access a British press card through other gatekeepers.) The International Federation of Journalists can supply an international press card accessed via the NUJ. National press cards may also be available – France, for instance, has a commission charged with issuing journalistic identity cards although these appear to be restricted to people working on officially registered publications and in the case of foreigners the decision may go up to ministerial level.

Regulation
Le Guide des Journalistes, published by one of the French journalist trade unions, the USJF-CFDT, devotes about a third of its more than 250 pages to printing laws relating to employment as a journalist. Some countries require journalists to be registered or licensed. This may well apply even when you are only planning to visit a country for a short time: if you intend to work as a journalist while on a trip to the USA, for instance, you will need to apply for an “I�? visa, rather than relying on an ordinary tourist visa, or you risk being turned back at immigration.

Self-employment
‘Atypical workers’? is the bureaucratic Euro jargon for the categories that include self-employed people. Atypical means that self-employed people in some countries do not fit easily into tax and social security categories designed for typical workers, those taken to have steady, life-long staff jobs

Tax and Social Security
Whatever you do, make sure you are engaging with the tax and social security systems of the country where you are living and working. Paris Branch of the NUJ has advice handouts on the situation in France which can be downloaded from its website (www.nujcec.org/paris) once you have made contact with them and been given the password. Be warned: only once you have begun the minuet of registration will you realise the truly frightening signification of the phrase “pas de problème�?.

Victor Noir
Do check out local journalistic histories. In Paris, for instance, think of visiting the tomb of Victor Noir in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. He, as a young mid-19th century journalist, ended up shot in a misunderstanding over someone else’s duel. His memorial is a romantic dream, his bronze body sprawled out across the ground, and it has become something even more romantic, a fertility charm. Women wanting babies come to make wishes.