New era dawns

Insurance Times websiteToday is the first day for nearly two years that I have not had to get up at 6am to write early morning web news for Insurance Times. I woke up at 6 anyway (but I lay there until 6.20). My ambition is to be woken with a cup of tea in bed at 7am. For now at least, that is just a dream.

Since 10 November 2008 I have missed six working days in 100 weeks – once in hospital after my knee operation and one week off travelling this year. I have written about 3,000 stories, sometimes writing nine a day. Insurance Times paid about £12.50 per story.

I have worked from holiday homes and hotels. I have stayed in B&B’s with broadband purely to be able me to fulfil my contract. I have even worked from my laptop and dongle on campsites.

Ullapool campsite

Supermarket giant Tesco announced to the stock market at 7am in September last year that Fortis (now Ageas) was to be its insurance provider.

I called Fortis and got a quote for my story while sitting outside my tent just metres from the sea at Ullapool in Scotland on the xrv.org.uk national meet motorcycling weekend. Fortis told me that morning that Insurance Times was the first to run the story, with it live before 8am.

A lot of what I wrote was news from that morning’s papers and other sources – often one or two pars and pointers to where readers could get the story. But I had plenty of other exclusives too, either given to me because my contacts knew I was up at that time or through my industry knowledge.

New Year honours

When Simon Bolam was given an MBE for services to the Insurance Industry in the New Year honours 2008 even the Scottish papers missed him because they did not know who he was. I remembered him as the former leader of the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA).

I knew the name of the broker he ran and tracked him down, first speaking to his daughter, who by then ran the firm, and eventually – at about 9am – Bolam himself.

I was in the Lake District, booted and waterproofed, about to leave for a hike, when he called and I added his quote to my story. The rival Post Magazine ran that story six days later when they got back to work.

In-house reporters

Insurance Times has taken the work in-house. Two new reporters will take turns to get up early and get into the office to start work at 6am. I have worked for Insurance Times for so long – I am a former editor – I was trusted with remote access. One will be getting up at 4am to travel in.

The early morning news made a huge different to the site’s traffic. When CEO’s get in at 8am, if the site is the same as it was the night before they won’t look again. If a CEO tells the next level of management to look at a story, traffic really picks up. That is what happened.

I think I offered great value for money. I did a good job. I wrote more stories than I was asked to write and more than most thought possible – I had to process them all to the website, including links, photos and categories, not just write the words.

I think I gave Insurance Times more as a freelance than they will get from staff.

Links (new windows)

Posts removed

I have removed the recent posts about the press coverage of my nephew’s death.

I do still intend to work with the PCC and any others to improve the system for families who lose a loved on one, but having the posts up was too painful a reminder or recent events.

Maybe in a few years’ time they can become part of the archive again. For now I’d like to thank all those who contacted me or commented. It was all helpful.

Remote back-up

Macbook Prop, screen and serverBacking up is something journalists rarely take seriously. But we produce magazines for clients so having back-ups for if – is that when? – things go wring is vital. Today I set up a remote back-up with our three main office Macs mirrored on a machine at my parents house.

When I say “I” it’s a bit like the Royal “we”. I pay a local firm of Mac experts – Logo Systems in Greenwich – for IT support Their Paul Richardson came up with the plan after I exhausted commercial data back-up schemes and found them too inflexible – they only back up your data, not systems. Continue reading

PRs need help

PR people need help. They appear to have less understanding of how journalists work than ever before. They don’t appreciate deadlines, the speed journalists work at and the hours journalists now work on 24-hour internet media.

I have had a couple of weeks of dire experience with PRs. These include:

Slow, non-answers | Embargos | Contacts | Press registration Continue reading

Late pay gripes

This week, instead of being a journalist and trainer, I spent at least a day dealing with late paying clients. It was mainly AOL, which, until today, had not paid a single freelance contributor, despite us working since December.

My company has now been paid more than £10,000 by some clients and we have remittance advices in from others so will be paid by Tuesday. But as of today we have more than £21,000 of invoices outstanding, of which nearly £2,400 is already overdue. That is me lending companies money. Continue reading

Embargo farrago

Axa websitePublic relations (PR) officers from insurer AXA gave the trade press and the national press different embargoes for the same story on Friday.

Embargoed is a small town in Wales, my old ex-national newspaper editor used to say, emphasising the “ed” sound at the end of the word. It looks like AXA’s PR people give the embargo about as much respect.

Continue reading

HMR C’s

The BBC carried a story on a tax hoax phishing email this morning, timed at 01.49. I phoned the out of hours HMRC PR at 9am and he did not have the press release, said he would get it to me about 11am and, so far, still hasn’t.

Why are PRs so completely useless?

Update: After second chase up call, when release was still not ready, it arrived by email at 12.34, saying exactly the same as the BBC was given 11 hours earlier.

Related stories

Links (new windows)

Qur’an crimes

Should journalists mention facts that will play up racism, even though the source seems impeccable?

I did a story yesterday about insurance fraud on Daily Finance. In the course of interviewing the lawyer, she made the statement that the defendants refused to testify in court because they would have had to swear on the Qur’an. Continue reading