In this scenario I am being interviewed for a position as a writer who will concentrate on the world of football, mainly the grittier behind the scenes aspects to it, as well as being available to write about movies and music in the unnecessarily pretentious fashion which VICE seems to favour.
The things which would come in handy when it comes to being a writer of these subjects would be primarily a good to great understanding of them, explaining the things which interest me most as well as the things which I may not know about but may want to learn more of, and things which I may just hate plain and simply.
To accompany this, it would be very handy to actually be able to write, as I won’t be kept on the writers list very long if the comments below my work constantly leave constructive criticism such as “you are s**t” or “what the hell are you talking about?”. They would also not appreciate being bored midway through, so it is also important to be able to be creative in my writing to stop them clicking the magic red dot in the top left corner. (the exit button may be in a different position for Windows computers, I don’t know)
It is also good to have reliable methods of research as I don’t want to have egg on my face if I write a particularly scandalous story, only to find that my research was all wrong which in turn makes my story wrong too. It doesn’t even have to be scandalous, it could simply be a story linking a football player to a club which has absolutely no footing during the transfer window, but in both situations, a piece of wrong research has left the author looking a bit silly and/or liable to the threat of action from those involved. Alongside this, it is good to have good knowledge of the ethics and regulations for journalists and editors to protect me from any potential threats of legal action and to generally come across as an employable individual.
The above resources are mainly mental things and there are also more physical resources I will need. For instance, a computer with a form of internet will be necessary to write and upload my work to the VICE website, otherwise I am just a person talking to myself in an empty room.
I will also need insurance and a passport in case I have to go abroad to cover or research a story.
Coffee is also a resource I will need a lot of.
Being a member of the National Union of Journalists (or NUJ) is also something which would be handy for me.
As they say on their website being a member will mean that they can offer help and support when you are looking to get into freelance employment. The services they offer range from helping writers know their rights as well as helping them understand contractual terms, which we will talk about next. I think this will be very handy for most freelance writers, especially those new to it all who may not know what they are doing which could result in them getting a raw end of the deal.
Freelance writers will often work with a contract in order to protect themselves both legally and financially, but the problem is there are so many types of contract:
What is professionalism to me?
To me, professionalism is first and foremost making sure you work within the Editor’s Code of Conduct and making sure your work is heavily researched and claims can be backed up by fact (The Sun should take note of this). It is also honouring the contracts you sign and have the work you have been/will be paid for to a very high standard.
Health and safety
When it comes to football journalism there isn’t a lot to be scared about bar a few angry opinions on Twitter for the most part but it really depends on how deep you delve. For instance, you could find yourself doing a story on a particularly violent group of football ultras and you could have to spend some time with them. This opens up a world when a wrong move, saying something they don’t like or wearing a tie which is the same colour as their main rivals could result badly.
Another type of story you could find yourself in trouble following is war reporting, as there are many instances, especially lately of kidnappings and murders of British citizens working in volatile regions such as the Middle East. It is important that you can get your safety guaranteed before going there. Going through a leaflet such as this would be a good idea: http://www.frontlineclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Safety-Report_WEB.pdf
Health wise the stress of the job can often lead to problems such as stress if you are over worked so it is important that you pace yourself and don’t accept more work than you can do within a certain time limit. Repetitive strain injuries from typing too much can also be a problem so it is important to make sure that you have a break from heavy amounts of typing every now and then.
This is where a writer enters a contract with a company etc and has to abide by certain criteria. One advantage is that staying within the contract criteria set and doing the work the writer is guaranteedto be paid, however, if they don’t then they open themselves up to missing out financially or legal action being taken against them. For example, look at the Narciso Contreras situation – after a minor piece of editing from a photograph, he was sacked by Associated Press because it went against his contract.
Sometimes a writer can negotiate certain parts of a contract with a commissioner. This can be a good thing can result in them receiving more for their work, however, it could also mean that the company or person giving them the job could get fed up and find someone else who will do the same job for less.
This is similar to the negotiated brief in that the writer chooses how much it will cost for him to do his work. It is also like negotiated as the company or person in charge of recruiting will just choose the lowest option, which can be a good or a bad thing for the writer depending on how much they quote. This pretty much happens everyday on websites such as Freelancer as people bid for work as the normal person would bid on eBay for something they want or need.
Main types of contract
These can come in the form of either part time or full time, one the former varies greatly, with as many as 32 hours per week being available to somebody or as little as 10. Sports Direct even made the headlines recently as their zero hour contracts courted much controversy. Part time contracts are usually favoured by retail stores, such as Sports Direct (or Tenpin) and are usually taken by students.
Full time contracts are usually not favoured by retail stores and are used more by offices and warehouses. The hours available on full time contracts are usually around 40 hours, with most people working 9 to 5 – what a way to make a living.
Both are these aren’t ideal forms of contract for a freelance writer, mainly because it would mean they have to spend a lot of their time working for a single company.
Fixed term/freelance contracts
Fixed term contract refer to an employment which will end once a certain date has passed or a project is complete, it turn, making it basically a temporary part or full time contract, depending on the hours set out in the terms.
These forms of contract are a lot better for freelance workers than the permanent because they can end once a project is completed and the worker can go on to the next project.
One down side, or upside if you like this sort of thing, is that freelancers usually have to do their own taxes, which could get them into trouble financially should they make a mistake or forget to declare any work they have been paid for. It is also on them to be excellent at everything they do, which includes marketing themselves and their work, so that employers find them more desirable to hire and work with.
Irregular and anti-social hours
When it comes to getting a job within the journalism industry it is often required that the applicant is open to working irregular or anti-social hours, such as the early hours of the morning. This is because news doesn’t stop after 9pm, it can happen any time. Something like a late goal in the Capital One Cup forcing the game into extra time can make a sports journalist call their significant other to tell them they may be home late after the match report they have just spent the last 90 minutes writing has to be scrapped.
This could be a problem if you are somebody who has a family, especially with young children, as you would want to spend time with them. For younger journalists who don’t have such things to worry about would be alright with this though, especially ones like me who are up at anti-social hours anyway, making them arguably more desirable to hire.
What’s in a contract?
In lesson we worked together to produce a contract for a fictional job which our fictional company was looking to hand to a lucky applicant. Although the job itself had nothing to do with journalism, it still gave us some insight to how contracts are made, as well as the terms you will find within one.
Before we created the contract, we referred to this website: http://wikihow.com/Create-a-Freelancing-Contract
In our example, we were a cruise ship looking for a duo to star in our very specific form of day time and evening entertainment – A Hall & Oates tribute band. (We decided to have some fun with it)
We made sure that our contract started with a title, describing the nature of the agreement, and then the names of the employers and the employees underneath that. We then got to the scenario which included the details of the job, salary and bonuses, what is expected of our employees in the duration of their stay, and any penalties should they break certain terms, such as shaving their mustache. It also included danger pay as our cruise regularly entered dangerous waters where pirates taking control of boats was a regular occurrence. (As I said, we had some fun writing this up)
Between the Hall & Oates, mustaches and pirates, we learned what essentially makes up a contract, with the following being almost ever presents:
- Names of employers/contractors and employees/contractees
- The job description which includes duties, minimum amount of hours they will work per week etc
- Additional extras such as bonuses, staff discounts, holidays etc
- Terms which could result in contract termination should they be broken
- Risk management
HERE are the legal elements which need to be considered.
HERE is an example of a typical freelance journalist contract.
Working freelance means that, like every other form of sole trader, you are in charge of your own commitments and your own finances. This is particularly important as this means you are in charge of sorting out what you owe the taxman, otherwise he may come knocking on your door.
When we went to Liverpool last year, we visited David Parish who advised us on the financial aspects of freelance journalism, and reiterated the importance of being on the mark when it comes to your finances.
How to pay
There are methods in how you can keep the taxman at bay:
From experience with my dad being a sole trader, I know that some people decide to keep a log off the work they have done throughout the year, along with revenue and profits. At the end of the year it is then easy to know how much you have made and how much you need to pay in tax.
The disadvantage of this method is it only takes a mistake or forgetting a job you have done, regardless of how minor it could be, and you could end up in trouble.
PAYE (Pay as you earn)
The Citizens Advice Bureau says: “The Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system is a method of paying income tax and national insurance contributions. Your employer deducts tax and national insurance contributions from your wages or occupational pension before paying you your wages or pension.”
This is the most common form of paying tax in the UK, as it’s easier than doing it yourself and gives you one less thing to worry about. As a freelance journalist you will be self employed so the PAYE system will not be an viable method.
Self assessment and PAYE are really the two main ways of paying tax for freelancers you will be better off doing the former. However, it is possible that you could do both, with some self employed freelancers sometimes being employed at the same time, as this article on Crunch, an accounting website, suggests: http://www.crunch.co.uk/blog/accounting-advice/2014/02/04/freelancing-side-tax-implications/
This would mean that you could come under both forms of payments with you logging your freelancing earnings while your employer takes care of the tax which comes out of your wages.
The latter point made in the last section is also relevant to this section too as you can work for a company while freelancing on the side to help you set up your own business, minimising reliance on funding from a bank or another party. The advantage of doing this is you are solely and completely in charge and take all profits (after tax of course), on top of your salary elsewhere. The disadvantages are pretty much the same though, with everything being on your shoulders if things go wrong and the other work may cause you to get over worked or prioritise one other the other, which could affect the quality of work.
A bank loan would be a useful starting point to lift your business off the ground but it can only a short term fix. The obvious disadvantages of this method is that you will owe the bank money, and if you are a sole trader then they are entitled to take your belongings should you struggle to make the repayments.
However, if you want to take out a loan and want to protect the things you own, you could list your business as a limited company, thus making them only listed under the business name. Obviously, this could lead to you having a bad reputation with banks and would stop them from lending to you and your future endeavors.
In class we used the Barclay’s business plan PDF to pretend that we are starting our own businesses. This activity taught us that if we wanted to take a loan out for a business then we would have to fit a specific criteria with a solid vision for the present and the future. We had to take into consideration:
- What the business was – What services or product we will offer, what will need to launch it.
- The customers – Who we wanted to sell the service/product to, who they are (age, gender, interests etc)
- Goals – Where do we want to be in a month, a year and a few years down the line.
- How much we will need to start the business, how much we sell our service/product for, potential sales numbers.
The Barclay’s website itself has handy information to help anybody looking to start a business: http://www.barclays.co.uk/BusinessBankAccounts/Startingyourownbusiness/P1242558528795
Grants are available for freelance journalists around the world to apply for specific projects which they won’t need to give back.
There are a number available on these website: https://rorypecktrust.org/resources/professional-development/funding-sources/international-grants
Enterprising leaflet from University of Huddersfield
While at a university open day I spotted a stall which specialised in giving advice to people who wanted to start their own business/freelancing so I went to ask them about it and what they could do to offer help and they gave me a leaflet.
In the leaflet to talked about how the university also has a business plan template which you can download for free, like Barclays. They also allow current or ex-students to use the facilities on offer in case they can’t afford a top of the range computer necessary or InDesign etc, and there is no time limit neither, with the offer being open for as long as is needed for both parties to be happy with progress.
They also offer a grant of up to £500 which is used to help prove whether the business idea is viable.
This is a great incentive for budding freelancers as they not only get the support of equipment, but the business and journalist professionals who work at the university giving them advice on how to improve.
For me, I have never liked the idea of getting out a loan so I would prefer to be self funded, but I would also like to take up the university on their offer of support when I first jump into freelance journalism. I would also apply for one of the many grants to help kick start my work so I don’t have to worry too much about money and I can concentrate doing my best.