Tag: Freelance

Wirral Grammar School for Girls: a talk about careers in arts and humanities



Why chose to study arts and humanities subjects?

That was the theme of a careers talk I led this week for Wirral Grammar School for Girls.

The groups of teenagers aged 14-16 are currently considering what subjects to study at A Level.

The majority opt for maths and science but, over three sessions, I looked at why an arts strand of study is equally important.

I also quoted the recent article from The Independent, whereby the comedian Josie Long took Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to task for her “immense, ingrained snobbery” about the arts.

Arts Emergency, the organisation Long has co-founded to get young people into arts subjects, states the arts are important because:

“Without the capacity to think beyond repetition there is no beyond to crisis.”

I went on to talk about how this area lends itself to flexible working and freelance contracts, a hugely growing sector of the economy.

But freelance has pros and cons as follows:

Freelancing means

  • Be your own boss
  • Greater variety and fresh challenges
  • Flexibility for busy lifestyles
  • Take more control of your own tax and pension planning
  • Chose your own projects – sometimes it’s good to say ‘no’

But freelancing also means

  • Irregular hours and income
  • The need for a military-stlye self discipline
  • You have to keep good records of you income and expenses
  • You cane feel like you’re never off duty
  • You are only as good as your last commission

Here are some of the comments from the group when I asked them to jot down some feedback after the lecture:

“I now know my father should stop laughing at my interest in arts and English. You gave me confidence – thanks. I will also re-start my blog. Very inspiring talk.”

“I found there are more jobs out there that you can go into without the more academic subjects. It was interesting to hear all the different ways you can make money from writing.”

“It is as hard as I thought it would be to get a job in journalism. But, I learnt, blogs are a good way to start.”

“I learnt that a lot more can be achieved freelance than I originally thought. Arts and English are much more valuable than I thought.”

“I enjoyed the simple, honest way it was presented. It has made me want a career in journalism even more.”

“I learnt that you don’t have to study maths and science to get an interesting job.”


Arts Emergency: Why the arts and humanities matter

Josie Long: ‘Belittling the arts is not funny, Education Secretary’

Liked this? Try also National Freelancers Day: A talk for Leeds University Media students.

Do you agree that choosing arts and humanities can help secure your future career? Share your thoughts below.


National Freelancers Day: A talk for Leeds University journalism students



* Images by Vicente Schulz

It was National Freelancers Day this week.

I marked the day with a return trip to my old alma mater, Leeds University, to talk to the media students [pictured above] about going freelance and travel writing as part of the #LeedsMediaFutures series.

It was a sparky session, comprising both post- and undergraduates, with lots of good questions.

I’ve got a real soft spot for Leeds. My first ever published article was a review of a Mudhoney gig at Leeds University in 1992 and my time working for the Leeds Student newspaper helped me to build my portfolio of cuttings.

This in turn helped to secure me a place on a postgraduate journalism course in London back in 1994.

I’ll save the whole lecture for the Leeds group but here’s a glimpse of what I discussed, looking specifically at how to get started as a freelancer journalist:

  • The onus is on you, so do a good job. Stick to deadlines, word counts and follow the brief
  • Look for fresh angles and new ideas. Stand out as editors get some 50 pitches per day
  • Journalism is moving online, so build digital skills – leverage the strengths of the medium and build community
  • Start with what you know. Pick a publication you read regularly and look for regular sections to fill
  • Spin off angles on the same story for different publication
  • When you file your copy, follow up with a fresh new idea

And here are some of the comments from the group when I asked them to jot down some feedback after the lecture:

  • “I found that going freelance is being a jack of all trades; not just climbing the ladder but spreading your wings. It stretches your mind and challenges you to think differently.” – Evelyn Robinson (puravidastudent.com)
  • “Interesting points on how to pitch an idea and how to come up with a story if you are struggling. Would like to know if the blogosphere is already saturated?” – Rory Dormer (sunburntabroad.blogspot.co.uk)
  • “In freelancing, the scariest thing is, and perhaps always will be, the uncertainty.” – Jenson Deokiesingh (trinitraveller.wordpress.com)
  • “You were very honest and didn’t pretend you haven’t struggled at times with freelance work. I liked the way you shared tips or ideas that could help but that we hadn’t necessarily thought of ourselves.” – Lily Connagher


Leeds University School of Media and Communication

National Freelancers Day 2014

What tips would you offer a student journalist looking to go freelance? Share your comments below.


Going it alone: Why university lecturers go freelance


* An edited version of this story is due to appear on the Guardian Higher Education Network.

The students are back on campus this week. But, instead of uploading schemes of work and heading to class, I’ll be clearing my desk.

I’m leaving a contracted role as a university lecturer to go it alone, offering my services as a freelance tutor [pictured above], setting up my own day courses and developing e-learning projects.

It feels scary. On a practical level I’ll miss the resources of having a university behind me while, emotionally, the isolation of working without a community of trusted colleagues to share the day-to-day travails feels pretty daunting.

But I feel increasingly frustrated by the lethargy of the university environment, the gear-grinding bureaucracy of decision-making and the nit-picking interference of senior management.

Shared concerns

According to Jon Richards, trade union UNISON’s National Secretary Education and Children’s Services, I’m not the only one.

“The increased pressures at work, the tendency for some HE institutions to ape poor business management practices and an environment of falling pay, conditions and pensions. Faced with these, the idea of working alone under your own steam must seem attractive,” he says. He adds:

“There are risks, notably the change from a steady paycheck to uncertain and non-guaranteed income.”

Strategic choice

Dr. Neil Thompson left a job as Professor of Applied Social Studies at Staffordshire University in 1997 to go freelance. He set up his own business, offering training, consultancy and expert witness services.

“I walked away from university employment but carried on doing academic things, such as working as an external examiner and being part of an editorial board for an academic journal,” he explains.

He offers three pieces of advice for lecturers looking to make the leap: establish a market for your services, act as a professional and build a freelance career around a diverse portfolio of work.

“I still remember the pressure I felt when I first went freelance to do a good job. After all, somebody is paying you,” he adds. “And remember, working independently means you are effectively a small business so start to think more commercially.”

“Business is not a dirty word.”

Online learning

For Roger McDonald, an independent curator and lecturer based in Japan, the evolution of technology has enabled him to carve a new niche. Roger, who did a PhD in art history at the University of Kent, Canterbury, moved to Japan in 2000 as a founding member of the not-for-profit Arts Initiative Tokyo (AIT), which runs an independent art school in Tokyo. He combines this with casual work as art lecturer at Tokyo Zokei University.

He teaches contemporary and modern art history in Japanese with sessions available to watch free online via YouTube. “It took time getting used to recording myself but now there is a substantial archive available online,” he says.

“For me, I enjoy thinking up a curriculum outside the remit of ordinary institutional teaching, such as like a course on hallucinogenic drugs and modern artists. The downside is less peer group discussions than in an institutional setting,” he adds.

Mentally prepared

From my own point of view, I’ve tried to prepare myself for change by putting the word out through my professional network, contacting a broad range of organisations from schools to higher education via corporate clients to offer my subject expertise, and updating my website and social media channels to reflect my plans.

I also signed up to a local co-working group, taking a hot desk in a communal space with a seminar room, where I intend to run my own masterclass sessions. I hope this will provide me with a new support network, albeit one with a broader community of micro-businesses from IT to publishing.

To be honest, the diary still has lots of blank pages and the creeping sense of unease still gives me some sleepless nights.

I know it will take time to build up my business and I’m in this for the long haul.

I’ll admit to a twinge of sadness as pack my things this week, take a deep breath and step into the unknown. But whatever happens, I’ll be the master of my own destiny.

And that feels good.


Neil Thompson

AIT Tokyo


Creative Futures 2013: Getting A Job in the Media


The Creative Futures event is under way at Glyndwr University. It runs until Thursday.

Yesterday I caught freelance producer Phil Hirst giving a ground-level talk, Getting a Job in the Media.

His message focused on how to break in to a media landscape he describe as, “Fast-moving, fickle and a challenging business to work in.”

It was a rather static presentation lacking visual punch at times, but he did offer some advice to undergraduates keen to find a foot in the door.

“Ask some searching questions about what you want to achieve. How you will turn that burning ambition into getting a job.”

Most noteworthy was a section on the importance of work experience.

He cited a recent BBC news story detailing the findings of the latest High Fliers study.

The report indicates there will be more jobs for new graduates in 2013 but warns that “… graduates without work experience will struggle to get jobs no matter how good their grades.”

I did plenty of work experience myself while at journalism school.

It was a mixed bag – from making tea at the now defunct Melody Maker to trips down to the cuttings library to research stories at the Mail on Sunday.

Some of my cohort went on to get jobs from their work placements. I didn’t. But the experience of being in the newsroom proved invaluable nonetheless.

I spent four months unemployed after graduation. Then I got a few freelance shifts and that led to a full-time job on a magazine.

I moved to London the next week.

Phil offered some top tips for working in the media as follows:

  • Make it count. Get that work experience
  • Make friends. Put yourself about. Open doors
  • Make media. Watch, read, listen
  • Make your own luck. Target your effort
  • Make it to the finishing post. Pick yourself up and go again
  • JFDI. Just flippin’ do it

He said: “These days, it’s what you know, what you can show and who you know.”

Do you agree? Did you find Phil’s talk useful?

Post your comments below.