Freelancing au continent

THE NUJ has about 550 members based on mainland Europe and the vast majority are freelances. During the current year, all the continental branches – in Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris – have elected new chairs.

The largest branch is NUJ Paris Branch with around 300 members, two-thirds of which are freelance. According to chair James Overton, freelances tend to work in radio, TV or press newsrooms – primarily in Paris-based France 24, RFI radio, or at the AFP news agency – or writing, from home. In the former, Overton stresses it helps to be "young and enthusiastic" while on the writing side, opportunities exist in many areas with aerospace and defence industries being a favoured field. He sees fewer opportunities in the UK and Irish press as London is not far away and it's easy to cover stories from base.

Tintin mural in Brussels station © Matt Salusbury

Brussels Branch chair Sara Lewis says it's been a tough few years for freelances with a meagre amount of work available. It's picking up, but fees are not. Brussels branch has about 100 members, most of whom are freelance, many work in the trade and specialised press. There used to be a good living to be had from working on European Commission publications - editing reports and writing newsletters – but much of that work has gone to the army of accredited consultancies and public affairs offices.

The NUJ Netherlands branch chair Tony Sheldon says many branch members have joint membership with the Nederlands Vereniging van Journalisten (NVJ) and can seek help there if they have problem with Dutch media organisations. With no chapels to speak of, Sheldon sees the branch as having an increasingly important and challenging task as the first stop for almost the exclusively freelance NUJ members working in the Netherlands. Staffers are rare in the small branch of just over 50 members and legal advice is offered to ex-staffers now working as freelances.

A recent NVJ freelance members' survey suggested one-third do not work freelance by choice. Sheldon added that hourly rates for writers, after adjusting for inflation, have dropped by 18 per cent in the last decade. In Brussels, Lewis feels that many Brussels freelancers are being paid the same or less than three or four years ago, while running costs have shot up.

In all three branches, freelances make ends meet by also doing "corporate work" that could involve brochure-writing and translation. Brussels is a hub for conferences and freelance members often work at such events as rapporteurs. Overall, opportunities are shrinking and Overton says the continental Europe Grapevine email list is an essential resource providing information about job opportunities as well as details of the various branch social and union activities.

Last modified: 02 Dec 2013 - © 2013 contributors
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