Interactive innovation - progress report

WHAT DO freelances want? That's what London Freelance Branch asked at an entertaingly-choreographed "interactive meeting" this time last year. In the sprit of New Year resolutions, let's reflect on achievements that have come out of that meeting, and on what still is to be done. This is the promised longer online version.

Aided by "40 plus hastily scribbled sticky notelets," affixed to a Wall of Aspirations (the full text of which is at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0604wall.html), Branch members catalogued the "things that pissed you off" and started to look at solutions. The original report on the meeting is at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0604want.html and in the sprit of New Year resolutions, it's time to reflect what achievements have come out of that meeting, and what still is to be done.

At last year's interactive meeting, it was clear that, while there are a lot of resources on the LFB's website, keeping track of all the advice gets more and more difficult, not everyone knows where to find it. We now have a FAQ page. Whassat? Frequently Asked Questions. It helps you find information on the site, and it's at www.londonfreelance.org/FAQ. We plan to run it periodically in the print edition Freelance. But we're still waiting for some feedback on how often you want it updated and what else you want it to cover.

Advice on tax and time off was one theme raised at the interactive meeting. This is now available via your mobile at www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/getaxtxt.html and advice on contracts was also requested at that meeting: there is now updated advice on www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/gecomtxt.html

How to get contracts amended, especially to de-sting clauses that try to make freelances liable for the costs of any court cases, also came up. There's now a liability insurance policy available exclusively to union members, see the article at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0701libe.html from last issue. Maybe we still need to do more work on learning how to negotiate away liability clauses.

Members at the interactive meeting wanted us to somehow get back to having freelance agreements, negotiated annually. There's still a long way to go here, although there have been some small victories on freelance agreements since then. The consultative ballot of freelances in last year's Independent dispute shows what we can do, and the idea of a national "freelances' day off" action sometime in the future is one that is developing. Watch this space.

Advice on syndication was another request that came up. We haven't had a meeting on this since June 2005, so maybe we're due another one.

"Editors fight shy of stories that critique the media" was another complaint. Since then, the NUJ's Journalism Matters campaign has done some work on engaging the public and raising the debate on this: see here. "A code of conduct for editors!" was another request. The Quality Street email network is soliciting examples of good practice among commissioning editors, but the response has not been great and more input from members is needed. See www.londonfreelance.org/QualityStreet to join it.

And how about "educating staffers about freelances"? Since then, links between staff chapels and freelances have been getting stronger, particularly at the Independent, the Bristol newspaper titles and the Southampton Echo. There has still not been much progress on "getting editors to take seriously freelances' requests for expenses", but now at least there is the Freelance Ready Reckoner - a useful bargaining tool that exposes the amount of money employers save by using freelances instead of staff. It's at www.andrewbibby.com/reckoner.html

Freelances lack war risk insurance and have to rely on the Reporters Sans Frontiêres scheme, which has weird exceptions.

"Lack of communication: freelances not knowing what other freelances are doing" is likely to gradually improve with more email networks now up and running, and work starting on the Freelance Fees Guide bulletin boards, which were intended eventually to become interactive forums with upcoming event listings if there was enough input from members [there wasn't].

"What about an advanced course on feature writing?" was a question put at the interactive meeting. The LFB's own Humphrey Evans has delivered the first Developing Your Freelance Capabilities course, with more such courses expected to be run later in the year.

There were also requests for some kind of bulletin board with information on press days, upcoming photo shoots, and  forums for members to pass on details of forthcoming events they weren't able to cover. The Freelance Fees Guide bulletin boards will eventually be able to do all these when they continue to get enough input. Meanwhile, email networks are performing some of these functions, especially the photographers' networks NUJPhoto and EPUK: see www.londonfreelance.org/contacts.html for links to all such networks.

The Freelance editors have started work on a database of publication deadlines, but input has not been impressive, and we're currently having a think about how to proceed with this, and about what format it should take. Photographers wanted a meeting on picture libraries - and we've had two well-attended meetings: on what photo editors want (www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0608gray.html); and on making money from stock libraries www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0612stoc.html). A few issues from the interactive meeting haven' been addressed at all. These include avoiding having your work completely rewritten,  restrictions on insurance for freelance war reporters, freelances being overlooked for staff jobs when they come up, and the related issue of "permalancing" - the extraordinary lengths employers will go to avoid giving you a permenant contract. This last issue may in some cases have been improved by the recent coming into force of the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000: see www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0611wrkl.html

Don't forget that the Freelance Office is also there to respond to members'  individual questions. The more sensible questions the Freelance Office receive from you, the better an idea of your needs they have.

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