My friend Martin called yesterday at about 6.30. The sun was shining, and I wondered if he fancied an impromptu bike ride.
Instead it was disastrous news. Catastrophic, to be honest. NewsBase, my second largest employer by turnover, had gone into liquidation. Just like that. Martin also works for the company – which covered a wide spectrum of the global energy market from its base in Edinburgh – but not as regularly as me.
I write/wrote for four of their publications each week, covering electricity plus oil and gas in Africa, liquefied natural gas globally and unconventional oil and gas extraction globally. I have been freelancing for NewsBase for 16 years. Now it is gone. Kaput. And with it our monthly rent money, and slightly more. Wham, bam, thank you mam.
Suddenly I have time on my hands and it is too wet to go outside. May as well write about the company, which has been a stalwart financial supporter of the Godier family in the years since our 2003 financial crash.
In many ways, NewsBase reports pre-figured the way that news increasingly works today. Which is that Reuters or Bloomberg or the Associated Press (AP) put out a story on their newswires, and the entire mainstream media follows behind with the same story, tweaking it here and there and adding some new quotes and facts. At the lower end of the spectrum, my dad was interviewed four years ago by his local paper in Brentwood, Essex, after his blue badge parking permit was taken away from him, at age 88. A few days later The Sun carried exactly the same story and quotes.
So the principle is that plagiarism has replaced journalism. All over the world. It’s cheaper and quicker, and legal, so long as you cite the source. Fewer journalists are required, which cuts the wage bills, and is eroding the profession. NewsBase very much encouraged this style of journalism, which I was unfamiliar with, having been trained to seek exclusive content. The policy in Edinburgh was to pay the writer a low rate for second-hand information (£0.10 per word), and get him or her to write lots of it, so that they can earn quite well if they knock out enough plagiarised articles. It was easy money, and was also, unexpectedly, a great learning curve in teaching me to check facts, rather than just blind copying, which has huge perils.
As the years went by, NewsBase did improve its act. It asked for original quotes, and better quality. And introduced a template for writing features, which I found to be a useful and practical way to look at any form of written work. The guidelines was to split the feature into three parts. 1) What? What’s the story, what’s new? When and where? Who says so? 2) Why? What’s driving this story? Past or recent factors? Was this inevitable, or a surprise? 3) What next? Self-explanatory. The pleasant part of concluding with a forecast was that NewsBase encouraged its writers to give their own take on the future, backed by some kind of evidence.
That format developed me as a writer. For which I’m grateful. Also for the regular pay-checks. However these could sometimes be spaced out very haphazardly for freelancers, and the delays got so bad once that I threatened my editors with a writing strike. Which brought a bollocking from the company’s founding director Gavin Don (below), followed by the offer of a monthly retainer. Which made life so much better. Never be afraid to complain.
As to the present shock, I cannot imagine how the NewsBase payments can be replaced. Or the money I am still owed. Not only will that probably be paid at pennies in the pound, but it could take a protracted amount of time.
No point whining. Shit happens in business.
The irony is that the monotony of much of the NewsBase work has been increasingly dragging down my moods in the past year. I have been itching to write something else, that mirrors my interests, and piques my curiosity. Or to try a different kind of job altogether.
Now I have the chance. And I’m bricking it. Scared on a number of fronts. What next?
I’m so unsure of how to deal with this that I’ve decided to let the shock die down gradually across the Bank Holiday.