9 Things I Hate About Being A Freelance Journalist

Don’t worry, “9 Things I Love About Being A Freelance Journalist” will follow next week. It’s good to get the muck out of the way first though, isn’t it? Of course it is. In fact, this could potentially be my last downbeat post. It’s all going to be smiles from now on.

1. Telling People What I Do For A Living. Whenever I’m at a party, or on a plane, or lying under a park bench drinking super strength cider and someone asks me what I do, I hate saying: “Actually, I’m a freelance journalist.” I hate that “actually” – what’s with that “actually”? I also hate the image that “freelance journalist” conjures up. It seems weak and creepy and privileged all at the same time. That I am weak and creepy and privileged all at the same time can be overlooked for now.

2. Telling People Who I Write For. “You know,” I say, “The Guardian, The Independent, lots of men’s magazines. Property stuff. You know.” I’m such an inarticulate plum. And a lying one, too. I haven’t written for any of those fucks for years. I don’t know who I’m writing for these days, but it’s certainly not them.

3. Shrinking rates.

4. Shrinking pagination.

5. My shrinking penis. I honestly think it’s getting smaller. Is that supposed to happen at 36? I might look it up. Regardless, if it is – and it definitely is – it’s definitely down to being a freelance journalist.

6. Listening back to my voice on a dictaphone.

7. Especially if it’s apparent that I’m clearly bored by the questions I’m asking and the interviewee is completely bored by the answers they’re giving.

8. Knowing, as I transcribe this semi-mythical interview, that my editor will be completely bored reading it, the subs will be completely bored subbing it, the printers will be completely bored printing it, the people who have to put it on the shelves in newsagents will be wondering where their lives went wrong and the readers – well, you get the picture. They’re going to think it’s shit, too.

9. Sketches, rather than photos, of columnists.

10. Photos of columnists.

11. Columnists.

12. The bitterness that being a freelance journalist fosters.

13. The waiting. Waiting to hear about whether a pitch has been successful. Waiting to hear if your copy is successful. Waiting for payment.

14. I can barely go into how much late payments annoy me. I was paid seven months late once.

15. That It’s Nothing Like Fletch. I only became a journalist because I honestly thought it would be like Fletch, but it turns out that it’s very little like Fletch.

16. You can never switch off, can you? It’s constant. For example, I’m writing this in some plummy cafe and have been looking around for inspiration since the moment I arrived. I’m all “Tea? Has anyone ever written a feature about tea? Or walls – ‘Why Walls Are Okay'” Maddening, isn’t it?

17. Going to Stoke Newington farmer’s market and seeing some plum in his mid-thirties wearing a check shirt, with a Guardian tucked under his arm, and a bag of organic sausage made out of Bangladeshi cotton or something and thinking ‘Hahaha look at him, look at that fool – bet he’s a freelance journalist’ and then realising that you too are a plum in his mid thirties with a check shirt made out of organic apples and you too have a Guardian under your arm and you too are a freelance journalist.

18. Knowing that your life can change in an instant – you might get to spend six months in the Arctic; you might be offered a column in the Financial Times – but also that it never will.

19. Pretending To Interviewees That You Can Do Shorthand. Then not being able to file decent copy because it turns out you can’t do shorthand and were just showing off.

20. Letters From the Editor that are full of grinny, upbeat, whimsical bullshit.

21. Wishing that I were an editor so I could write a Letter From the Editor full of grinny, upbeat, whimsical bullshit.

22. Being completely overwhelmed by the number of fellow freelance journalists out there at the moment and terrified by the numbers who will be pouring out of universities, colleges, prisons etc. over the next ten or twenty years.

23. Fuck, 23. I honestly only meant to do 9.

24. Getting your photo taken 80-90 times by a photographer from the Daily Mail for some shitty feature that you never wanted to write in the first place.

25. Subs Tinkering With Your Copy. When I was the north London section editor for Square Meal and reviewed 115 bars and restaurants I was writing a review of a wine bar and said something like, “Although the emphasis is on grapes, you won’t feel the pleasant owners wrath if you order something else” which, okay, is a bit rubbish, but the whole Grapes of Wrath thing I thought was pretty sweet but the sub changed it to, “Although the emphasis is on grapes, the pleasant owners won’t mind if you order something else” which is even more rubbish.

26. Actually, that whole Grapes of Wrath thing was terrible. No wonder they changed it.

27. My mood being almost entirely contingent upon the approval of editors.

28. Writing this post.

29. Writing this blog.

30. Toby Youngs’ massive bald head.

31. Danny Wallace’s column.

32. My massive bald head.

33. My lack of column.

34. This is getting a bit laboured now. Okay, one more. Commissioning editors saying, “Let me think about it” to a pitch. Nothing good has ever come from “Let me think about it.” I’ve never had a pitch commissioned after an editor has thought about it.


20 responses to “9 Things I Hate About Being A Freelance Journalist

  1. George Orwell wrote a classic (Observer?) piece on tea.

    This post had me crying, in more ways than one, but one of them was laughter. Orwell never did that to me.

    • Have you read 1984? Jesus. It’s more depressing than Pitching the World. And have you read his essay Books Vs. Cigarettes? Jesus. It’s more boring than Pitching the World. I generally like the little scamp though.

  2. That Grapes Of Wrath thing was brilliant. What an arsehole, fucking with your copy. Made me laugh, and it hurts for me to laugh at the moment, so I try not to. But I couldn’t stop myself.

  3. no. 34.

    Dead right.
    Neither have I.

  4. 19, I did that, but only once. Now the dictaphone is my friend.

  5. Actually where does shorthand go? Once upon a time I could do 120wpm and was very accurate. Now, nothing just wiggles and some dots.

  6. Dictaphones are a bit of a godsend, Ellen, but I was interviewing a porn director in LA (he was in LA, I wasn’t) once and didn’t press record. So I phoned him up an hour later, interviewed him again and screwed it up again. I had to phone him up and interview him a third time. That was an awesome day.

  7. No ‘earlier’-captioned image? My only quibble. Hilarious – and classy – as always. PS. 32 could be the blame for 5. Perspective, innit.

  8. Indeed, Alex G-Funk. And 31 and 30 could also have had an influence on 5. My next entry will be full of my ‘earlier’-captioned (stolen) images, don’t you worry about that.

  9. 9 things I hate about Freelance Journalists;

    1. They don’t stick to the plan – “9 things”?
    2. I don’t know what a Freelance Journalist does
    3. It’s probably nothing to do with carpentry
    4. They can quote pointless stuff from poncey writers
    5. They carry The Guardian – not Viz
    6. There are too many of them (see your reason 22) and they’re increasing
    7. The country doesn’t need Freelance Journalists . . . . it needs Carpenters
    8. They boot lick media tossers
    9. There’s only one that I have any time for . . . . . oddly he claims to have been a Carpenter

  10. Pingback: TGIFreelance: Funny! | Kate Robertson

  11. Can you play football on Wednesday?

  12. Doubtful, L. Would love to, but there are a whole host of reasons why I can’t. Shall I pop them up here or email them?

  13. If they are entertaining and will satiate your rabid audience then put them here, if not, email would be ace.

    P.S. did you hear the one about the DFC captain? He won an arm wrestle on Friday night and managed to smash a glass whilst doing so and rip his knuckle to shreds – needs an operation, knobber.

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