#HeartNUJ: Why I'm in my union
11 February 2017
NUJ rep and freelance member Louise Bolotin
As a freelance journalist, I’m passionate about my membership of the NUJ and often feel like I’m on a mission to persuade other freelances to join. In my view, all freelance journalists should be in the NUJ. Why? There are many, many reasons but here are a few.
The NUJ helps freelances with updating their skills and ideas. Last year I was delighted to deliver sessions at the NUJ’s three NUJ skills days, which took place in London and Liverpool – I did short workshops on negotiating skills, how to pitch to editors and topics student journalists should consider if they plan to freelance after graduating. As the freelance and training officer of my branch, I also helped to bring two more skills events to members in Manchester and Salford.
Freelances don’t get the opportunity to learn new things in the workplace, so offering NUJ training is important if freelance journalists are to stay successful in finding work, and getting positive feedback from training participants shows the NUJ is on the right track.
It’s great when members tell you that as a result they successfully negotiated a bigger fee, or that the digital skills they picked up have led them to new avenues for work.
The NUJ is also there for freelances when a client hasn’t paid them, or they need legal advice, or help securing their copyright. The union's freelance office works tirelessly to help members – I know, as I’ve called on it for help a couple of times myself down the years when faced with a persistent late payer or two. I also called on my branch secretary to vouch for me in the run-up to the 2010 general election when I applied for freelance accreditation to report from the count and the returning officer refused me – a phone call from my branch secretary soon put him right.
It’s good to know my union has my back when I need it. This kind of assistance is why I’m happy to pay my subs. I see my subs as an insurance policy as much as anything else. It’s like insuring the contents of your home. You pay in and you may never need to claim but, rest assured, if you do need it, the help is available.
Networking is essential for freelances – you never know when a chat with another member of the NUJ may lead to work being offered. I’ve landed several really good, continuing jobs as a result of networking at my branch, the union's delegate meeting or socialising in the breaks at an NUJ event.
A lot of freelance non-members mistakenly think the NUJ is only for staffers, with their workplace chapels and collective bargaining with management. But freelances are the fastest-growing segment of membership – currently almost a third – and there is strength in numbers. The more freelances who join the better the benefits the union will be able to offer them. One essential benefit is the opportunity to buy the cheapest indemnity insurance available – you never know when you may need it and, unlike staffers, freelances aren’t necessarily automatically covered by the publications they write for.
The union’s freelance industrial council, on which I sit, works tirelessly behind the scenes to improve the lot of freelances – we discuss everything from protecting copyrights to updating the freelance fees guide (so useful if you want to know how much a publication typically pays). Right now, we’re looking at how Brexit could affect our freelance members who sell to European markets.
I see my NUJ membership as an essential part of my freelance career, as important as pitching for work, doing my accounts or keeping my skills relevant. And all for the price of a cup of coffee and a muffin per week.