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How do you create professional networks?

How do you create professional networks?

Freelance journalism can be a lonely pursuit. We are often out in our communities talking to people and reporting the news, but we frequently do it alone.

Written by Emma Beals

A combination of a solitary working style, smaller newsrooms, and longer hours means we increasingly lack the support networks we need to develop professionally.

Being able to bounce ideas and ethical issues off of colleagues, share contacts and safety information, and talk through difficult experiences can all improve our work and our experience of doing that work. Working together to access equipment, services or better pay can give us a voice louder than our own.

In early 2013, I got together with a handful of other freelance journalists who were also working in dangerous places around the world. We got to chatting about our jobs and the resources we were struggling to get access to. To try to improve our circumstances, and to enable us to build a network with other like-minded journalists, we started the Frontline Freelance Register (FFR). In just a few years since then we have now gathered over 500 members.

This network has enabled us to find out what issues we face as freelancers. It means we can speak to our industry on behalf of over 500 freelance journalists as well as access discounts, and other services because together we have greater bargaining power.

The network has also given us a way to support each other through difficult or dangerous experiences, learn from each other, share contacts, or just meet up for drinks.

FFR is run on a voluntary basis and we set it up without spending any money.  As long as you have a few motivated people, a network can be easy to set up!

While international networks like FFR are helpful, national journalism unions can also help address local issues within a country. They can provide a voice for the press when lobbying a government or linking in to international journalism, press freedoms or human rights organisations. If governments are passing regressive laws around free speech or patterns emerge regarding the safety of journalists, these national unions can give a voice to the community and make collecting evidence of abuses easier.

Another way I, and many other journalists network with each other is through informal Facebook groups. While these aren't totally secure, you can set them up in no time, switch the privacy settings to “secret,” and vet the membership to make sure new members are who they say they are.

We all live on Facebook now, so these groups offer a way to share information or contacts, and ask and answer security questions. They're also a great way to tap into the wider journalism community. You can see who's working where and I often find collaborations or new work this way. But beware of what you share online - see RPT's digital security resources.

My journalism career wouldn't be where it is today without the informal and formal networks I'm a part of. I've found friends, colleagues, important information, life-saving security tips, work, and contacts through them. I call on my networks so often that I'd be lost without them. If you're not part of a network, do look into it, and if there aren’t any around that suit you just right, start one of your own!

Emma Beals is a producer and journalist with a focus on conflict, as well as an elected board representative of the Frontline Freelance Register. She has recently been covering Iraq and Syria as well as DR Congo and Pakistan.

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