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Life of a freelancer: When it rains, it pours!


The life of most freelance journalists, writers, and photographers (or any freelancer, really) is dominated by a couple of tricky issues. First and foremost there is the challenge of getting paid when you want to get paid, not when the client thinks it is time to come to the table.

While we humble freelance service providers are expected to meet deadlines at all time in order not to be shown the finger, many clients seem to be far more relaxed when it comes to their part of the deal – namely ‘paying out’. A Portuguese newspaper (Publico) took over ONE YEAR to pay me, despite the hundreds of emails I sent!  (Last year, I dedicated a blog post to Freelancers’ pet hates).

I have solved this bloody annoying issue without mercy: I simply refuse to work for greedy bastards who take weeks, months and sometimes years to make their promised money transfer. I have indeed culled some clients who clearly do not give a rat’s testicle about whether I am able to pay my rent, electricity bill and groceries. I fired them. Water under the bridge. Weakest link. Blah.

Then there is the issue of managing the number assignments. I am the type of person who starts stressing when there is nothing to do. As a result, I begin to pitch stories like there is no tomorrow. Yes, to ALL my clients. There is however one problem: my story pitches are usually very solid and as a result, my steady clients seldom reject them. I tend to forget that sometimes.

Two weeks ago, after filing all my stories for Business Live (One of my preferred clients, by the way) I found myself staring at the ceiling. Instead of relaxing and taking a breather – I had just done four 14-hour days of reporting on the 2011 Mining Indaba in Cape Town (which was quite hectic) – I allowed the  stress  to hit me with the impact of a jack hammer on steroids.

You have to understand that a freelancer’s main worry is whether we have enough cash at the end of the month to pay our rent, bills, glass of wine, petrol, and other necessities. In addition, we have been preprogrammed to harvest while we can. Why? When you run your own show, you never know when another good month or assignment comes around.

So two weeks ago I started pitching stories like a headless chicken – forgetting that 90% of my clients would probably say ‘yes’. And so they did. Over the past ten days I wrote:

* A 12-page UNICEF report on the situation Haiti

* A 1200-word story for Leadership Magazine on the necessity of stimulating entrepreneurship in South Africa to fight unemployment

* 700-word story for Radio Netherlands Worldwide on South Africa’s economy (linked to the 2011 Budget speech)

* A 800-word story on South Africa’s budget and a 900-word story on sustainable tourism in South Africa for Het Financieele Dagblad

* A 1700-word story on drinking and driving / road safety for Mobility Magazine.

Currently I am still working on a 1000-word story on Acid Mine Drainage and water management for Energy Forecast. That story needs to be finished today (another 500 words to go) because tomorrow I have to write a report on the Transformation Audit by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation for Business Live. This particular client also wants a story  on the Design Indaba.

Raining? RAINING? Pouring? It is more like a bloody monsoon!

I know I should not be complaining, and actually I am not. I love being a freelance writer and love being busy. I just wish I could manage the flow of work a bit better in order not to be grossly overworked like I am at this very moment. Yawn!

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Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Tales of a Freelance Journo

 

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THOUGHTLEADER: My billion gone AWOL column


Column of the day

Please do me a favour and jump back in time – say 12 to 16 months back. You are driving home from work and the radio is on. All of a sudden the news presenter announces how the RXXXX billion for Cape Town’s / Joburg’s / Rustenburg’s / Durban’s stadium has vanished without a trace. Therefore the construction has been halted and as a result the stadium will not be completed in time. “Cape Town / Joburg / Rustenburg / Durban therefore will not be part of the world’s biggest party, as the authorities say they have no idea where the money went and can’t account for it. Construction company has therefore decided to go on strike until the city shows them the money,” the presenter adds.

What would your response have been? How would the world have reacted? Exactly. It would have been smokin’ hot news around the globe and the information would have dominated every newspaper’s headline days on end. I am pretty sure people would have hit the streets to protest screaming “where is the money? We want the world cup!”.

I am damn sure.

So *why* is it that not a soul in this country is raising his or her voice with regards to the media reports that claim that R44 billion (almost *tenfold* of the price tag attached to the Cape Town stadium) has been lost by various provincial departments of education? Only three of our nine provincial departments – THREE! – had a clean audit this year. The cash that has gone walkies represents *one third* of the amount the national education budget has reserved for the provinces (R123 billion).

*Takes a deep breath*

I surely hope these media reports are wrong. Just as wrong as the stories about the government admitting to have lost R10.5 billion in social grants. The latter amount, if true, is the equivalent to about 10 million pensions, dear readers!

All in all, if all of the above is true and if the journalists haven’t made a typo, the total amount of money that has gone AWOL (well, the amount we know about …) is worth more than double the amount the World Bank lent Eskom (±R26 billion) to sort out its shit. That is not pocket change. It is a bloody big chunk of cash! Tax payers’ money! OUR money! Money WE have worked for! Money that was given to us by international governments to help us out; money earned by Europeans and Americans and god knows who else!

So why are we sitting behind our computers and TVs and Wii’s and play stations instead of hitting the streets to hold the leaders accountable? Why has the information above not been in the headlines more prominently? Why-Why-Why?

*Takes another deep breath, lights incense, dims lights and takes on some Zennish yoga position*

What on earth is the rest of the world supposed to think about us, now? Earlier this year, the European Union gave South Africa 123 million euro (R1.3 billion) to improve its primary education system. Yesterday, the European Union pledged another chunk of development assistance (predominantly meant for health care improvement) worth 138 million euro (± R1.4 billion). If I were a European policy maker, I’d put a big fat red line through these and future promises and feed the documents to my dog. Why sink cash into a bottomless pit?

Look, I too lose stuff. I lose my keys, I love my mind, I lose my sense of humour and sometimes I just lose my cool. Dúh. I have lost CDs, bank cards, phones and lighters. People lose stuff, I understand that. But how can it be that our very leaders who are supposed to take care of this country and those living in it lose billions of rands which are so very very much needed to make this land a ‘better place for all’? You need to have a serious talent for that.

You might think: take a chill pill as there is nothing we can do about it. Well, I refuse. Sure, it is what it is but that does not mean it should be. As a full-time believer in this country, I am angry. Fuming. The cash that has gone walkabout could have for instance been spent to tackle the shortage of 42.000 nurses (ratio patient:nurse -> 100.000:140, that’s 23% less than the world average), to raise salaries of those who work in this field and to make sure public hospitals in rural areas can function properly. How insane is it that someone who is responsible to save lives only earns R60.000 per year? That is – with all do respect – f*k*ll.

If the government does not do something very very quickly, youngsters will no longer decide to study to become a nurse or a teacher. I can’t blame them either. Why would you graft for years and years at Uni to earn peanuts and to be overburdened and to work in a crappy hospital that is falling apart where babies are dying en masse? I wouldn’t, I am sorry.

I, in the meantime, hope that these figures are the product of a typo comprising two to five zeros.

Column was written by Miriam Mannak / Thought Leader / Mail & Guardian (October 2010)

 

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