Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A New Writer's Union

I received an interesting email on Monday from a woman responding to a survey that I'd taken about the current state of freelance journalism. In the email, she said she'd be coming to town to talk to freelance writers like myself about joining a new freelance writer's union called the Newspaper Guild. I found this suspicious because I don't remember the survey, first of all, and second, I found the union admission fee of $124 to be a bit much in light of the fact that most freelancers are struggling to find work and make a living, plus there already is an established union called the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Western Washington Chapter, in this area. So I responded to her email with this:

On Mon, Jun 20, 2011
Dear Ms Lum,
I am not sure that I see the value of joining the Newspaper Guild and spending $124 which could be used to feed my family on an untried union. What makes you different from the Society of Professional Journalists, who charge less for membership and are established in this area? The Western Washington SPJ also offered health insurance for awhile, until it became obvious that it was too expensive for most journalists and it didn't cover enough. They also offer a variety of classes to help freelancers get up to speed on new media, and they have an editors/freelancers mixer once a year that offers networking for veteran freelancers and newbies alike. Craigslist, Writers Weekly and Journalism Jobs and MediaBistro are among the many job boards that have local jobs, what there is of them. Where would you find jobs for your jobs board that weren't already listed in those places and available for free?
Thank you for your time,
DeAnn Rossetti
Freelance writer/reporter

Rebecca Lum, the advanced guard for this new union responded:

Hi DeAnn, and thanks for your input. SPJ is indeed a wonderful organization (I'm also an admirer of your state's Journalism That Matters).

What we offer is the power of numbers to affect change and win benefits and protections. Although you understandably describe our unit as untried, in the Bay Area we have been able to leverage our membership (some 200 or so) to develop some decent protections, programs and benefits.

I guess I'd say the primary difference between us and SPJ is that we focus solely on the needs of freelancers. Also, we deal primarily with the pragmatic and the political. This stems from the newsroom bloodbaths of 2008-2010 that jettisoned thousands of journalists (including yours truly). I felt heartsick watching reporters I had long admired struggling to make a living with no benefits, no security, no steady income -- and mouths to feed. I wanted to do whatever I could to improve working conditions across the board and the Guild fortunately shared my sense of urgency.

As for the jobs, I try to get to publications that are hiring people as freelancers. So maybe it's more like "gigs" and less like jobs. Some of our people would love to get a staff position again but others like the freedom and flexibility of freelancing.

But you make good arguments. If we don't fit the bill for you, I take no offense whatever, and I appreciate your getting in touch.

All the best to you.

Kind regards,

Check this out:

Yet if you visit their San Francisco website, you notice that they don't have any medical insurance in place, just a partial dental plan and promises of more to come. I saw little of value on the site that would make me want to spend what is for me a lot of money on dues when I wouldn't get much in return that I couldn't get from the local SPJ. That said, I will be interested to see if this whole thing pans out, or if any freelancers decide to take a chance on it and see if they find the whole thing useful.

Meanwhile, some nasty, sarcastic and interesting anecdotes about classic authors behaving badly, from Shelf Awareness:

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the
dictionary," William Faulkner once said of Ernest Hemingway. Flavorwire
featured the 30 harshest author-on-author insults in history
including Mr. Hemingway's retort: "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think
big emotions come from big words?"

Also, now I won't have to worry about another bookstore claiming that I took their name when I someday get to open my own Butterfly Bookstore:

Children's bookstore Butterfly Books
De Pere, Wis., is closing next month, according to the Green Bay
Press-Gazette http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz11258606.
Amy VandenPlas, owner of the 20-year-old store, said on the store's
website: "We have loved being a part of the community, meeting you and
sharing your love of books. Because of economic times, we can no longer
provide the quality service and product you deserve."

This is a fascinating little pictoral of people reading:

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