[Hello, nameless unemployed person, whose name we can't be bothered to learn because we're far too busy having a job and giving back to society.]
Thank you for your application for the role of Meaningless Job Title, with little pay and fewer prospects.
[Well, we have to credit you for something.]
Sorry for the delay in responding to your email.
[Yes, it's been 8 weeks, but you don't need to remind us, you impatient cretin, we've been busy working. Do you remember what 'working' is?]
… on this occasion you were unsuccessful.
[You'll never work here in a million years]
Due to the large number of applications, we are unable to offer feedback.
[It took us 8 weeks to let you know you didn't get the job, but you're not getting any feedback because you're lucky we emailed you to say no in the first place, you filthy rat.]
Thank you for your interest in our organisation
[Our organisation is so awesome. We just had to validate it with that sentence. See what we did there?]
and we wish you well for the future.
[You're going to need it, jackass.]
[Go fuck yourself!]
[A person you will never meet or hear from again, because they're far too busy working.]
I am now a card-carrying, Code of Conduct adhering, press freedom defending and proud member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). Or as my significant other said when he saw the NUJ acronym on the confirmation letter and my membership card, “Ooooh, you’re a NUDGE!”
Yes, I am a NUDGE. I am an official NUDGE with a card and everything, and I’m really very happy about this. I have a tendency to put things off, and despite meeting with NUJ members at an event designed to get Edinburgh’s student journalists to join the union in 2010, and despite urging others to join the union in my libel blog post, I never got round to it.
There were two reasons for this; first of all, I wasn’t a student, and therefore couldn’t register as a student member. I discussed this with the union representatives, and they said that I could probably register as a Temporary Member in the meantime. Secondly, to join the NUJ, you had to print off and fill out a couple of forms and then have two people NUJ members sign your forms as a kind of reference or endorsement. I did manage to get two people to sign the forms, but my busy schedule meant the forms lay forgotten in my bag until a few months later, when I found them crumpled and ripped and forgotten. I couldn’t send these forms to the NUJ, surely?
Due to my embarrassment at how poorly I’d treated such important documents, I didn’t, and every so often I would remind myself that I really should join the NUJ at some point. That was, until a few months ago, when the union announced that they were letting new members join online. No printing off forms, no signatures, no fuss. So, I took the plunge, and I filled out an online application to be a Temporary Member.
A few weeks later, the NUJ Membership office got in touch to say that they’d reviewed my application, and they felt that I was more suitable for full membership. So, a few changes to my application later, and pending approval from my local office, which could take up to 60 days, I was, unofficially, a member of the NUJ.
My confirmation and membership card came through at the beginning of October, and finally, I was in the union. So, after three years of thinking about joining the union and talking about joining the union, why did I suddenly decide that the time was right? I had two very strong reasons; the NUJ offers support and training to all members. As the NUJ is a union, it endeavours to give all its members a level of protection, whether this is legal assistance, financial support through NUJ Extra and campaigning for better pay and holidays.
Training is very important to me, and throughout the year, the NUJ holds various training days throughout the UK on topics such as freelancing, feature writing, media law and more technical subjects, such as website building. A good journalist should always be learning, but there is only so much that you can teach yourself on the job, so the NUJ offer training days to all members which cost around £100, and are also open to non-members for a slightly larger fee.
While the NUJ has had its problems recently, such as issues with cash flow, it remains an important union for journalists, writers, photographers and everyone involved in the media. it campaigns for our rights and with all the job cuts, redundancies and other issues in the industry, it’s good to know that there are people on our side fighting for the freedoms and interests of journalists, not just in the UK but around the world.
And in a country where the government’s plans for a state regulated press have become a real threat to journalistic freedom, it’s important to stand up and say: “I’m a NUDGE, are you?”
Dear Young Journalist,
I want to talk to you about journalism; the path you have chosen. I don’t want to talk about theatre criticism, arts reviewing or news, but journalism as a career. I want to talk to you about the life that you might lead and the people you will meet.
I want to tell you about the nights you will spend alone, writing, editing, researching. The nights you will miss out on because you will be busy, or the evenings you will lose as you edit yet another blog post.
The first thing I want to tell you is that you have to read to be a journalist. You can’t be a good writer if you don’t read, and you can’t pitch to publications if you don’t read them. Get subscriptions to the publications you want to write for, and read books whenever you can; on the bus, on your lunch break, in the bath and just before bed.
Secondly, I must tell you that unsurprisingly, (well, it was somewhat of a surprise to me) we journalists aren’t always the most respected, or well-liked people on the planet. We are doubted, questioned and dismissed. You will have your integrity challenged and your writing ridiculed, but you will get used to it.
If the there is a ladder that leads to journalism success, then it’s a very long ladder. I like to imagine that it’s made of wood, that it looks sturdy and strong, it’s the kind of ladder your parents might use to go up to the attic, it’s familiar and seemingly friendly. But appearances are deceptive; this ladder is treacherous in places, and it may be risky at points to climb.
In fact, you may have to go down a couple of rungs before you are able to go further in your career. And some rungs on the ladder are unforgiving. Some rungs are old and not fit for purpose. Be wary of these rungs, they will set you back, and if you put too much weight on one of them it will break and you will fall.
You will not fall far, because you will reach out and grab something, anything to steady yourself, but you must remember falling is inevitable. Falling is what I call failing, such as a job rejection, a missed deadline, a misunderstood brief, etc. I’m going to tell you something that will sound strange to you, but not only will you fail at some point as you attempt to climb that ladder, you are going to fail, and I want you to fail.
From a young age, we are taught to believe that failure is a bad thing, that failure is the worst thing we can ever do, but I disagree. It is only when we fail that we can truly learn from our experiences. I’ve failed at this many times; missing job deadlines, not staying in touch with contacts, etc, but it’s how we deal with out failures that really matters. The trick is to go with it, so if you feel sad, allow yourself to cry, if you’re angry, then find a way to healthily express that anger.
Do what you have to do, just pick yourself up and move on with new knowledge, and safeguards to stop yourself committing the same mistake again.
Next we need to discuss money, because if you’re going into journalism for the wage, then you’re going to get a shock. We don’t make a lot of money, because journalism isn’t very well paid, and it’s getting even harder to make money from it. So, you’re going to do a lot of unpaid work in the beginning to build up your portfolio and have something concrete to show an editor. Once you have experience and once you’ve started to get pretty good and reliable, then start asking for money.
No one is going to pay you for the hell of it, you will have to prove that you are worth paying. Never undersell yourself, know your worth and know the law. There are many internships in journalism, some of them are really great, but others won’t lead anywhere; be hungry, but wise and know the law.
The current law on internships in the UK is that all interns are entitled to the National Minimum Wage, so those internships that offer travel expenses, lunch expenses, or offer expenses at the end of a three-month internship – avoid them like the plague. Your time and your future is worth so much, so again, read, be aware of your rights and stand up for yourself. Intern does not mean ‘subhuman’ never forget that.
That’s all I can say for now, I’ll see you on the ladder.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ll probably be very familiar with my Edinburgh Fringe Festival tale of terror from last year, where I was threatened with libel by an entertainment company for writing a negative review of their show. The full story is here, if you don’t know it, or need to read it again. It’s a long story, so grab a cup of tea or something and get comfortable.
I didn’t have a great time at the Fringe last year; the run up to August was long and disappointing. I’d been unsuccessful in getting work with a publication that I’d worked for in 2010 and 2011, and my emails and applications to other publications mostly went unanswered. However, last year, instead of just being a critic, I was an editor too, and I had to deal with a couple of other issues as well. I wasn’t just managing writers, I was booking tickets, reviewing, editing and uploading reviews. I was actively solving problems. if there was an issue with a review, I had to deal with it. Fringe 2012 was my first Fringe as an editor, and it was the proverbial baptism by fire.
On the day of the libel threats it was really sunny and warm; one of those lovely Edinburgh Fringe Festival summer days. I was at home uploading reviews when the barrage of emails that culminated – quite quickly – in threats of legal action began dropping into my inbox with frightening regularity. From that day, until a few weeks after the Fringe, I found myself preoccupied with fear. “What if they take me to court?” “What if the site has to close down?” “What if I lose my house?” ”What if I never work again?” “What if the actors never work again?” “What if this is the beginning of the new McLibel?” “What if this case goes on to break the record for being the longest running libel case, ever?”
Obviously, these emails were designed to get me thinking these depressing thoughts, and despite them revealing their ignorance early on, as libel is called defamation under Scottish Law, and despite being told to ignore them, and not take any notice of their increasingly bizarre statements and accusations, I couldn’t clear my head.
I would go out to review a show, and wonder if someone from that company was sitting in the audience with me. I would go home to my computer and find their emails safely nestled in with much nicer emails from my writers and PRs. Their threats continued. They took screenshots of my Twitter account and sent them to my editor in a piss-poor attempt to discredit me. If my phone rang and I didn’t recognise the number displayed, I wouldn’t answer. What if it was them? At least once, it was. It seemed like they were everywhere, just waiting for me to slip up.
When the Fringe ended, I was so glad. The end of August meant the end of their nonsense, and I thought that I could get back to something resembling normality pretty quickly. But their emails continued sporadically, falling into my editor’s inbox whenever we thought they’d vanished for good. I was frazzled and I felt cheated; I’d missed out on my usual Fringe experience, and I was so angry. How dare they think legal threats are an appropriate reaction to a bad review? But most of all, I was exhausted. I’d gone back to my day job mid-festival, and the demands of that, coupled with the Fringe and the added issue of the libel threat hanging over my head, it was all just too much. I’d had enough.
I felt like my mind was full of cotton wool; I couldn’t feel much about anything. Announcement of a new production? Nothing. A new project at work? Nada. Try to read a book? Not a sausage. I’d go to press nights and then stagger home and fail to get my opinion of a play in a word document. I fell behind on work and struggled to get it finished. What had been my passion began to feel like a chore.
I stopped enjoying writing. I’d been writing for three years, slowly building up contacts and creating opportunities for myself. I felt no shame emailing people I’d never met before and offering to write for their publication. I’d been so hungry to move on, to improve my work and create my dream career.
Now I wasn’t as hungry; it was like I didn’t want to write ever again. Every time I sat down at my computer, I’d find myself making excuses, procrastinating more than ever before and looking for other things to do. After all, why should I write when there is this thing called Grumpy Cat?
I lost all my confidence in my work, and writing became more and more difficult. When I went to the theatre I would sit in the stalls and feel so disconnected from what was happening on stage, even though I saw some very good pieces after the Fringe. I could see and hear everything that was going on, but it just wasn’t speaking to me, it was like I was behind a sheet of glass; I was there, but I wasn’t. And all the time there was this voice inside my head saying: “You’re not supposed to be here. This place is not for you.”
When I got home, I would sit at and stare my laptop and will the words to come; I could hear them in my head, I could see them in my mind, but as soon as I switched on my computer, they vanished, and all that was left was that voice: “What do you think you’re doing? No one reads this stuff anyway, and when they do, they’ll threaten to sue. Who do you think you are, a theatre critic?”
In an attempt to put the situation behind me, I published the blog post about the libel threats and harassment, but I never thought it would be as popular as it became. My blog was very, very new, and aside from one post about the lack of money in journalism and a few film reviews, there was nothing on it. I had no loyal readership; hardly anyone visited my blog because it was really boring.
And yet, when the post went live on that Sunday evening in September just over a year ago, it got noticed. The story quickly grew legs and scuttled across the globe, it got into all the nooks and crannies of the internet, successfully spreading my experience to like-minded people far and wide. The post was mine, the words were my own, but the story quickly became something that I had no control over, and suddenly, it was no longer mine. Which was scary, but it led to lovely messages from people from all over the world, who wanted to express their outrage, horror and similar stories. I was contacted by people offering much-needed advice, and crucially, by someone who could help put an end to the situation.
After the post went viral, I half-expected to get a pleading email from the company, begging me to take the blog post down, or maybe even an even angrier email, slamming my lack of professionalism, or something to that effect. I never did. To this day, the company have never responded to my blog post and they have never apologised for their threats, their accusations, or their own libellous statements concerning the non-existent ‘conspiracy’ that they concocted between me and the woman I called ‘Julie’ in my original post.
I’d love to say that this situation forced them to change their attitude, but from what I’ve heard about them since, and from what I’ve seen that they’ve published online, it hasn’t.
I was, and I still am, overwhelmed by the amount of support that came my way from my family, friends and even people I’d never met last year. They say that you know who your friends are in a crisis, I know who they are now, and I am still very grateful for all the support I received from them during this time.
I can’t lie; I did come very, very close to packing it all in – reviewing, editing, the lot. But one day, I got up, I fired up my laptop and I started writing. I’m still building up my confidence in my writing again, and blogging has been a great help throughout all of this. After all, the best way to become a good and confident writer is to get your head down and write, and that’s what I’m going to do.
We need to talk about plagiarism. We really need to talk about plagiarism. Why? Because it exists, and to paraphrase a film critic friend of mine: “It seems like there’s a new plagiarism scandal in journalism every month.”
He’s right, it does feel like that, and from recent examples like Lianne ‘The Queen of Cut and Paste’ Spiderbaby, to Shaun Munro and T.J. Barnard from WhatCulture! it feels like the journalism industry has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
As a journalist, all you have is your integrity, and once that’s gone, you have nothing. You are only ever as good as your last article, you will only ever be as good as the best article that you have ever written. Plagiarism never benefits anyone because once the plagiarism is uncovered – and it will be uncovered – then the writer and their publication will lose credibility and respect.
What shocks me is when people try to stick up for the plagiariser; although nine times out of ten, these are usually fans of the writer, who don’t work within the industry, but there have been exceptions. Tim Lucas, the editor of Video Watchdog, made a very premature statement supporting Spiderbaby when her plagiarism was discovered, which he was then forced to retract when it became clear that she had in fact, plagiarised the articles that she’d written for him too.
It’s odd that when a plagiarism scandal erupts, that many editors will stand by the plagiariser despite proof of their wrongdoing. For example, in 2011, Simon Kelner, then editor of The Independent, stood by Johann Hari after evidence of plagiarism and other questionable behaviour was brought to light. Instead of being sacked, Hari was suspended and sent for ‘retraining’ in the US. He handed back his Orwell Prize, made an “evasive” public apology, but didn’t personally apologise to the writers that he had stolen from.
During his suspension, Hari decided not to return to the paper, and while both Hari and Kelner have since left The Independent, The paper’s reputation was badly damaged, just as Hari’s reputation was severely damaged by his plagiarism. So, despite Kelner standing by Hari, it was all for nothing; everyone came off badly because of his plagiarism and their failure to deal with it properly.
Obviously, an editor must support their staff, but when a staff member has plagiarised someone else’s work, then they must also protect their publication. So, why then, do some editors reveal their loyalty to a plagiariser, when a plagiariser, by definition, is incapable of thinking of anyone but themselves? In the case of WhatCulture! their initial reaction was to continue as normal by not commenting on the accusations, and continuing to publish work by both the writers in question.
A few days later, and after significant pressure, they broke their silence, saying:
Although the editors may have thought that by acknowledging the scandal, they were then dealing with it, these tweets only created more questions. What processes? What disciplinary procedures? What steps had been put in place? By not being transparent and open about what exactly they were doing, WhatCulture! were complicit in their silence; it looked like they were supporting the plagiarisers on their team over basic journalistic integrity.
Unsurprisingly, no one felt that this was good enough, and not long after, WhatCulture! released an official statement on the scandal. They apologised profusely, not just to the writers whose work was stolen, but tellingly, they also apologised to the plagiarisers for putting them under too much pressure. Additionally, the offered compensation to all the writers who had been ripped off. It was a long time coming, and while the editors were initially slow to act, they did claw back some respect.
There are two very positive lessons that we can take from these recent plagiarism scandals. The first is that for every plagiariser, there is someone, somewhere who is willing to put the time and effort to research their output and find examples of plagiarism. So, for every Lianne Spiderbaby, there is Mike White, and for every Shaun Munro and T.J. Barnard, there is Maxwell Yezpitelok, Simon Columb and Ali Gray, willing to blow the whistle, to hold critics to account and to reveal the extent of every bad journalist’s unethical practices.
The second lesson is that each time this happens, each time someone is caught plagiarising, the net tightens just a little bit more. People get angrier, editors get more wary and publications continue to crack down on this immoral and unethical behaviour. Exposing plagiarism in all its forms, whether it is uncovered in art, design, photography, film, music, journalism, poetry and academia forces us to confront it head on. It makes representatives of all these industries start to think about how they can make their respective disciplines better and more trustworthy.
In the case of journalism, the industry is under enough threat from outside forces for it to be destroyed by a series of bad journalists. As a collective we are already dealing with their being not enough jobs, little money, a lack of job security and cuts. Take a look at the new arts section from the Independent On Sunday, where it was decided that sacking all their arts critics – each of them well-respected writers with years of experience – was preferable to publishing ‘reviews’ like this.
Clearly, this attitude isn’t good enough, and when editors and publications fail to properly deal with plagiarists, it not only undermines our industry; it damns us all. Inaction will be the death of arts journalism; not online content, not a lack of advertising, but apathy. Our apathy will kill the industry.
Publishing bad writers with poor ethics and an even worse attitude is not a good idea, and editors and publishers must stand up to these people. Their inaction condones the writer’s behaviour and ensures that they will get away with it time and time again. It’s time to make a stand, to send a message to say that plagiarism will not, and should not be tolerated under any circumstances.
It’s time to talk about plagiarism. We really need to talk about plagiarism. Why? Because we can’t keep letting this happen in journalism.
“Most rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.” – Frank Zappa
Earlier this week, I boarded the 07:30 train from Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen Street. From Glasgow Queen Street, I went straight to Buchanan Street Subway Station, where I bought a return ticket to Govan. Less than 20 minutes later, I arrived in Govan, and despite nearly falling up the escalator on my way out of the station – yes, there were witnesses – I emerged, unscathed, nervous and only slightly tired, into a cold and wet Glasgow morning at 08:45 on the dot.
I was in Govan because in August, I had applied to take part in the upcoming 4Talent Day in Glasgow. I’d filled out my application with little hope, but I told myself that after the inevitable rejection I’d know that I’d tried my best, and I could go ahead and try something else. So, when I got the email saying that my application had been successful, I nearly fell off my chair.
4Talent Days are organised by Channel 4 and are designed to support people over the age of 16 who want to get into the creative industries. The purpose of a 4Talent Day is to nurture and inspire people by holding workshops, talks and giving people at the bottom rung of the media ladder the chance to speak to those at the very top. It makes the creative industries accessible and as open as possible to people of all ages and backgrounds around the UK, and gives all attendees a taste of life in the media.
Beginning at 09:30, after registration opened at 08:45, the day began with talks by Channel 4′s Industry Talent Specialist, Priscilla Baffour, and Head of Creative Diversity, Stuart Cosgrove; a dedicated Northern Soul devotee who is perhaps better known to listeners in Scotland as one half of Radio Scotland’s Off The Ball.
Their speeches were inspiring and energising as Priscilla discussed Channel 4′s “content revolution” about how creating and publishing content is changing, the history of Channel 4 and what they look for in applicants. Stuart gave an uplifting speech about his journey from the deprived council estate of his childhood, to his love of Northern Soul and how his passion for the genre opened doors for him.
There were many different master classes available, from radio production to music journalism, pitching documentary and factual films, to personal branding and how to get started in film making. I chose the music journalism master class with Sid Smith, a well-respected music journalist, and a man with a real passion for King Crimson.
While I have a lot of experience of writing about the arts, I’ve only focussed on theatre and film, and I’ve been thinking about music journalism for some time. However, despite writing some very brief album reviews at the beginning of my career – I think they were around 100 words – I don’t feel confident writing about music, and I want to learn how to write about music and more importantly, how to write about music with authority.
Sid was a fantastic teacher, and as well as discussing music journalism with us, magazine circulation figures, pitching, interviewing and the music which makes us cry (mine is ‘Don’t Speak’ by No Doubt). He also brought a room full of aspiring music journalists to shame when he asked when was the last time we bought a music magazine, and collectively, we looked at our feet. He also had us listen to a piece of music called ‘Joyful Reunion’ by Sweet Billy Pilgrim before phoning the songwriter, Tim Elsenburg, and having some of us ask him questions about the song there and then.
Sid gave us all a lot of advice, and he sums it up very well in his own blog post about the 4Talent Day in Glasgow. But I would add that the clearest piece of advice that Sid, and all the other speakers gave on the day was that young creatives need to have two things: discipline and persistence.
So, if an editor doesn’t email back within a few days, call them, introduce yourself and tell them what you do in 20-25 words. Research who you’re contacting and tell them what makes you different. Also, take what you’re doing seriously, be nice, polite and develop habits. Habits and discipline will keep you going, as well building a network of contacts. As Philip Edgar-Jones, the Head of Entertainment at Sky Arts put it, “Be persistent, but patient.”
The day was so inspiring, and as well as learning a lot, and getting some really good advice, I met a number of interesting people, that I’m hoping to keep in touch with, I gave out many, many business cards and I got lots of business cards back in return. But what the 4Talent Day was really good at, was making the creative industry seem more open, and more accessible than it ever has before. There was no mention of degrees or specialist qualifications, and it made you feel like you could have that career that you’ve always dreamed of. It made you feel that there are people out there that are interested in your story, and what you have to offer.
After a long but wonderful day, I headed back to Govan Subway Station – avoiding tripping on the escalator this time – and headed back to Queen Street Station. Once there, I boarded the 18:15 train back to Edinburgh Waverley, and as soon as I arrived in Edinburgh, I got my hands on the first music magazines I’d bought in nine years; Q and MOJO, before I heading home to read, research and think about my next step.
I would highly recommend a 4Talent Day to any young creative, and who knows, for me, it could be the very beginning of a brand new adventure.
Recently, I marked the end of an era. Earlier this month I stepped down from my role as The Public Reviews’ Scotland Editor, and passed the responsibility onto my successor, the more-than-qualified and very talented, Lauren Humphreys of Glasgow Theatre Blog.
I began my role at The Public Reviews straight after my three-year tenure as The Journal‘s Theatre Editor, and after four years of commissioning, editing, publishing and generally looking after other people, I decided that it was time to look after me.
So, in May this year, I told my boss, Editor John, that this Fringe would be my last as Scotland editor. There are many reasons for this, but the main reason was that I longed to have more time to write. I’ll miss the perks of getting editor’s choice on shows that I really, really want to review and I’ll miss ranting about the innumerable bad PRs that littered my inbox like discarded shopping trolleys on wasteland but, I need to write, and I want to be a better writer.
However, my time as an editor hasn’t been for nothing. I’ve learned so much, not just about my own writing, but also managing people, and dealing with truly terrible PR pitches. Working as an editor for the last four years has taught me so much about journalism, communication and other issues.
So, here are my top 5 lessons that I believe that everyone who aspires to be in the media should learn.
Read Your Emails
I proofread and sense check my emails to ensure that what I’ve said is clear and easy to understand. However, there are those that don’t do this, and their emails usually consist of unclear demands, spelling and grammatical errors and bizarre sentences.
After they hit send I have to try to translate the bloody mess they deposited in my inbox, which I don’t enjoy, and I usually email them back and enquire about what it is that they want. Use punctuation, have a clear message and tell me what you want, I don’t have the time to second guess anything.
I don’t know if there was something in the water in Edinburgh in August, but I encountered a few writers who weren’t reading my emails properly. At the beginning of the Fringe I sent out a link to a spreadsheet for writers to fill in with their ticket requests, which was designed to stop any double bookings and make the whole process as open and transparent as possible to everyone involved.
One writer started trying to book tickets for shows that we’d already reviewed. When I emailed them and asked them to look at the spreadsheet more carefully, they emailed back asking, “What spreadsheet?”
Another writer got confused with the spreadsheet, and thought I was allocating shows to specific people and that they’d missed out. If they’d read my email properly, they would have known that this wasn’t the case. Another writer double booked a show because they didn’t pay attention to the spreadsheet, which clearly stated another writer had booked a ticket to that performance.
If you want to get on the good side of your editor, it’s a good idea to read every single email you get from them at least once. If you’re not sure about what they’re asking, email them back and ask them to clarify.
From weddings, to illness, to engagements and the old trope, computer problems, there are many things that conspire to stop a writer filing their copy on time.
I’ve heard nearly every excuse in the book, and while I understand that writers have lives and they might get engaged/married/be too busy planning their wedding to file copy by deadline, I have the venue breathing down my neck, so all I care about is the review.
I know that sounds heartless, but editors have a job to do, and a publication’s reputation to uphold, so their investment is in the article. I’m friendly with my writers and count some of them as friends, but I’ve found that it’s odd how easily people will open up to you when you’re in a position of authority. It’s good that they feel they can be honest with you, but sometimes, when you’ve only had a handful of emails from someone, and suddenly they’re telling you about how they split with their partner/lost their job/their dog died and that’s why they’ve not been answering emails, it’s just a little too much.
Just say you’ve had some personal problems, your editor doesn’t need to know any more unless it’s something that they can help with or if it’s something that will affect your ability to write for the publication in the long term.
Enthusiasm Means Very Little
Enthusiasm is great, enthusiasm and drive is what got me to where I am today. However, in my experience, when I have encountered a writer who has been overly enthusiastic about writing reviews for me, alarm bells have gone off in my head immediately. Because that kind of energy never lasts, and it usually hides something else.
The first enthused writer turned out to be a prolific, or to use the nickname given to the late Sir David Frost, a “bubonic plagiarist” who couldn’t write an original piece of work if her life depended on it. She was also studying journalism, because wonders never cease.
The second super-anxious writer had my back up from the very beginning; he sent me a link to his portfolio, but had not made it accessible online, so he then animatedly cornered me at a press night, telling me how much he wanted to review for me. However, without my knowledge or consent, he was also submitting the reviews he sent to me to another site, which meant that we couldn’t publish them without permission from that publication, or we would be accused of plagiarism.
When this was explained to the writer, he said: “Well, I knew it was a grey area…” It’s not a grey area, it’s very clear, so never assume that you know something: if you’re unsure, ask the editor.
Another seemingly passionate writer was so excited to be reviewing during the Fringe that she claimed that she nearly fainted with excitement when she passed one of the Fringe venues before the festival started. Her emails told me how delighted she was to be working at the Fringe, until suddenly, after reviewing 5 shows, she emailed to say that she couldn’t review as something had come up.
A few weeks later a theatre company contacted us to say that this writer had booked to see their show (not to review it, but as a paying member of the public) and had asked for a refund. Unfortunately, during this email conversation, they mentioned that they were a reviewer, which made the company defensive, as it sounded as if the writer was trying to use their reviewing status to get their money back.
I don’t think they were trying to do this, and it could be that because of their lack of experience in the industry that they naively thought this it would ok, but they reacted very defensively to my emails asking them about it. They refused to explain anything and they told me I’d handled the situation very badly and demanded to be taken off our reviewing team.
After this, I kept the enthusiastic ones at arm’s length. It’s usually the safest thing to do for me. Be keen, just not overly keen, because it doesn’t last.
I know that I’m repeating a point I made earlier in the post, but if I could give new writers one piece of advice, then it would be this: never assume, always ask for clarification.
If you’re booking your tickets, and you’ve not heard back from the venue, don’t assume that the tickets are there, phone the venue press office and ask. This will save you time and energy later on.
If you’re not sure about something an editor has asked you to do, email them back and ask again. I would say that most of the problems that I have had to deal with as an editor have stemmed from people not being clear and doing what they think is right, not what is right. Remember, your editor was new at this once too, email, call, text, tweet, just get in touch with them and ask.
If you have not heard from your editor, email them again and reconnect. Inboxes fill up quickly, so you need to keep pushing yourself to the top of the pile. Don’t assume that an editor has asked you to do something, or wants you to do something. Email and ask.
The Editor Is Not Always Right
Despite appearances, editors are only human, they aren’t infallible, and they make mistakes. However, unlike writers, editors have a lot more responsibility on their shoulders, and have to consider a number of issues.
The editor’s word is final, so arguing with them is not always a good idea, but if you feel that they’ve made an error, you have the right to reply. I was once a little heavy-handed when editing a review, and the writer sent me a very strong email, arguing that they refused to be “censored” and other words informing me that they were really very cross about what I’d done.
We eventually came to an agreement, and they were happy, but I stand by my initial thoughts that a synopsis should never be two paragraphs long, ever.
However, and I cannot stress this enough, don’t argue with the editor when you’re applying for work, because the editor knows the publication they work for better than you, and gets emails from people like you everyday. Persistence is a great trait to have, but don’t take it too far, and remember to be thankful for any feedback that you get, because in this industry, you won’t get very much.
We never met, but when I read of your death earlier this evening, I knew I had to write this letter.
I’m not an artist; I gave up on drawing after a classmate made fun of my clown drawing in primary school. “Amy,” she spat, with real venom, “Your clown has six fingers on one hand and eleven on the other.” It wasn’t good enough, she said, clowns had five fingers on each hand, she explained. So, I’m going to honour you the only way I know how to, and that is to write about how your words have affected my life.
You received an honorary degree at my graduation in 2009. You were the second person to receive a degree, the first being Jonathan Mills, the Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, but his speech was, dare I say, very, very boring.
I was starting to drift off with my degree certificate sat smugly on my lap when you stood up and slowly moved to the front of the stage. You fumbled with the papers you’d written your speech on, you seemed nervous. “Oh dear” I thought, “It looks like we’re in for another dull speech.” And I prepared myself for a long morning.
You began by thanking the university and launching into a speech about looking out from the stage to all the young graduates assembled. But then, you paused, and uttered the now immortal words, “Well, if I’m honest, I’ve forgotten my glasses, so all I can see is darkness.”
The audience laughed; we cheered, we giggled, I think there was even a round of applause. You had won us over with your confession. You were honest, you were on our side. You cast aside your speech, and launched into what can only be described as something truly extraordinary. To call it a pep talk would be insulting; you were preparing us for battle.
As you gazed into the darkness of the theatre, trying to make out the faces of the hundreds of graduates gazing back at you in awe, you said that we were going to come up against barriers once we graduated. We were, you assured us, going to experience having “…many doors slammed in our faces”. But, we were not to be disheartened, you said, instead, we were to pound on the doors that would be slammed in our faces. We were to pound on them repeatedly, until our knuckles bled. I remember you held your hands up, and squeezed them into tight fists as you punched the air, your eyes screwed tight, pounding on all the doors that had ever been slammed in your face.
I can remember imagining a nondescript pine door being slammed shut as you smashed the figurative doors that had stood in your way for years. It’s the same pine door that I see now when I get yet another job rejection. It’s the same pine door that closes when an editor tells me I don’t have enough experience. It’s the same pine door that rattles in its frame as it slams closed when a promising internship turns out to be another dead-end.
But whenever that nondescript pine door has smacked me in the face as it closed – and it’s been closed to me so often, and it will be closed to me again – I’ve heard your words. And suddenly I can see you again in my mind’s eye, on that stage, slamming your fists into your own imaginary door over and over again.
So I started knocking; I would ask that editor for feedback. I would pound my fists against the door; I would look for new opportunities and ways to build up my portfolio. I would start to smash the panels of that door, one by one and then I would pick myself up and try again.
I’ve never been in a fight, but my knuckles have been split open and bloodied many, many times. You taught me that when you go out into the big bad world, you’re not always fighting other people; more often than not, you’re fighting with yourself. Battling self-doubt and a lack of drive is hard, but that’s why they call it work. More than anything, persistence is key.
I’m sorry that we never got the chance to meet, if we had I would have thanked you for your wise words, and I would have told you how much they meant to me on the day I graduated, and how much more they mean to me now, just four years later.
Thank you, John. Thank you for speaking to a sea of excited and unsullied graduates that day. Thank you for showing us that you’d been there, that you knew the struggles that we would face and for giving us all the advice that we will never forget:
“Always do your own thing. Don’t follow trends. Be your own person.”
Thank you, so, so much.
Class of 2009
As the Edinburgh Festival Fringe draws to a weary close, I’ve been busy not just reviewing, but also compiling the very best (read, worst, definitely the worst) of the EdFringe PRs that I’ve received over the last few weeks.
So, without further ado, here is PR Post Mortem: Best of EdFringe Part Two:
What’s My Name?
Hi guys! [Um, hello. That's uh, that's not my name.]
Just a little message letting you know our brand-new comedy, [Show Name] is currently in a run [In a run? Where's it going? What charity is it running for?] at the Fringe until 24th August. We’d love it if you could come along and review us! [Exclamation Mark]
Seems a strange time to email, but I’ve only been switched on to your publication [And what publication is that?] and I really liked having a peruse through your site. [Say my publication's name. Say MY name.]
Hope to see you there, if you can make it! [Why did you put an exclamation mark here?] Don’t hesitate to get in touch via phone or email.
Peas & lurve, [WHAT]
Journalists Live in Scotland, Too
I just wanted to get in touch to see whether you still have reviewers at the Edinburgh Fringe this week? [Well, I live here, so yes, I do.]
I just wanted to make a couple of recommendations for review [I have a feeling these recommendations will be biased] if any of your team would be available, these are [Show Name and Show Name]
I’ve attached press releases for more info [Oh Goody] on these as well as a list of all the shows I am looking after in case the others should be of interest also.
Thanks and best wishes,
Review Our Amazing Something
Hi Amy, [Hello!]
We are working on this amazing online piece which is taking place on Monday [Great, what is this piece?] throughout the day and I wondered if there is any way of putting a link to it on your site at all? [You want me to link to a project I know nothing about?] Or if one of your reviewers would be interested in spending the day with it? [Spending the day with it? What is it?]
Hope all’s fine and dandy. [Well no, it's not because this email tells me sweet Fanny Adams about your 'amazing online piece'.]
Px [A kiss? Oh no, wait a minute, I remember this guy - it's 22 attachments guy!]
Well, If You Say Please…
Pleasereview these shows … [Pleaseuse spaces]
Thank you! [Wait, that's it?!]
Mx [Another kiss? Why I outta...]
[The show details were below the text of the email. No, thank you.]
Not An EdFringe PR, But…
Hi – I thought your readers may be interested…please let me know! [You know nothing about my readers]
As the Carnival approaches this week on August 25, I thought you might like to use this great interactive infographic [Oh no, not another infographic] from [Promotional Business Gift Website, yes, that's right, a PROMOTIONAL BUSINESS GIFT WEBSITE]
Since its inception in 1966, the Notting Hill Carnival, held in August annually, has grown into the largest street festival in Europe. Did you know that a record 1.5 million people attended in 2012 and it brought nearly £100 million to the London/UK economy? [No, and I don't care]
· History of the event: Was originally a ‘Caribbean Carnival’ aimed a smoothing over race relations following the Notting Hill race riots the previous year. [A 'Caribbean Carnival', eh?]
· Entertainment/Celebrity Elements: High-profile artists such as Eddie Grant, Wyclef Jean, Courtney Pine, Jamiroquai and Burning Spear have participated [Yes, I know what the Notting Hill Carnival is, thanks]
· Top Trends in Food: Caribbean street food is one of the highlights of Notting Hill Carnival dating back to its roots. Turkish, Chinese and Indian are also popular. [Am I eating the food? Will I get to eat the food? No? Well then, I don't care]
· View the graphic: To learn more…[Nope. Nope. Nope.]
If you plan to use the infographic we would love to know and ask that you please attribute a link to [Promotional Business Gift Website, who clearly want a link more than anything else]
What They Did Right
- Two of the PRs used my name
- That seems to be it
What They Did Wrong
- Exclamation marks – why?
- Not knowing that me and most of my writers are based in Edinburgh
- Not using my name
- Not using the publication’s name
- Unclear/undefined projects
- Kisses – we are NOT friends
- Lack of spaces
- Begging me to review shows
- 22 attachment guy getting in touch again