Dilemma - chase the big news stories?

Teachers' strike, 2013 - MJ01007

As regular readers will know I am at an early stage of redeveloping my freelance photography and writing business after a major change of career. I am still building my network, establishing sources and identifying opportunities for news and feature items. My sales channels too are still very immature.

This past week has thrown up a couple of dilemmas and one in particular has made me think about how best to use my time and limited financial resources. The junior doctors' strike is a big national story with pickets lines and rallies going on all around England and Wales. As a lone freelance journalist should I be trying to cover the story? The competition is fierce and will my work get a look in when photographers and reporters from all the newspapers and news agencies will be working the angles on the same story. There will just be so much material for news and picture desks as every hospital will have at least a picket line.

Obviously if I had an inside track on some aspect of the dispute, the strike or its implication then the answer would be an unequivocal, yes. But I do not have an special insight or access, I am still building that on my own particular fields of interest. As just another observer it is likely to be time consuming to cover a small part of that story or to find a unique angle, even if it is possible.

I did have some success with the teachers' strike in 2013 and had several pictures used by a major newspaper. That however was different. It was not a single nationwide event but targeted regional strikes. Nottingham, my home town, was one of a handful of cities where teachers protested. I was able to get some effective images of the march and start of the protest rally and get them to a news agency (Demotix) while the event was still taking place. There were other photographers at the Nottingham protest but not as many as for the doctors' strike and of course it was only happening in a few towns, not nationally. It was, I suppose, a national story that was taking place as a local event.

I guess that is the answer. If it is a big story and happening nationally it will be so well covered by staff and retained photographers and reporters that the individual freelance will have little opportunity to get work published (unless it is in their specialist field). If it is a big story but only happening locally the local freelancers will have a chance as a local slant and knowledge may come into play.

I have come to the view that I should cover the big national story, especially if I can see a different way of presenting it. In any case I should seek to get pictures into my portfolio and as practice at competing with some of the best photographers (and in some cases, writers) in the business. It will be useful, after the event, to compare my results with those that have been published and understand how I can make my work more marketable, tell the story better. That said, I should probably not forego other, small paying opportunities or incur significant costs to cover the big event. If it is not getting in the way of other opportunities, just being there may, on occasions, provide an opportunity to get the unique one-off shot that goes viral and earns significant fees. Like the lottery one cannot rely on such wins; there again as Gary Player, the golfer, used to say: "The more I practice, the luckier I get".

As this dilemma is resolved, another arose on a small local story. However, that will be the subject of a future post. These questions are invaluable insights into what I need to think about, and do, as I build my freelance career. I love that life is a process of continual learning, even at my age.

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