Sometime in late 2016, I was lucky enough to get an interview with a local newspaper. Granted, I only found out about the opportunity through my uncle who was a radio journalist but I was thrilled to have my foot in the door.
Walking into the building I had always dreamed of working at, I felt like things were finally coming together. 7 years of hard work were finally paying off.
At this point, I would like draw attention to the fact that I was still technically a college student. I was finishing up my final semester which was delayed by UKZN protest action. But I was tired of waiting for a job in my field (it’s been two years and I’m still waiting so yes the irony is not lost on me).
My interview went great and I was given a position to write for the cultural/lifestyle section of the newspaper. I instantly secured an interview with an author I knew. I conducted the interview, wrote my article and submitted it the day before deadline.
Three days later, I had the pleasure of seeing my writing in print. Above the fold.
I was overjoyed. And then came the payment. Or lack thereof. Here’s the thing though, I was more than willing to work for free. But apparently freelancers take a while to pay.
The next few months were brutal. I chased down the Payroll lady weekly for updates on my payments, completed university and started interviewing for regular 9-5 jobs. I was ghosted by my editor. No calls went through. Neither did my emails or SMS’es. And this was not for payment. No this was for my pitches. Radio silence.
My payment finally came through 4 months later in February 2017. I still tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to get interviewees but it was kind of hard when I didn’t know if I was even still a freelancer (SPOILER ALERT: I still was. I received a letter a year later confirming that they were releasing me from my contract as they no longer required my services. My co-workers and I laughed non-stop at the idea that I had been dismissed from a job I didn’t even know I had).
That was how my short-lived journalism career ended, leaving me with two very important lessons. 1) I didn’t want to be a freelancer and 2) I needed some sort of support structure in a working environment.
For a first job and especially for a first freelancing gig, this experience was absolutely awful and I would not like to go back. Though I supposed if I went back now, things would be different.
For one thing, I am no longer the same quiet girl. If I had been ignored for pitches now, I would probably get in my car and drive straight to the editor’s office to query if I could get started or not.
What I didn’t know at the time was that these experiences were going to shape and define me and help with a very important life choice that was coming up.