‘Hold on, I’ll get the number for you. It’s 734 5444.’I get it all the time. ‘Is that 0207?’I ask. ‘Yes,’comes back the incredulous reply, ‘Why? Where are you?”
When, as a freelance journalist, I decided to settle ‘up North”, I never imagined that I would find myself justifying it professionally on an almost daily basis. But in 2008 does it really matter where a freelance journalist lives?
Julie Ferry is a freelance living in Bristol and writing for the national broadsheets and women’s glossies. She says, ‘There is a definite feeling that if you’re not in London you don’t really know what’s going on. I certainly think I’ve missed out on short-notice commissions just because editors immediately discount you if you aren’t based in central London.”
However, says Ferry, ‘I’ve been able to build up a lot of contacts with the local media in Bristol as there isn’t so much competition here among freelances. This has led to my own ethical-living column in a South West lifestyle magazine, which I would never have had living in London.”
But how do London editors feel about freelances who don’t reside in the capital?
Jude Rogers is a London-based former music magazine reviews editor and now editor of a pop-culture website. She says: ‘All too often I’ve seen colleagues and other professionals assume that freelances live in the big smoke.
‘The assumption always astounds me – especially in this age of instant communication and internet technology. There are phones to do interviews, you know, a recorded-delivery postal service, and also interviewees who don’t live in spitting distance of Kensington and Chelsea.’
While Rogers maintains it matters not a jot to her as an editor, she adds, ‘PRs often assume freelances live in London too, so much so that on several occasions they’ve asked to bike review copies to writers, only to be most put out to find that said writer lives somewhere far-flung and not even in Zone 6. On one occasion I was practically told by a PR to pick another writer.”
Abi Bliss is a freelance arts journalist based in Huddersfield. She writes on music for Metro, Wire and Plan B, among others, and says, ‘I often get new editors asking me to review gigs that night in London and acting surprised when I can’t just pop down.
‘I often get the old ‘I’ll have the CD biked over’ scenario, where PRs simply can’t accept that I might not live within the M25.’
Surely us provincial hacks’ complaints that London doesn’t make allowances for us is good reason to move there? Aren’t we making life difficult for ourselves?
Bliss disagrees. ‘I do have a really good quality of life here and, as far as I am concerned, it makes no difference to me as a writer. I have also definitely got work because of where I’m based – such as destination guides for railway magazines – and often you get people ringing round desperate to find people who know the Leeds music scene.’
It only takes her two-and-a-half hours to get to London, she adds. ‘I know people who live in London who seem to commute for that long anyway. I can’t imagine how it would benefit me to move there.”
Another advantage of living in the sticks, argues Ferry, is that ‘it does make you pick the events you attend and the time you spend networking more carefully, and if an editor knows you are coming all the way from Bristol for a meeting, they are less likely to cancel at the last minute”.