Being a freelance foreign correspondent is great. I’m my own boss, picking the stories I want to write, when I want to write them. For weeks at a time I sit around drinking coffee, reading the papers and scouring the internet – and I call it work. Some mornings there’s time for 18 holes and I can still be at my desk before London wakes up. Then a phone call and it’s a week bouncing around in the back of LandCruiser in northern Kenya, or following Ethiopian troops into Mogadishu, or racing around Botswana’s Okavango Delta in a speedboat searching for celebrities.
There’s no security. No health coverage, pension or holiday pay. But so what? Other than chief taster at Harvey’s, there can’t be a better job.
It’s just that sometimes there are deeply frustrating weeks too. At the moment I’m trying to set up a trip for one of my newspapers. It’s taken eight days so far and I’m still not sure it’s going to come off. That’s eight days that I haven’t been able to file for anyone else. Essentially eight days with no income. After a lot of haggling I’ve managed to win my editor over to the idea that I should be paid for my time. But it’s not much.
For most of my trips I can get several newspapers on board, work out a day-rate and head off on the first available flight. This time around no-one else is much interested. Editors have got reporters tied up in Pakistan, camped out in Perugia, or just back from Burma or southern California – and all the time the cost of covering Iraq and Afghanistan is eating away at shrinking budgets. As usual it is coverage of Africa that is first to suffer.
My dilemma is whether or not to crack on with my trip. If it comes off then I should have a great yarn, and be able to sell it several times over. It could be one of the best stories of my time here. If it doesn’t come off then I’m even further out of pocket. And this is the downside of being a freelancer. I’m now a businessman with a bottom line to worry about.
Maybe I’ll just play golf this afternoon.