Welcome to our new agony uncle columnist, Chris Mandle who will be answering all your questions every fortnight, and responding to a few hypothetical situations he conjures up, in our newsletter.
Chris is Style & Grooming editor for Blokely and has worked at FHM, NME and The Fly since finishing his NCTJ at News Associates in January 2011. He welcomes any woes from full-time or aspiring Hacks, and kindly asks that nobody steals his Magazine Sitcom idea.
As this is Chris’ first column we’re putting it on the site just so you can all see why it alone (not to mention all the other good stuff) makes it worth signing up to our newsletter. The next column will be exclusive to our newsletter so make sure you get signed up. Send your questions to email@example.com
Q: I graduated last year and have been on a diet of unpaid internships and work experience for some time. I’ve come away with some clippings and good contacts, but so far there haven’t been any suggestions of full-time work. I’ve just applied for another 3 month internship at a national magazine, but is it going to be worth it? How can I take the first step in my career?
CM: Yes, sadly staff jobs are few and far between – not helped by the fact that the magazines who really need help are instead stretching their staff to save a quick buck. Enthusiasm at work placements will be rewarded even more so – I remember at my last job our workie was so efficient and brilliant he was kept on, and on, and on. He’ll outlive us all, that one.
Anyway, your problem. You’ve made good contacts and you feel like you’ve done the rounds – why not go back to one of the titles where you made a splash? After all, managers always need holiday cover for their office staff, and you might be able to get up to a month’s paid work while various people are away. Of course, it’s not going to be consistent – unless there’s a nasty bout of gastric flu around the corner – so other casual work you can do in the evenings/weekends will help keep your landlord from breaking your legs.
Q: Our new Commissioning Editor has come from another magazine, and since he started working here it’s really hard to pitch stuff to him. I’m entry level on a magazine and usually thought getting the odd review or interview in the mag was quite straightforward, but now he gives all the commissions to staff on his old title. Any advice?
CM: Unfortunately very few people turn to their parents at a young age and say ‘I want to be a Commissioning Editor’. Like Reviews or Opinion Editors, it can involve chasing freelancers and putting your trust in the words of others, so it’s perfectly reasonable that someone who doesn’t know you isn’t keen to throw you in the deep end.
You didn’t specify what magazine you worked on, but whether it’s music or film, fashion or telly, it’s unlikely he’s a jack-of-all-trades. Look at the work he commissions out and find an area he’s not covering, whether it’s pop music or films featuring Owen Wilson. Pitching them will not only help cover his back (nobody likes having to watch Hall Pass) but help you stand out among the others.
Q: I’ve just started doing a few freelance shifts – sometimes unsocial hours – but haven’t been paid yet. I know my work pattern is erratic, but I expected to get paid at the end of the month just like everyone else. I need the money bad (who knew rent in Notting Hill was so much!?) but don’t want to sour relationships with the staff.
CM: It can feel pretty rubbish trying to chase money, but it’s something that has to be done. Firstly, look back and see what payment method you agreed on when you started. If you’re doing ad-hoc shifts, it means you’re brought in for a specific job, and really you should be getting paid per ad-hoc shift. However, from what you told me it sounds like you’re actually on casual shifts; that is, they’re putting enough aside in their budget each month to pay for you being there.
Double check, either with the HR staff or whoever commissions you, and politely ask when they think it will be processed. A lot of companies send the pay info off at midday as opposed to at home-time, so try ringing in the morning and they might be able to process late payments that same day.
Remember, as a freelance journalist you can request compensation if an employer pays you ridiculously late (I remember a contract saying I’d receive my first check after 6 months of submitted work). Check London Freelance for some good advice and information on your rights.
Q: Being a freelance journalist feels so competitive – I saw a great job I knew was good for a friend but didn’t tell him about it in case he beat me to it at the interviews. Do you know any good writing groups I can join? I feel like I need a bit of community in my life.
CM: Well aren’t you a terrible friend, though I suppose that’s beside the point. Of course, The Hacks are a great place to engage with other journalists – we even meet in real life, sometimes. But there’s a good directory of places here which cater for freelance writers, authors, and people who like doing it as a hobby (like me and my soon-to-be-acclaimed Magazine Sitcom).
Have you considered setting up a community blog yourself? Finding something you have in common with other writers is easier than ever; it’s the modern-day equivalent of a fanzine. Laura Snapes does a great blog called Popfessions, and Ashley Fryer’s AWOT (Awesome Women of Twitter) has some top-class writing on some important issues.
Find something you’re passionate about and it won’t even feel like hard work (unlike my Foodstuffs Resembling Owen Wilson Tumblr, which was sadly taken down).