IT’S been 30 years of rude awakenings by my alarm clock signalling the start of another working day at the office.
Since taking the decision to go freelance and work from home, would I be in for a rude awakening of a very different sort?
First, let me be very clear about one thing – I love being a journalist, I’m proud of my achievements and have absolutely no regrets about my path in life. Three decades at the coalface of local news gathering, learning my stock-in trade from cub reporter all the way up to editor, has been the adventure of a lifetime. It is the environment in which I have done most of my growing and learned most about people.
I have made lifelong friends and lifelong memories and they will continue to be cherished forever.
So why am I now tossing away the comfort blanket of my career and taking what can only be acknowledged as a ‘leap into the unknown?’
At 48, I’m too young to retire but old enough to bring a wealth of experience to the table. I still have a lot to offer and there’s plenty more time to explore new avenues and ideas.
But, at 48, I’ve also finally ‘come of age’, discovering new maturity and the courage to be true to myself and to make necessary change in my life.
Sad to say however, it was a decision also partly driven by the changing face of the industry.
An industry in transition
For more than two centuries the morning newspaper was as much a central feature of every household as tea and jam. And it’s certainly been my bread and butter for an entire career.
For any print journalist hushed talk of ‘the future of newspapers’ is like addressing the elephant in the room. But there will always be a need for quality journalism – the question is, just in what form?
The pen may be mightier than the sword – but there’s also a reluctant realisation that cuts as deep as any blade.
As the modern era of news consumerism takes hold, so the industry has had to adapt.
Continued changing social trends and growing digital domination has impacted heavily on newspaper sales and advertising revenues, readers instead opting to swipe their way through the headlines on all manner of devices.
You have only to look at the industry headlines on a daily basis to get a worrying forecast as titles tumble and publishing groups record huge losses.
Research shows news is as popular as ever, but busier lives and a growing appetite for short soundbites and social media forums is taking its toll on the printed product. As an editor of more than four years I can state that categorically – and I take no pleasure in it.
Despite this, I believe it is vitally important we never lose sight of a local newspaper’s USP – investigative and championing journalism with its roots set firmly in the local community.
But, with leaner budgets and fewer resources than ever before, quality journalism is becoming harder to fund. That’s why community newspapers with trained and passionate journalists should be cherished and, most importantly, supported. If you’ve not had occasion to call upon a local journalist to step in on your behalf, one day you just might. And I hope they’re still there, being tenacious and campaigning for their readers. Help them now so they can continue to help you!
The platforms available to local publishers need differentiation. The mobile experience is live, short and geographically aware. On a tablet, the experience is image-rich and takes advantage of the fact video is more widely consumed as users relax with their device in the evenings as routinely as they would put the kettle on. This responsive-content approach requires community newspapers to think broadly and create the best content for each medium and the technology to help deliver it.
So what does the future hold for the regional press after what has been 15 years of cuts and decline? In my experience, local newspapers are still usually the first port of call for local news online. They have not lost their dominance of local news largely because, in the most part, they still have the best news-gathering networks and the trusted brand on which to publish it. Their brands, in my opinion, may ultimately prove their saviour.
Despite the shifting sands of news consumption, it is my firm belief that quality print journalism still has the power to pack a punch at a local level – holding authority to account time after time for the benefit of local residents. Never underestimate the power of a phone call or email from the local newspaper! I’ve seen the effects time and time again.
That said, in my opinion, not enough newspapers are tackling the threat of digital dominance with enough urgency. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. Social media, in particular, is becoming a much bigger player in the game! Ignore it at our peril.
I guess I would conclude that we MUST embrace the future, but MUST NOT lose sight of the lessons and traditions of the past.
So, what of my new-found freedom from deadlines and headlines?
Well, a few weeks in, it’s been busier than ever, so I really need to get a handle on this scaling back my hours idea!
Working for yourself has its pros and cons like anything else and here are my observations so far . .
- I can work the hours that suit me and choose my work.
- I have no one to answer to except the clients.
- As a working mum, no more mad dashes to school appointments or domestic engagements and spending more time around the family.
- Reacquainting myself with my friends and social life!
- Easing the general pressures on the household by having more freedom to stay on top of some of those domestic chores.
- Relieving the stress of what was (I’m not going to lie) an increasingly demanding job.
- No more juggling of holidays. (Holiday spreadsheets used to be our bible in the Chalmers household!)
- Self-fulfilment of running my own business.
- A lot of unpaid time chasing the work.
- No sick pay or holiday pay.
- Can get lonely. (Fortunately I thrive on my own company and work best on my own, so not a big problem for me compared to many.)
- Miss the buzz of breaking news. (But don’t miss the weekly pressure of deadline.)
Stepping away from the 9 til 5 (does anyone really work 9-5 any more?!) took more courage than anything that’s gone before – and it only really happened thanks to the support of my family and friends who helped me delve deep to find the confidence I sorely craved. So I suppose I should say ‘thank you’ to them now – because, despite my fears and insecurities, this has proved to be the ONE OF THE BEST DECISIONS of my life.
And thanks in no small part too to a certain fellow freelance (she knows who she is!) who has been – and continues to be – in my corner during the early days. Having a support network around you, I’ve discovered, is essential because, while I know my trade, the world of self-employment plants you back at the bottom of a whole new learning curve. (I’ve never been great with learning curves – but adapting nicely.)
I will always be a journalist – I will always be passionate about local newspapers (long may they continue) – and, most importantly, I’ll always support them.
It’s just that nowadays, I’m quite enjoying the prospect of my new challenge and there’s still plenty of time for new adventures.
Maybe we’ll meet along the way.