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Bristol signs up new members at freelance session

20 August 2012

Paul Breeden, NUJ Bristol Branch chair

Bristol NUJ's 'How to be a Freelance' session on Saturday August 18 was a huge success, with several participants who arrived as non-members of the union saying they would sign up for membership.

The two-hour session introduced those new to freelancing with a host of ideas on how to find work, practical issues like keeping accounts and the new opportunities that technology has opened up for journalists.

The event was set up primarily to help journalists made redundant in May at Bristol's Post newspaper but also attracted other participants.

Barry Fitzpatrick, the NUJ's deputy general secretary, broke into his summer holiday to attend the session at Bristol's Stag & Hounds pub and said he was highly impressed with the event.

Experienced freelancers from the Bristol branch executive plus invited guests passed on a host of advice to the participants.

Richard Coulter, former Bristol Evening Post sub-editor and founder of the much-admired hyperlocal monthly Filton Voice, was impressive with his enthusiasm for his well-thought-out business model which he says many experienced journalists could follow.

He took his own magazine into profit from the first issue, focusing on local news and employing an ex-Post sales executive to help him bring in advertising.

Networking is key to the success of freelance ventures, he said, stressing the value of collaborating with former colleagues and fellow union members in sharing skills and in finding work.

As well as a profitable magazine, his efforts have brought him contacts which produced new lines of work, from writing to editing and promotional activities.

The Bristol branch chair stressed the high value of journalists' skills when they venture into marketing and branding work, where specialist companies often charge thousands of pounds and journalists are often lulled into undervaluing their efforts.

Other contributors were united in stressing the importance of the NUJ as a valuable network for freelances.

Susie Weldon, branch secretary, said she had found a wide variety of work from feature writing to producing a book for a Bristol charity.

Christina Zaba, former branch chair, urged participants not to be shy about pitching their ideas, saying that when a good idea is promoted with confidence it often meets success.

She told how she had won work from a series for HTV to book editing, feature writing and regular newspaper columns. She also helped promote the campaign for an elected mayor for Bristol, which resulted in the city returning the only 'yes' vote in the country.

She urged everyone to build on their special skills to make themselves indispensable, citing her own degree in medieval languages, her fluency in Polish and her interest in information security – all of which have won her work.

Chloe Rigby, former Post business editor, said she had also deliberately focused on specialist fields when she started freelancing – though the areas she found successful were not always the ones she had chosen.

She found her business expertise won her work and led her into new fields from legal writing to e-commerce – an area where she and her husband are among the few specialist writers and editors in the field.

Like Christina, she also told how a freelance home-based lifestyle makes it easier to fit work around rearing small children.

Simon Chapman, the branch freelance officer, spoke about the practicalities of freelance photography, stressing the importance of understanding copyright and agreeing the right deal with employers.

Placing photographs with national publications is becoming more difficult as budgets are reduced, he said, but work is still out there.

Andy Dawson, the branch's membership secretary, urged participants to expand their knowledge of new technology, telling how he won months of work on a major charity's website after taking short college courses on HTML and other new media skills.

Paul Breeden urged participants to think about other sources of income as well as journalism, saying journalists can use their skills in lecturing and lucrative media training as well as more obvious fields like PR.

Barry Fitzpatrick said he was mainly there to listen, but urged all present to watch out for the implications of new stakeholder pension schemes to be introduced next year which will oblige all employers to contribute to basic pensions.

The union will be looking into the implications and issuing advice, he said – important because many freelances do not think about pension arrangements.

The session was warmly appreciated by the 10 freelance participants. Many who arrived as non-members said they would be signing up – a real vote of success for the event.

The branch is now considering how to build on the enthusiasm generated. One idea is to produce a local online register of freelancers' skills and interests to build on the NUJ's national freelance register.

Another possibility is to expand the event to a full day, perhaps emulating the London event called New Ways of Making Journalism pay.

Tags: , Bristol, freelance, recruitment, branch