Credit: Photo by Ahmed Zayan on Unsplash

Freelance journalists have a new, centralised resource of work opportunities, advice and moral support to help them through the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis.

Laura Oliver, a freelance journalist, set up the slack group Support for Freelance Journalists together with Abigail Edge, John Crowley and Caroline Harrap, when it became apparent that the current trends of furloughed journalists and falling ad revenue spelled trouble for freelance journalism.

"It’s a very stressful time," says Oliver.

"Freelancing has its own layers of stress attached to it at the best of times."

Add in a global pandemic, you have a situation where freelancers’ income streams are greatly affected. Others have cited how booked projects have been cancelled or put on hold.

"You are watching bread and butter work evaporate before your eyes," Crowley added. "Many of your normal avenues of work are not there."

Feeling the strain?

The Slack group provides resources and advice for freelancers in the same situation. For many, that may be the pressure of juggling work and parental responsibilities at home. For others, the stress comes from losing out on key income through live teaching and training work.

Others, like Edge, are not eligible for the UK government's Self-employment Income Support Scheme. In her case, it is because she only returned to freelance work at the start of the year after two years in PAYE jobs at BBC News and Google News Initiative. Prior to that, she filed her self-employment tax returns in the US, where she was living at the time.

"It’s a scary position to be in when there is no safety net," she explained, adding that her experience is not an isolated one.

Many freelancers are finding themselves in this precarious position of having to adapt to make ends meet. It is why their shared experiences come as useful advice for a group which has grown to about 60 members from all over the world since it started up last month. The founders stressed it is not an attempt to upstage any other freelancing networks.

What's on offer?

The Slack group offers legal advice ranging from knowing your rights in different situations down to the finer details of how long a helpline phone call takes.

Add to that channels which are updated with handy virtual events and webinars, grants and funding opportunities, and other useful advice articles and podcasts.

Screenshot: Support for Freelance Journalists on Slack

"The biggest question is: 'who is still commissioning and which publications are still taking pitches'," says Oliver.

While the outlook seems bleak, the reality is that editors do still have websites and columns to fill, and therefore, freelancing gigs are still up for grabs, Harrap added.

"It may be a cliché, but two heads really are better than one – and, between us, we have an impressive set of skills, a huge amount of experience and a great network of contacts."

To that end, users are encouraged to outline their expertise and skillset upon joining so that people can share their breakthroughs. That way, members know who might be a good fit for the bill if other opportunities spring up within their networks.

"You might think it's all very competitive in freelancing, but it's surprisingly supportive and collaborative," Oliver continues.

"We want to get to a stage where if a news organisation needs an extra skill, we will know within our members who has that."

Sound boards and moral support

It is why, in the same way, simply having a space to vent and a place for moral support comes as welcome relief.

Edge runs a Monday accountability thread where people can set their targets over the days ahead. The idea is to keep motivation levels up when morale is down.

"I have story ideas, but just getting round to them when I am worried about other things like income and friends and family is hard; I have lost my pitching mojo."

There is also a weekly Zoom catch up to discuss the ups and downs of their week. As Oliver explained, freelancers do not have bosses - you are your own boss. While freelancers are perhaps used to working from home, self-isolation can make it both a lonely experience and one where it is hard to concentrate.

It makes standard tasks, like pitching, sourcing and turning around stories feel like that much more of a burden, Crowley added.

"But if people are having a rough day, you can say you are struggling and it's comforting to know other people are in the same boat."

You can join the Slack group Support for Freelance Journalists here. It is for freelance journalists anywhere in the world. Journalists are asked to introduce themselves upon joining and to keep posts accurate and relevant.

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