Recently in Journalism Category

Editing Geo:International

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Just a quick note to say that as of the February 2013 issue, I'm going to be editing Geo:International. It's something of a homecoming for me, since I was editor of Mapping Awareness for over a year, back in the 90s, and it feels good to be back. More details about commissions et al once I've settled into the job.

News Shopper needs new subs

Oops. And on the front page, too…

The News Shopper's 'Finacial Crisis' (sic) '

So the NUJ is at risk of going bankrupt. Journalists are leaving the industry, membership is down. But I can't help but notice that in the recent begging letter from the NUJ, asking members for help, that freelances are only mentioned once and that's to tell us that our benefits of membership are to be reduced.

I can't help but think that if instead of focusing on the massively contracting area of the industry (local and regional press) that is pretty much doomed, the NUJ spent more effort on the expanding area (freelancing), it might stand a greater chance of surviving. Instead, as usual, it wants freelances to help those in salaried employment without their giving us anything in return.

I've been a member since 1999 and beyond one piece of legal advice, a training course and the Apple Store discount, I've not seen anything in return. I'm not expecting it but a lot of people will do, this being a consumer society.

What are the benefits of the NUJ for freelances, beyond the ability to donate money to salaried journalists who usually don't do a lot to help freelances (for example, giving each other freelance gigs to help boost each other's salaries, rather than offering that work to actual freelances, isn't helpful)? If the NUJ can answer that question, maybe it'll still have a future.

Here's the letter – what do you think?

Useful fan mail

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Isn't this nice?

Rob,

Your article in the Summer 2007 issue of .Net about Google Co-op was terrific, a real help to me. I was going to write a blog post about my experience getting a custom search engine up and running, and I wanted to link back to your article. But I can't find a link online. Can you point me to one?

Curiously, though, I hadn't realised the article had been published for a couple of reasons

  1. I wrote it in November last year
  2. I wrote it for Practical Web Design, not .net!

Still, it's good that it's seen the light of day, now that PWD has folded. And it's good that I know it's seen the light of day, too! The other missing article I wrote on Movable Type photo galleries has just been published, too, so that's a double whammy from my informative correspondent. Thanks!

I-visa done

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Finally, it's arrived. SMS delivered my passport with matching i-visa today. They didn't text me, like they promised, but they did leave a note when they tried to deliver it last Friday and found I was out. Fortunately, I could use their lovely web site to reschedule a delivery for today - they even managed to miss all my interview times, which is a bonus with deliveries. The delivery guy was more interested in avoiding being clamped than asking for my ID, despite the great big “Identification required” sticker on the envelope, but you can't have everything.

It looks the same as the last one, right down to the black-and-white photocopied passport photo look they gave that photo I'd spent ages trying to get. At least they're consistent, hey?

Thankfully, I won't have to do that again for another five years. Yey!

I-visa almost done

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Finally, I'm almost there with the i-visa.

Yesterday, I made a brief trip to Passport Photo Service to get the much fabled 2“x2” photos of myself sorted out. The hardest part of that was finding the place: it's nestled opposite Selfridge's on Oxford Street, next door to Phones4u, I think.

You have to climb up 17 flights of stairs to get there, but once you're in, everything's very simple. You go in, say you'd like a US i-visa photo, they stick you on a chair, give you a minute and a mirror to prepare yourself, then take the photo. If you like it, they print out a couple (for £5.95; it's £11.95 for four) and off you go. I reckon the whole process took about five minutes, including getting a receipt.

Today, though, was the date of the interview down at the US embassy. I set that up last week, so there's clearly not much of a backlog.

At current exchange rates, the $100 fee for the visa interview will cost you £57 or so, but it'll soon be heading towards a straight 1-1 $ to £ conversion by the time you've finished your premium rate call to set up the interview: looking at my recent Onetel bill, the call lasted seven minutes, for which I was charged £9.24.

The interview itself was remarkably easy. The hardest part was getting to Grosvenor Square by 8am. Read on for details of the interview itself.

I-Visa photos

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Finding somewhere that could take a 2“ by 2” photo for my i-visa is turning out to be harder than I thought. The specs for how the photo looks are quite precise and you're not allowed to tinker with an existing photo to make it.

Anyway, I've just found a place on Oxford Street that takes them: Passport Photo Service, which is a couple of minutes from the Embassy. I'll let you know how it works out when I get back from them tomorrow.

Getting an i-visa

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Nearly five years ago, I had to get an i-visa so that I could travel to New York to cover a one-day Dell press conference. It was an exciting tale of couriers, last minute dashes to the airport and the fear of a lost passport. I was sitting on a park bench in the middle of London, waiting for a call to let me know I'd been granted a visa and it and my passport were on the way to Heathrow to meet me for a flight a mere five hours later.

That time round most of the work was done for me by an agency. Now, I'm doing it by myself. It's a right old pain in the arse, isn't it?

First, there's the fact that as a member of the media, I need the i-visa in the first place. What's going on there? Everyone else goes in on a visa waiver, but journalists need to be vetted. How is that equitable?

Second, as a freelance, I'm in an interesting position. If I'm just going to the US on speculative work, I only need a B-grade visa. But if I cover something on behalf of a magazine, then I need an i-visa. But to do that, I need to have a contract and a letter from the magazine testifying to the fact. But if I have a contract, am I actually a freelance? And if I'm not, do I really need an i-visa instead of a b-visa?

Then there are the forms. Apparently, not only do I need to fill out the standard i-visa application form, as a male aged 18-not dead yet, I need to fill out a supplemental form listing every country I've ever visited, current employer, previous two employers, etc. No possible opportunity for error there then.

Then there's the appointment for an interview at the US embassy that I need to set up.

Then there's the $100 charge.

And lastly, there's the 50mm x 50mm photo of myself that I need to provide. Is there anywhere that takes photos with these dimensions? I'm going to have to scan an existing photo, crop it, shrink it, and have it printed. How is that necessary?

If there are any problems I have with the process, I can always call the premium rate 09 phone number the US embassy has set up for the purpose.

And it's all so I can go to the US every once in a while to cover US companies, out of which they'll almost certainly get loads of free publicity for the stuff they're trying to sell to us.

The odd thing is that I've been on numerous press trips with fellow journos who can't be bothered with the i-visa rigmarole and go in under a visa waiver, despite saying their journos on business. Am I putting myself through all this for nothing?

Better safe than sorry anyway.

To a certain extent, I imagine doing Apple's PR must be a slightly cushy number. Apple are usually extremely reticent to talk about anything you want to talk about, preferring instead to drone on about what they want to talk about; if you're writing a feature on almost any subject except what was in the last Apple press release, you'll usually find it impossible to get a spokesperson out of Apple.

Unfortunately, it's not like there's much you can do about it. You can't exactly hint that most of your Macworld feature will be about Dell as a result, now can you?

So that's easy PR living, right? No pesky interviews to arrange, just press events aka 'parties'. Although there's a large number of people who got into PR to be professional communicators, etc, there's still a sizeable number who got into PR because they wanted to be party planners but couldn't pass those tricky entrance exams. Again, I imagine that within the tech PR industry, there's a group who aspire to work on the Apple account as the zenith of their profession because it's all the 'good' bits of PR without the 'bad' bits.

Or at least it would be if it weren't for the facts the parties will typically be composed of those highly socially skilled, meterosexual fashionistas: tech journalists.

Bite PR is the firm that currently has the Apple account. Wherever two or more tech journalists gather, if those two names are mentioned in the same sentence, you can guarantee the next 15 minutes will be spent relating amusing tales of inefficiency and cluelessness. I've already told you about a few of my personal experiences (company four here, here, here, here, here and here) and I'm sure if you search around, you can find tales from other UK journalists. Sorry, Bite. That's just the way it is.

Worryingly for you guys, Apple appears to be cottoning on to this fact.

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