What is it like being a freelance parent living in India right now?
Journalist and TFP subscriber Annie Philip shares her experience
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Hello dear readers and happy December. The Christmas countdown is well and truly on - and I'm feeling the pressure somewhat.
I've spent the last week really knuckling down to ensure I really can take a week off for Christmas. Taking time off is so important but why does planning for it as a freelancer always feel like such a mammoth task?
But nevertheless, I'm determined to leave my laptop in the drawer for a full seven days. This has meant saying no to extra work for later in the month and working ahead to meet some scheduled-in deadlines. Christmas may not be its usual self this time around, but a rest is very much due, as I'm sure it is for you too.
A major highlight of last week was receiving a very lovely email from a reader - from the other side of the world, no less. It was from Annie Philips, a freelance journalist and mum of one who lives in India. She wrote to tell me of how life was really quite hard for her at the moment due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on her as a freelance parent.
I wanted to hear more about Annie’s story and to learn what it’s like for a fellow mum living on the other side of the world. Annie, rather miraculously, found the time to answer my questions in between caring for her three year old son and meeting deadlines. I hope you'll find her insight as inspiring and interesting as I did.
I hope things start to become slightly easier for Annie over the next few months but I'm so glad The Freelance Parent is helping her feel less alone. And without getting too deep on a Monday morning, it's really so refreshing to know that we are all so much more connected than we realise.
THE INTERVIEW: ANNIE PHILIP, MUM AND FREELANCE JOURNALIST
CAT: During the pandemic we've all been subject to social distancing rules and various measures around the globe. What restrictions are you living under right now in India?
ANNIE: India began with a fairly strict lockdown in the last week of March which continued until May when everything, including travel of most kinds, was closed. Scores of migrant workers in the cities had to walk back to their homes in the villages far away, with hardly any money in hand. Since then, businesses, workplaces and other establishments have been opening up in phases. As of mid-October, even cinema halls had begun to open. Schools have also been allowed to re-open in the latest set of guidelines by the Central government but it has been left to the State government to decide on this. Mostly though, schools are shut and are relying on online classes.
CAT: You mentioned in your email that schools, play areas, and childcare have been closed since March, how has this affected your workload and working life?
ANNIE: I had taken time off work from before my son was born up until nearly the end of 2019. (He turned three this year). I started freelancing early this year after establishing a routine where my son spent a few hours at pre-school and daycare. Since March though, schools and daycare have been closed. In fact, like many small businesses hit by the pandemic, my son’s daycare had to shut down permanently.
This has meant my son has been home with me every day since. For the first few months of the pandemic, I couldn’t get any work done. My husband has been working from home since March, but his hours are long. It is only since June that I have been able to re-start work slowly. I try to get work done on weekends and at nights (because this is when it is quietest and I need that to concentrate). I try to attend webinars and online courses which are scheduled during the weekend or in the evening when it is my son’s TV time.
So yes, the pandemic has dented my workload. Simply put, it is a lot slower. I did come across an interesting research/ writing project once but I did not take it on because I knew I would not be able to put in the dedicated ‘day-hours’ it would require me to.
I can only work on one story at a time. While freelancing, this translates to doing a major chunk of the reporting and researching before sending in the pitch. In the case a pitch gets the go ahead, I would only get limited time to work on it every day so I would want to make sure I have done a fair bit already. My laptop is kept open on the dining table so I can manage a quick email reply when I am passing by.
CAT: What shops and businesses are actually open at the moment?
ANNIE: Right now, all shops and businesses are open. As are public parks and play areas - although the government advisory for young children and the elderly is to stay home. Quite a few workplaces are continuing the work-from-home practice. There are also restrictions on gatherings of large numbers.
CAT: Are the government offering any support for the self-employed and are you receiving any help at all?
ANNIE: There has been some assistance in terms of loans for small businesses and food supplies for those in need. But the general sentiment is that it has been too little, too late as far as government assistance goes. Almost everyone has taken a bad hit, with the poorest being the hardest hit. Job losses and pay cuts have been rampant, including in the media sector.
I honestly do not know how working parents with young kids are coping in India! For the older kids, online schooling also needs to be taken care of. I can only imagine that many must have turned to family/ grandparents/ full-time nannies for help, or perhaps they are sharing the childcare with their partners. And of course, the screen.
CAT: When did you begin your career in freelance journalism and how have you found pitching news-led stories during the pandemic?
ANNIE: This is my second stint with freelancing. I had freelanced in 2012 for two years before taking up a staff job again. This time around I have been able to cover different kind of topics that I hadn’t done before: digital surveillance during Covid, social enterprises and press freedom. This is definitely a big plus in freelancing. I am not tied to a beat/area as a staffer usually is. I also get to work with different kinds of outlets and editors, learning along the way.
The stories now almost always have a pandemic angle/ mention, even if it is not the main focus. Media houses everywhere have slashed jobs and freelance budgets. Pandemic restrictions mean one cannot be physically present where the story is taking place, especially for those with young kids. Yet, it is quite possible to report remotely with technology. I have found I do not need to be limited geographically in telling a story.
I have also found it useful to keep a track of call for pitches on social media like Twitter. I may not have the story the publication/ editor is asking for, but it helps in story idea generation. One also gets to know who the editor is and get a sense of what publications are looking for at this time.
CAT: What do you think has been the greatest challenge facing you as a freelance parent this year?
ANNIE: Finding the time for work! In fact, even finding the mind space to think about ideas and stories. I will be ‘mid-thought’ on a possible story idea when I am asked for a snack or something else by my child. As a freelancer, you have enough on your plate-pitching , researching publications, chasing payments etc. Keeping one’s child engaged for long hours has now been added to this list.
To hear more from Annie, keep up-to-date with her work or commission her, you can follow her on Twitter here.
A Freelancer’s Christmas Wishlist: curated and written by Jessica Morris
Struggling for Christmas gift ideas for fellow freelance friends or yourself? Never fear, TFP intern Jessica Morris has done the hard work for you. Start leaving subtle hints around the house now!
Diaries and Planners
Meticulous self-organisation is key for freelancers to keep track of pitches, deadlines and meetings, so a great diary or planner is essential. Designs with plenty of space to write multiple notes per day are ideal and I love this Magnetic Emerald Swirl Diary from Paperchase. I would love to find it in my stocking come the 25th. (Hint hint).
Freelancing for Journalists, by Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson
Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson have co-written the brilliant book Freelancing for Journalists. Waterstones describes it as ‘an authoritative, practical and engaging guide for current and aspiring journalism freelances, exploring key aspects of the role including pitching a story, networking, branding and navigating freelance laws and rights’.
Whether you’re a regular content creator and Vlogger or would simply like to look more professional on video calls, ring lights are a great bit of kit to have in your arsenal. I love the way they light up your profile evenly with white light to remove any unflattering shadows, and there are plenty of affordable choices which come with a tripod and phone holding attachment, including this 10-inch ring light set from Amazon.
As more and more journalists and freelancers are expected to produce multimedia work, having the right filming equipment can be a useful asset. Tripods reduce the risk of shots being ruined by an unsteady hand and are extremely handy for capturing high quality images and videos. The HAMA Star Smartphone 112-3D Tripod is ideal for shooting steady content from a smartphone too.
Orthopaedic Office Chair
We spend so much of our time sitting at our desks as freelancers, and the wrong chair can cause no end of problems. Posture People have put together this list of the best office chairs of 2020 so you can start the New Year as you mean to go on. Don’t forget it’s a great expense to claim against your business too.
Easy-keep house plants
Plants do the important job of purifying our air and are thought to boost our wellbeing too. A small succulent house plant makes a welcome addition to a WFH desk area as they don’t require watering too often and are really easy to keep. Ikea has an array of affordable succulents in neutral shades, or you can really treat someone (or yourself) with a plant subscription from Bloom Box Club.
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