Tag Archives: Journalists

The Interview That Wasn’t

1 Mar

Image by Bill Couch, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Some time ago, a PR I hadn’t worked with before pitched me an interview with their client, and I agreed. The client fitted in to a piece I was planning, and the show looked like it would be good fun.

The interview never happened.

Here is why.

The interview was scheduled for a Friday afternoon. The client was based in the US, the PR in London, and I’m in Edinburgh. This is not unusual, this sometimes makes it more interesting, and for these types of interviews, I’ve found that Skype works best.

A week before the interview, I when I was on my way to meet a potential writer for a coffee and an informal interview, the PR emailed me.

The client mistakenly thought they had offered to speak to you today not next Friday.

They are free NOW but not next Friday.

Any chance you can speak to them now?

They’re on: [US Number]

Unfortunately, when I got this email, I was on a bus, on my way to meet a writer, with no recording equipment to hand. Besides, I did not have the budget to phone a US number, it would cost more than the fee I’d be paid for the interview.

I emailed back a sympathetic no, explained I was busy, and asked if we could arrange an alternative date. The PR agreed. And the following week we agreed to do the interview on the Thursday afternoon.

A few days before the interview, I email the PR to ask if we’re still ok for that date and to ask if the interview can be done by Skype. This is what is usually offered when the client is in another city and country, and more importantly, it’s free.

The PR doesn’t email back until the day of the interview, three days later.

Hi Amy, I hope the interview goes well today. The Client doesn’t have Skype, but here is their number. [US Number]

It’s the same number as before.

I emailed back and explained that my fee for the interview would not cover the cost of calling the US. Would an email interview be a suitable compromise?

No. I’ll set up a conference call. 

They send over the dial-in information. I thank them, and say I’ll email once the interview, which is scheduled for 14:30, finishes.

I prepare, and dial in just before 14:30, and I wait. The waiting is not unusual, I don’t think I’ve ever done an interview like this that’s started on time, even when the client has my number and calls me themselves.

I wait, and watch the clock on my laptop whenever I look up from my notes,

14:30.

14:33.

14:38

When I worked in online marketing, I can remember the guys in my office advising me to never wait too long for a client to dial in on a conference call. I think they’d wait for around ten minutes and then hang up. I once waited 20 and they said to just hang up and get on with my work. The client would reschedule.

But, this is a little bit different. I’ve heard of journalists being made to wait hours for their interviewee. Not that I have hours to wait, but I’m feeling anxious now.

Finally, I email the PR:

14:47

Hi, is the client still ok to chat? I’m on the line, and they haven’t dialled in yet.

14:48

Can you just call their number and I’ll pay for the call by BACS transfer?

I hang up.

I read the email a few times.

Can you just call their number and I’ll pay for the call by BACS transfer?

Can you just call their number and I’ll pay for the call by BACS transfer?

Can you just

call

their number

I’ll pay you

by BACS transfer?

The offer is a solution to a problem, but it’s problematic. First of all, the admin; doing the call, getting the bill, sending an invoice.

Secondly, and most importantly, they have offered to pay for the cost of an international phone call because I said my interview fee wouldn’t cover it. But accepting the money makes me feel uncomfortable. Questions run through my head as I weigh up my options:

If people found out I’d taken money from a PR company for the cost of an international phone call, all they’ll hear is:

JOURNALIST ACCEPTED MONEY FROM A PR COMPANY

(for the cost of an international phone call. )

What if I accept the money and totally destroy my reputation in the process?

What if I accept the money and they then use against me?

What if they emailed me again with another client and said something like:

Oh, hey. Remember that time I helped you out with the phone call? Well, I’ve got someone else I want you to interview.

Yes, it’s dramatic but, it could happen, and I don’t really know what to do and if I take th-

It’s funny, interrupts a little voice in my head. That’s the second time they’ve tried to get you to phone the client with no warning.

I get in touch with my editor.

She listens to the whole story, from the payment offer, to the US phone number, to the changing of the interview time and asks me a very important question that I hadn’t considered.

“Do you still want to do the interview?”

“No.”

“Then don’t do it. The onus is on them to make the client available for interview.”

I email the PR, and tell them that this arrangement won’t work for me or the magazine.

They email back almost instantly.

Please call me.

I don’t.

My editor messages me.

“The PR has just phoned the office.”

Minutes later, another email arrives.

I’m waiting for the editor to phone me to sort out. 

I message her.

No, I won’t be, she says.

I look at his email again. There’s a kind of smugness to it.

I’m waiting for the editor to phone me to sort out. 

The calm little voice pipes up again.

It’s almost as if he phoned the editor to try and force you to do the interview. Just like he tried to get you to phone the client’s US number on short notice.

I log out of my email and get on with other things. He emails again later that evening.

Hi Amy,

Sorry about today

How about you send a Q&A and I’ll get it back to you ASAP

Suddenly, that email interview I’d suggested a few hours ago was a suitable compromise after all? I forward it to my editor.

“How about no?”

The next morning, another email is waiting for me.

Hi Amy

I am speaking to the client tomorrow before they go away for a 2-week holiday so can get your answers done if you send me a Q&A today

Oh look, says the familiar small voice, it’s another time dependent demand, because all the other demands and the attempt to get you in trouble with your editor didn’t work.

And this is the first time that this holiday has been mentioned, too.

I don’t reply.

That evening, I go to an event and when I get there, I bump into my editor.

“Oh,” said my editor, “That PR phoned the office today and said you’d agreed to do an email interview.”

I tell her I hadn’t.

“We knew it was bullshit.”

I try to laugh it off, but I’m angry.

I’m still angry.

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Trash Joins the NUJ

9 Oct
NUJ Protest

NUJ Protest

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?”

Money and Change: A Young Journalist’s Lament

3 Sep

Image

When I started training to be a theatre critic in 2007, theatre criticism, the internet and digital media were very different. Print was still the primary place for all things theatre criticism related, and indeed, journalism, while online was seen as a younger, but less important sidekick to the newspaper industry.

When I graduated in 2009, theatre criticism, and indeed journalism as an industry, was already changing; content was increasingly being published online, and independent websites were starting to rival the output of more established printed magazines. But perhaps, most importantly, in 2009, the credit crunch of 2007/2008 had become a full-blown recession, leading to redundancies, the closure of newspapers and publishers and fewer opportunities for both young and established journalists. For a new journalist, like me, who needed experience, working for free was a very real and very real way to get into the industry.

In 2012, journalism is still evolving; while some newspapers, such as The Times, The Sunday Times in the UK and The New York Times in the US have put their online content behind a paywall. However, they are fighting against increasingly popular and considerably newer websites, who continue to put their content out for free. While a paywall may be the way forward, and a way for revenue-starved newspapers to increase their circulation and make some money from their websites, many readers, writers, journalists and editors disagree on the use of them.

But the conundrum remains – how can journalists start making money from online content? How much to charge? How often to charge for access to online content? And perhaps most importantly, how do readers feel about paying for accessing news websites?

I always knew that journalism wasn’t well paid, and so, the desire to write and inform outweighed any ideas I might have once have had about making more than £25,000 a year. Although I’ve continued to work for free since graduating, primarily because paid opportunities are very slim if you have no contacts in the industry, I’ve still managed to make a total of £190 from my writing since then. However, this figure is from three separate commissions over three years and in the meantime, in the hope of being noticed, I’ve continued to write for free. I’ve also paid for all travel, food and other expenses during time, so, in that sense, some remuneration would be fair, if not deserved. But until some changes are made across the board and every newspaper decides how they can make money from online, more and more writers will have to continue to work for nothing.

Photo by Images_of_money under Creative Commons Licence

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