To begin the article with some good news, the media industry has been on a road of gradual positive change. Sure, it’s still got a journey ahead of it, but let’s pause and take the small win for a moment. Employment wise, it is officially the most diverse it’s ever been and this is down to a combination of things. One being the power of freelancing.
I run a small indie business called The Freelance Sessions. I'll be honest with you, I started it spontaneously out of pent-up anger and feelings of injustice for my industry I work in, journalism.
After experiencing a large, ugly dose of classism that I had personally faced trying to break into the field as a working-class scouser, and then undergone later working in London at various publications, I decided to set up something to help those who didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in their mouth. I created freelance journalism sessions for beginners and a pitching clinic that would mean any talented writer, regardless of their location, background, accent, class or whether their dad knew the editor of a national newspaper or not, would be able to not only break into the industry, but stay in.
While the sessions would be inclusive for everyone, the heart and focus behind them would be to help get more working-class folk into the industry - those who had always wanted to become journalists but couldn't because of the classist barriers they had previously faced. Whether that was dressed up as unpaid internships, having to move to London or having to ‘Londonsise’ themselves in the office on a staff writer job.
I started them in 2018 and after looking through our stats this month, I found that we have now officially helped break more than 1000 working class writers into the world of journalism. I never expected the sessions to grow quite like this, where working-class people all over, from New York to Liverpool would sign up because they too had experienced gatekeeping in the media. Through doing sessions and hearing people’s different stories, they were sadly all too familiar. It was confirmed to me all over again just how elitist and unjust the industry could be, but I also learned how the practical nature of freelancing can help overcome this adversity and be a weapon against classism.
I have witnessed the results and impact of how being freelance has helped in closing those elitist gaps and has gave more of a platform and shone on light on different voices, opinions and perspectives – creating more well-rounded and relatable industries. I know in the journalism industry, it’s certainly made it less pretentious and cliquey. Not to mention a more interesting, inclusive and friendly place for people in media to work.
Freelancing has been a godsend for so many people who couldn’t afford to move to London for junior grad jobs or do internships - let alone crappy unpaid ones-, and it has been the key which has allowed so many creatives to have carve out a beautiful career, without jumping through so many classist hoops. It has brought accessibility and hope to so many people, who would never have been able to work in their industry without it.
Nailing the art of pitching to editors of huge, prestigious national and global publications from the comfort of your own home and writing remotely for all sorts of titles means you can be a journalist without moving to London, ‘work for exposure’, or having worked in a staff job in the capital.
Freelancing fantastically shoots down the linear paths that I, and so many others, will have been told at university that we had to take. Essentially, the message was, unless we moved to London there’s no way we could ever have the type of creative job we wanted. The status quo that certain gatekeeping industries held and indeed which was filtered down to our lecturers, drummed into us that we needed to take as much ‘exposure work’ as possible and work for as little as we could just to get bylines for a growing portfolio brimming of unpaid work at titles that let’s be honest, nobody had heard of.
With freelancing, it cuts a lot of that out. It allows you to go straight to the publications you love and get paid, brilliant published pieces from their living room. One of my favourite things over the past two years of doing The Freelance Sessions, has been seeing the amount of talented creatives who may have been previously discouraged by the industry because they weren’t posh, didn’t come from a wealthy family, didn’t live in London, nor could afford internships, get their articles and ideas published in huge titles – without doing the dance of unpaid work and internships.
I have to admit, as I previously anticipated when I was piecing what the guerilla teaching would look like, not everyone in the industry gave the sessions a warm welcome, despite us making media more inclusive. I was expecting backlash for the clinic because quite simply, it cuts out a lot of the heartache and struggle. It makes the media world more approachable, less hierarchical and easier for the less privileged to enter in. It tends to be the super privileged in the industry who dislike how we’ve teamed up with the act of freelancing to help more working class people land their first gig and become a success in journalism. And while their response is unfortunate, it's a good sign that those gatekeepers are getting riled up about the fact that the industry is not only for the few anymore, but something more and more, which others can thrive in too.