New Media Magic
Name: John Shreeve
Occupation: Freelance Magazine and Web Writer
smarterwork Expert in: Writing & Editing and Net Research
Based in: Norfolk, England
Freelance since: Early 1980s
smarterwork: As a freelance journalist, what effect did IT and the Internet have on your work?
John Shreeve: It had an enormous impact. It was literally like a gift from the gods. Word processing software, for instance, made life so much easier. Functions like cut & paste, drag & drop, word count, spelling & grammar checkers enabled me to work faster. PC word processors were also very natural tools to work with, kind of aligned with the way the brain works.
When the Internet came along, though, that was the ultimate. I didn’t need to spend whole days researching in libraries. I could get just about all I wanted through the Web in less than an hour. Not only that, I picked up a lot of writing assignments through the Web. The speed with which you can make contacts on the Internet just wouldn’t have been possible in the past.
As far as I’m concerned, IT and the Internet were the making of me. When I first connected to the Net, I remember saying to myself, ‘This is it, my time has come! Now I can operate!’
SM: Have you always been freelance? If not, what pushed you to go out on your own? How did the transition work?
JS: I’ve pretty well always been freelance. The only regular job I ever had was when I left school at sixteen. That only lasted a couple of years, mainly because I couldn’t tolerate the restriction of it – having to work set hours and so on. After that I played guitar in bands, which was more to my liking – cranked up Marshall amps and being able to choose the hours you worked. While playing in bands, I got into writing and in 1989 became a freelance journalist. I’ve done that ever since – along with writing a book last year.
SM: What’s the market like these days for freelance journalists?
JS: Better than it ever was. Mainly because there is now an online market. Web-savvy freelancers who can deliver are in demand. But this doesn’t mean it’s easy. You’ve still got to get out there looking for the work. But even this is more fun with the Internet. You can be more creative about how you go about touting for work. The Internet has really freed things up. Even the straight workplace is ‘rock & roll’ now. It didn’t used to be, though. The world is changing – and freelancers are coming into their own…
SM: Editors and publishers seem to have a greater demand for content then ever. Do you think the skills they need are actually available?
JS: They’re out there. But there are also a lot of blaggers-about, who can’t deliver the goods. Editors and publishers have got to watch out for that. Once they find good writers, or content providers, they must hang on to them and not take them for granted. People might say, ‘Oh he would say that, he’s a freelance writer’, but the things I’m saying here come out of conversations I’ve had with editors and publishers.
SM: How does the smarterwork experience rate against other ways you normally use to find clients?
JS: It rates very well in the sense that the work is there, posted up; all you’ve got to do is bid on it and see if you pick up the contract. There’s a certain excitement about it too: with the click of a mouse you could land yourself a two-grand contract within half-an-hour.
SM: Could you tell us a few words about some of the projects you worked on at smarterwork?
JS: One of my recent projects was for a management team. It consisted of putting together an analysis of what went wrong with the once high-flying urban sportswear e-tailer boo.com. I then drafted recommendations on how other European business to consumer (b2c) companies might best avoid the pitfalls boo.com encountered.
SM: What differentiates you from other people doing similar work?
JS: Well, I wear a multitude of hats. I’m a straight journalist, humourist, e-commerce commentator, business writer, and lifestyle writer.
SM: Do you think the Internet is affecting working habits in areas other than journalism?
JS: Undoubtedly. Anyone who uses a computer as part of their work can work from home. So telecommuting is becoming more and more common. Business gurus like William Bridges talk about the ‘de-jobbing’ of the Western world and of how more and more people are becoming contractors and freelancers. This is due to the Internet.
SM: Do you have any advice for people thinking of setting up as a freelance journalist?
JS: First off, you’re going to need cuttings. And if you haven’t had anything published, you won’t have any. So the best way to get some is to write for small magazines or interesting websites – none of whom will pay much, but at least you’ll have got some experience and examples of published work. From there you start hitting the bigger titles.
I was actually lucky in this respect – I got into a newsstand magazine first time and so had cuttings. But after that I did some low paid work for experience. The secret is write, write, write, until you get good.
SM: What are your plans for the future?
JS: To do more online work. Plus I want to find the time to set up a Web site or e-zine devoted to exploring the consciousness-altering sub-current of e-commerce and the ramifications of using psychotropic plants as central facilitators of B2B operations.
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