I’ve been asked these days why I didn’t hurry to the earthquake area in the east of Turkey but stayed in Istanbul. In different tones of voice: angry, interested, surprised. I thought it might be interesting to answer this question in a blog post, to give some insight into the daily realities of a freelance correspondent.
The short answer is: I’m not in the earthquake area because I’m a freelance journalist hardly ever working for news media.
When the disaster hit the Van region on Sunday, I worked for Dutch news agency ANP, basically the only steady buyer of my work that I have. But I contributed only small news and some background information, and on Monday I went to an Istanbul municipality for a story about people collecting aid for the disaster area. ANP news agency doesn’t need me for the big news, for example on how the aid in the region is arranged, how many people died, how many people are wounded and missing, how many buildings collapsed, what the minister said, what the locals say and the mayors, etcetera. They work closely together with the huge agencies, Reuters and AP, and they get the hard news from them. From me, they get backgrounds and stories ‘beside the news’.
On Monday, the news journalist in me was getting eager to go. Then I did a short interview for Dutch radio, and they said: if you plan to go to Van, please let us know, then we can hire you again for an interview. They pay €125 for a news update, but they had no budget to contribute to any travel costs or other expenses, and might only buy one interview.
Still, it was a small start. So I mailed ANP: don’t you want me on the spot? No, they said, we get enough news from Reuters and AP, there’s no need for you to go. Then I mailed a paper I sometimes work for: if I go to the disaster area, would you buy stories from me and would you contribute to expenses? The answer came quick: ‘Thanks for your offer, but no, we follow it at the foreign news desk, we don’t need anybody there’. It’s a paper that relies on agencies for the hard news, like the earthquake, and wants stories besides the news from their correspondents, preferably when they are somehow spicy (like this one) or related to Holland (like this one).
And the other news media I have worked for these last few days? I worked for American radio ABC and for Canadian TV Canada AM, but they only wanted updates on the first and second day of the disaster. After that, for those stations the news travels elsewhere again. That’s how it works, the world is a news-busy area, so to speak. So no way could I be paid by them again to give radio and TV interviews. That was it. I have no other news media to sell earth quake stories to.
In the meantime, this week I have a deadline for a big background story about the increasing power of the Turkish judiciary. I have sold two stories to monthly magazines and I’m busy seeking interview candidates for those. I have a deadline for a final editing job (which was actually Monday, but they gave me a few extra days because of the earth quake work I needed to do). And I still follow the news for ANP, and wrote another besides the news-story for them on Tuesday which I was able to do just from my desk in Istanbul.
And the monthly and weekly magazines I work for? Forget it. The story about the judiciary is for a big weekly news magazine in the Netherlands. Especially today, there are developments that could be interesting do deeply dig in to, especially the tensions rising here and there between Kurds and Turks. But even if they wanted to publish about it, they can do so only two weeks from now at the earliest, and by then the quake will no longer be in the news. By the way, they wouldn’t break into their planning for this anyway – like I said, the world is news busy, and natural disasters happen everywhere. They have another Turkey story planned. Mine, and if I deliver after deadline because I go to Van now, I have a problem.
Monthly magazines? Did you know they plan months ahead? Most of them are making their January issue now. No, seriously.
The funniest suggestion I got was that I could definitely sell stories to Kurdish media. I don’t work for Turkish or Kurdish media, I work for Dutch media. I publish about this country, not in this country. It would make me too much a part of the polarized society that Turkey is and I don’t want that. I don’t go further than publishing some of my blog posts in Turkish on this Turkish site.
Besides that, what do you think Kurdish (or Turkish) (online) media would pay? Nothing, or peanuts at the most. And since I’m a professional journalist trying to make a living, I don’t work for nothing or peanuts. Only for money. I’m running a business. Occupy me.