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October 17, 2006

Comments

Tim Worstall

Really rather amusing that about 20 minutes after posting that I got a call from a national asking for a piece for tomorrow.

Ho hum, perhaps I should decry nepotism more often?

Phil

Agreed. People often don't realise that getting an individual piece of work accepted has very little to do with the quality of said piece of work. (I know I had no idea that this was the case when I first started pitching stuff - come to that, if somebody had told me it was the case I would have been outraged and refused to believe it.) Having sat on both sides of the desk, I'd say that what really matters to a commissioning
editor is having a network of reliable contacts. To accept a piece of work is, potentially, to add a new person to that network - which is risky. Most of the time editors don't take that risk; 99% of the time, probably.

So, from a writer's point of view, what you're trying to do is not to sell your writing (that comes later) but to plug into a network - which means it's all about who you know, who can do you favours and who you can impress into doing you favours. For complete outsiders, the last one is probably the best way in - although I imagine the universal availability of self-publishing will make it harder to stand out.

Once you have impressed somebody with your writing skills, erudition and RELIABILITY - and in brute practical terms the first two are fairly dispensable[1]; you can write like William Leith or Johann Hari as long as you're RELIABLE - you're made, of course[2]. Until you fall out with someone important, your contacts move on or their publications close, of course. Fun life, freelancing.

(Did I mention that it's important to be RELIABLE?)

[1] Unless you want to be able to take pride in your work, tell relatives what you do, look editors in the eye etc.
[2] For values of 'made' which involve a lot of anxious staring at bank statements and spreadsheets.

a

How young he is, how very young.

Melanie Phillips was Social Affairs correspondent of the Guardian for most of the 1980s. As she recounts in "All Must Have Prizes", it was interviewing a young black man about education (for a Guardian piece) which set her on her road to Damascus.

The Pedant-General

"There'd be no point (say) the Groan employing Sam Leith or Melanie Phillips, "

Except, of course, that it did.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melanie_Phillips#Education_and_career_as_a_journalist

;-)

chris

Yes, I know it did employ her once - but that was before she, ahem, turned. It couldn't, surely, employ her now.

james higham

I found Phil's comment above very interesting and would like to explore that one further.

Shuggy

"Yes, I know it did employ her once - but that was before she, ahem, turned. It couldn't, surely, employ her now."

She did her 'turning' *while* she was at the Guardian but you're probably right; she the wrong sort of conservative for the Guardian.

Paulie

Who called you Tim? Your cousin or your brother?

;-)

Paulie

Oh, and the Groan employed Simon Jenkins, for god sake. But I suppose it isn't a problem for them, now they have formally dumped internationalism, the wankers have no differences with Paleo-conservatives.

Tim Worstall

Paulie: strangely, someone I've never met nor talked to before. Although I have had stuff in that paper before and have met his two mukkahs.

Alex

and, though they didn't employ him, they ran Max Hastings' stuff. And Michael Howard's. I even think they may have printed John Redwood at one point. That the Grauniad's op ed is ideologically monolithic is a myth. They've got commies as well as Trots, you know..

Nosemonkey

Agreed to all of what Phil said above. As I'm currently in the position of having to commission a bunch of stuff (which has to be written in a very specific way, and in a very short space of time), there's little or no chance I'd risk going for anyone who I don't already know for certain will be able to deliver - even if they're the next Will Self in terms of literary ability.

In fact, I'd far rather go for someone who's a bit rubbish with the words but will get them in on time - because it's infinitely easier to knock bad copy into shape than it is to edit genuinely good writing, whether it's in on time or not. Good writers tend to structure their articles too well, making cutting them down to fit the space (always a necessity to some extent, whether they're bang on the wordcount or not) an absolute nightmare.

Planeshift

So what advice would you give someone unknown looking to get work from the nationals? (I'm not referring to myself here)

That is advice to someone who doesn't have the bank of mummy and daddy to finance unpaid internships.....

james C

You are missing the point. Journalism is not like academic writing, where ideas are supposedly judged on their merit. It is more akin to propaganda, where trusted henchmen and women peddle the partyline. Obediance, conformity are what counts.

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