About Me

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Weston Super Mare, Somerset, United Kingdom
Hello and welcome to my blog. My name is Robin Whitlock. I am a freelance journalist with a special interest in environmental issues and renewable energy. I have numerous published articles to my credit and write regularly for a number of renewable energy websites. I am also a writer for Renewable Energy Magazine and a sub-editor for Renewable Energy Focus. I am currently based in Bristol, UK. Besides renewable energy and green issues I have a wide variety of other interests which includes World War 2, mythology and folklore, gardening, railways and lots more besides. You can also reach me on either of my two email addresses, which are: robinwhitlock66@hotmail.com and robinwhitlock1966@gmail.com Thanks!

Hire Me!!

Hire Me!! - Freelance Journalist specializing in environmental issues and renewable energy
Writer for Renewable Energy Magazine
Sub-editor for Renewable Energy Focus
Contributor to Holmes Digital Media websites (Solar Guide, Renewables Guide, Boiler Guide, Builder Guide)
Contributor to Cleversolar blog and Find Energy Savings
Published in numerous national magazines
See below for writing samples

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Why article spinning is pain in the butt

Article spinning is the manipulation of the text of one or more existing articles, citing the original sources through references and/or links, in order to create a new article. The main reason for employing writers on such a project, as far as I can see, is that its cheap. It doesn't involve original work or thought particularly, and that means you can pay the writer less for their contribution.

However, for the writer, article spinning can be (though not always) a major hassle, for the simple reason that you have to juggle the text around from your primary source article and combine it with text from other articles, rewriting it in your own words as far as possible, so that you don't get sued for plagiarism (embedding links to the original articles in the text also guards against this).

With some source articles, this process is relatively straightforward. However, other source articles are written in such a way - possibly to make article spinning difficult, alongside other reasons - as to make this a major hassle, because when you juggle the various bits around, you change the meaning as you do so and threaten to make it nonsensical. In other words its a game of "what text to place where". If you spend too long doing this, which is invariably the case with these more complex articles, you essentially transform your payment from your client from just about acceptable to peanuts. I personally get really angry about this, but there have been times when quite simply I've needed the work because I haven't managed to find anything else at the time.

And that emphasises the point really. Article spinning should ideally be work of "last resort", second only to writing for free in its ability to seriously hack you off.

And also bear in mind that if you get it wrong, not only is there the risk of Google throwing up a "similar text" error or whatever they call it, but you could also be sued. And in such cases its the writer that gets sued, not the publication.

Why is this even legal? For the same reason that unpaid writing (the freelancers version of unpaid internships) is legal - our society is based partly on governments not only allowing people to use cheap labour but actively encouraging them to do it.

It stinks basically.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Ancient Origins Magazine

I have a new client, a publication called Ancient Origins magazine based in the US. Here is my article for them on the Incas: http://bit.ly/1AvRhuV

Friday, 22 May 2015

Freelancing is a hard slog

There's no doubt about it, freelance writing is a hard job. As a British freelancer, I am often guilty perhaps of thinking that my American colleagues have got it better, but judging by this article in The  Huffington Post, that almost certainly isn't the case.

So, to summarise the main points here:

Freelance writing means freedom - you're not restricted to just one employer basically...

The digital revolution has changed the landscape of freelance writing dramatically
"At some news organizations, staff cuts have led to larger freelance budgets in order to maintain the same steady flow of content each day. And with new digital startups launching every year, there has perhaps never been a greater number of outlets for writers’ work to find a home."

There is also a sense among some freelancers that the quality of these opportunities has become diluted in 2015
"Publications pay less per article, outlets expect faster turnarounds and clickbait listicles get approved far more often than substantive features." “I do feel like there are more jobs, although there are a ton that really don’t pay well,” says Sarah Jaffe, a freelance labor journalist and a fellow at the Nation Institute. “There are still websites popping up every couple of months and they want you to write a 1,000-word article for 50 bucks. You can’t make a living writing a 1,000-word article for 50 bucks. The math doesn’t add up. The amount of time it takes out of your life doesn’t add up.”

As a freelancer your ideas have to be better than the staffers
“That’s sort of the justification for the freelance budget. A freelance page is more [expensive] than a non-freelance page in your publication, or even on your website, so you have to justify it. You can’t just be throwing it around.”

Editors at top publications insist that they continue to rely heavily on outside writers whenever possible
"Consistent work exists, it would seem, as long as freelancers are able to offer a steady stream of unique and compelling story ideas editors are unable to find in-house."

The demand for good, incisive pitches often outweighs the supply

There’s a growing need for solid writers who can explore locations and cultural pockets staffers can’t always reach.

Writers get out of freelancing what they put into it - it takes persistence to make a living
"For years, Morgan tried unsuccessfully to break into the New Yorker, the legacy publication that, in some ways, still exists as a status symbol for writers around the world. In December, after knocking and knocking, the gate finally swung open for him."

Source (and full article): Huff Post Media

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Can ideas be copyrighted?

In a word, no. The classic case demonstrating this is the well-known Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln case of 2006 which was completely rejected by the court.

The reason why I am mentioning this is that there are some people out there who will consider someone else writing on the same subject as they are as 'stepping on their turf'. I have just had exactly this experience, probably not helped, I admit, by my use of the word 'collaboration' when actually I wished to cite, that is to say, reference his work. This prompted the accusation that I was essentially asking him to 'hand over' over the products of his hard work, something that had certainly never entered my mind at all and something I would never dream of doing. I am not, and never will be, in the business of, essentially, 'stealing other people's work', but I am very keen to reference and promote projects in order to help publicise them. First of all, its newsworthy stuff, and secondly its always good to do other people a favour by celebrating interesting and worthy projects. Isn't that what journalists do? Or am I missing something here?

One flaw in my personality that I will admit to is a bit of a fiery temper. I thus engaged in a lengthy email argument when actually I should have just thrown his reply in the 'spam' folder, completely ignored him and just got on with writing the article using alternative sources that I had already identified anyway.

The moral of this story is that there are people out there who, for some reason, believe they alone have the exclusive right to research, investigate and write about a particular topic. It's the writers equivalent of a farmer shouting at walkers to 'get orf my land'. They will react to such incursions on their territory by launching an attack.

The best reaction, which admittedly is hard to do if you have a bit of a fiery temper like mine, is to just ignore and get on with it anyway. Providing you are not plagiarising other people's work, you have every right to write about whatever subject you wish to.

And if they have a problem with that it is just tough basically.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Writing for low pay - don't do it

I recently signed up for a news site called Inquisitr. I thought it would be good, but actually its crap. The problem? Low pay....again.

I am not going to go into details about that particular site, but here's some good advice from a British writer, Phillipa Willitts which I thought would be good to reproduce here. Originally published on the AllIndie Writers site.

"There are many myths which are commonly used to justify buying, and writing, very cheap articles. They can initially appear to be persuasive, but what if we look at the other side?

MYTH #1: As long as there are people writing articles for $2, a freelancer can never charge a decent hourly wage
FACT: This seems logical, right? There are people writing articles for $2. If I price my articles at $20 or $200 why on earth would anyone hire me?
In reality, it doesn't work like that. There are different markets. The clients who want to pay $2 an article won't pay you $20 for one, that's true enough. Trying to persuade them is fighting a losing battle even if you have worked for them before and they liked your writing.
The trick is to find the clients who pay more, who value their writers' time and skills enough to pay them, at the very least, a minimum wage and, ideally, a living wage.
These clients do exist, but you won't find them on sites that pay their writers peanuts, or those which encourage writers to pit themselves against each other for pennies. Look elsewhere, approach businesses or magazines and offer your services. When they ask what your fees are, be prepared to state, with confidence, what you are worth.
MYTH: It's better to earn a small amount than nothing at all
FACT: In the short-term, this looks like it makes sense. At the end of any given day you can have earned $10, or you can have earned nothing. $10 must be the better choice. Then the next day, and the next day, and the next day, there are more $10s and occasional $20s but within weeks you feel like you are going nowhere.
Are you living the dream? Of course not! Instead, you feel trapped, because to keep earning those few dollars, you have to work all the hours you have.
For every hour you spend writing a cheap article, you could be updating your own blog to tempt customers or emailing local businesses to suggest a meeting. You could be marketing your services to clients who pay a decent wage or writing a great article for your portfolio. This may seem scary because there is no immediate money coming in but it is the only way to get decent clients, and work, for the future. Take a deep breath and start to sell yourself. You know you are worth more than this.
MYTH: If I do this work at a low price, it will lead to more, better paid work in the future
FACT: This is highly unlikely. Some people consider their work for low-paid sites as a “teaser”, from where they upsell and bag a generous client. However most of the time the people who pay low prices do not waiver from these fees. And, frankly, they have no need to because there are so many people willing to write for those low prices. Whether that's because they live in a part of the world where the cost of living is low or because they are just starting out and lacking in confidence, there seems at times to be even more sellers than buyers at that level.
Raising your fees, raising expectations and raising your sights is the only way to break out of the $2 article market. Bartering up to $2.50 may seem like a success but it is a hollow victory. That buyer will never pay you $50. Ever.
Some people dismiss cheap article writers as inherently unskilled chancers who produce poor quality, often plagiarised work, but such a vast generalisation is untrue and unfair. There are many good writers amongst them, but if they have any gumption they will be actively seeking ways to climb out of that particular pit after a matter of days or weeks.
And there is unfortunately some very poor quality work associated with these prices. If you fall into the trap of working in this price range you will inevitably be associated with some of the standards that those cheap prices lead to.
Spending every hour of the day writing cheap articles can soon lead to you feeling disillusioned with your new choice of career. Spending at least some of that time promoting your services is the only way to get the kind of work you dreamed of when you imagined what writing for a living could be like.
To build a long-term freelance business, you need to play the long game. Work out how much you want to be paid per hour, work out how long it takes you to research and write, and unapologetically price your services accordingly. Then take a step out of your comfort zone, forget bidding for the projects with tiny recompense and set out to find serious clients who value and appreciate the work you do."

I'll be following this advice religiously from now on, as I should have been already...