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Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

March 19, 2007

A sense of Libération from making ends meet

This site has now moved to Salut!

Fifteen years ago, I was sent back north by my news editor to write about a certain football team.

The team had made it to the FA Cup final from what the French rightly still call the Second Division, whatever word games the football authorities play to make it sound better.

It was the players' "open day" with the press and I think my masters vaguely expected to see a story about grasping footballers demanding money for their monosyllabic thoughts and posed pictures.

Nothing of the sort happened.

As we strolled around the pitch at Roker Park, no one was out of bounds (though the better players did have queues waiting to speak to them) and nearly everyone was friendly and polite.

Since this was my team, I was happy that the club and its players were behaving impeccably - and I hope that having given their time freely, they went on to make a little from follow-up exclusives with the press and broadcasters.

Only one person, so far as I know, asked for money and that was a sports journalist who felt too grand to give a few comments to a TV crew without payment.

His request, which ensured that no interview took place, surprised me.

I have always been willing to give minor bits of help to my confrères and consoeurs on the basis that I would hope for and expect the same in return. If money is offered, as it sometimes is for radio or TV slots, that is a different matter and I am not stupid enough to refuse.

But I also remember the football hack saying something about being a freelance and that they were therefore asking for his professional services and time for nothing.

That is how it is for me in my new, changed life.

A friend asked the other day if I'd be interest in writing a weekly blog posting on the French elections for the Libération website site. "Of course," I replied, "every little helps."

I have a soft spot for Libé and was delighted when it came through its recent crisis with hopes of survival higher than for some time.

But when they got round to ringing to explain the details, they added that while they wanted the contributions, they would not be paying for them.

If I had still been working as a salaried correspondent, I might well have said yes, provided I felt I had the time to do the blog justice.

Had they offered a pittance or, say, a year's subscription, I suspect the answer would still have been yes. As a freelance, chasing whatever earnings I can, I had no hestitation in turning down the idea of adding to my workload but not my income.

Perhaps the person calling me does her job for nothing. I doubt it. Perhaps the exceedingly rich people who hold the purse strings at Libé also conduct their business lives without the least desire for remuneration. I doubt that, too.

Given the paper's links to Sartre and the Paris Spring of 1968, it is not surprising that for a long time it operated a policy of paying everyone from the cleaners to the editor the same.

Later, it dropped this lofty egalitarianism and entered the harsher world of the market economy. In 2007, I would probably have settled for the cleaner's pay.

A charming lady journalist who plans to write about me in a magazine about British expats in France told me of her dismay on being told by another UK journalist that s/he would not be interviewed for free.

Her shock was clearly genuine, and I was perfectly happy when I found I had time during a visit to Paris to meet her and answer her questions. But I was just as shocked by the suggestion that a Left-of-centre, up-the-workers kind of paper should want someone to turn in a few shifts for nowt.

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This site has now moved to Salut!


At March 19, 2007 3:58 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

I find that shocking too - especially coming from Libé. It's OK for a newcomer, trying to get a bit of exposure (in fact, I'd probably pay them to publish me :-))but to ask an established journalist to do it for free...well.

Do you think the rest of the Libébloggers do it for nothing?

At March 19, 2007 4:03 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

I assume so; that being the deal, I don't suppose they were asking me what they were not asking of others. French TV and radio stations often tell people "but think of the platform we're giving you", and I imagine Libé felt the same.

At March 19, 2007 4:59 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

I can see where you wouldn't want to write a regular blog without financial renumeration but I find the idea of being paid simply to be interviewed totally alien. I know chequebook journalism is standard tabloid procedure for landing salacious stories but when is the last time that you, as a journalist, paid someone to talk to you?

At March 19, 2007 5:11 PM, Anonymous Jules said...

...Yes, you should get paid as a freelancer. You wouldn't ask a plumber to fix your tap and then say I can't pay but think of the platform I'm giving you!

At March 19, 2007 5:18 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Libé WAS an 'up the workers' paper - it has become très gauche caviar over the last few years...shame, as it used to be a good paper.

Glad you didn't accept their generous offer!

At March 19, 2007 9:47 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

As you are developing your business you may be overwhelmed with demand for your contributions and earning high revenue.

Or maybe you’re not. The commercial side of developing a business is extremely time consuming and can be quite costly. You may have a clear idea of the market you are chasing and a strategy to get there. On the other hand you may be sniffing out opportunities to find where there could be some higher value added business to go for.

In either case offering free to cheap services may make economical sense. It can be a more astute way of building contacts than congresses, meetings. It allows one to experiment in areas where one doesn’t yet have all the required competences and be cheaper than paying for training. It lets you build up a few favours that you may like to call in one day. It gives you key market data which it would be costly to obtain otherwise.

So it is galling working for nothing, but it may make business sense. Never let your feelings get in the way of making the first billion.

At March 20, 2007 9:31 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

If Jade Goody can get paid for 'writing' a column for whatever crap women's magazine it was, I don't see why Colin should write regularly for nothing.

In principle, I agree with Richard, but one also has to beware of piss-taking, and I'm sure Colin knows his business well enough to sniff out the piss-takers.

At March 24, 2007 1:48 PM, Blogger Robert Marchenoir said...

Dear Mr. Randall,

Don't tell me you are surprised by Libération's reaction.

This is a leftist -- not left of centre -- newspaper. Which essentially means: they profess to hate money. Except when it comes their way, or they are asked to part with some of it.

If you made most of your living out of British wages beforehand, you will be surprised to discover the extent to which intellectual work is supposed to be done for free in France.

You see, they are giving you the opportunity to showcase your wit and brains. Say thank you, and do not expect to be paid on top of that.

Of course, there are also economics at work here. When businesses are stifled by taxes and social levies, there is little left at the end of the day to pay those who really make the company tick.

Especially when mafia-like unions have taken the lion's share of wages before, under threat of blocking trade, as is the case in French newspapers with the printers and distributors.

These guys earn managers' wages while doing quite little, thank you. Hacks like you have to beg for money as a result.

The way to go is to hold a public sector job. Be a professor, for instance. Then, you will be able to peddle your intellectual wares through newspaper articles and books, essentially for free.

You will also be undercutting unfortunate, intelligent and dedicated people like you, who do not enjoy the luxury of being paid by the state, and who rely on their freelance work to pay their rent.

But, hey, they had it coming: who are they but vile capitalists, contemptible ploutocrats, who do not know that money is evil, except when handed out by the state?

The other way out is corruption. As in literary circles. You hold a senior position at a publisher's, you sit at a jury for a literary prize, you review books in a major newspaper, and, of course, you write your own.

You will be entitled to publish any crap you write, get the necessary promotion and be financially rewarded for it, as long as you vote along the lines expected from you, and you praise your colleague's shittiest prose within your newspaper, whenever required.

Welcome to socialist, corrupt, hypocritical and arrogant France, Mr. Randall. You have my deepest sympathy.

France is a very nice country to settle in when you are a British retiree having already made a bunch of money.

Earning your living off the country is an entirely different matter.


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