Friday, October 9, 2009

Editors: Aim to please or stand your ground?

A comment made on my Facebook page today, made by a former journalism teacher, made me remember one of my favourite lessons of freelancing.

I was a fourth-year journalism student with a hefty assignment on green roofs. He was a senior editor who made quasi-promises about printing (and paying for!) said article.

But after weeks of sending him well-crafted, overly-polite emails -- one of which included the full 2,500-word article -- I started to get scared. In his first email he expressed sharp interest ... so why didn't he return any more emails?

Finally, I changed my tune. I wrote and said I was scared I'd made a mistake sending the article. Though I prefaced the note by claiming ignorance on the finer points of freelance ("they don't teach us this is J-school"), I ended with the aggressive "I hope I don't see this article, with the same sources but under a different byline, in a future edition of your newspaper."

Well, that got a response!

"I'll give you some advice about freelancing," the editor wrote, "don't go around accusing senior editors of stealing your story."

Whoa. Was i shut down or what?! I took his advice, and got more comfortable in my powerless freelancer position.

The thing is, just year later, I was on staff at that publication, and of course it wasn't long before I ran into that editor. Yes, he remembered me -- he even remember my article.

And a couple months later he recommended me for an article that dealt with some of the issues my original assignment had schooled me in. Because I was a copy editor at the time, I was able to earn some extra cash writing it, put my knowledge gained from the previous article to use, and give my freelance hopes a boost.

So did I make a mistake that day when I made such an accusation? I'm still not sure. I think I'd rather be remembered as someone who stepped out of line than forgotten among the heap of freelance pitches. And it remains a favourite story ... 'cause it helped lead me to give up the copy desk and write many more stories.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

Dayanti, I am proud of you for standing up for yourself. Freelancers don't get enough respect (or money) and he was jerking you around. You sure got his attention! I remember that feature well. Liked it a lot. And have a dream of putting a green roof on the porch roof outside our bedroom. Plus some solar panels on our roof.

Best wishes,
Carrie Buchanan, Old Journalism Prof