FREELANCE journalist, Jamie Beatson, is the owner and operator of Kingdom News Agency, reporting stories from Tayside and Fife for Scotland’s national and regional newspapers and broadcasters.
Based in Perth, the 26 year-old ‘went out on his own’ just over two years ago after beginning his career at Central Scotland News Agency before going on to work for STV in its Dundee newsroom.
He submitted this on Tuesday, January 15.
What exactly is it that you do?
Primarily, I cover the sheriff courts in Dundee and Cupar on a day-to-day basis, as well as the courts in Arbroath, Forfar and Kirkcaldy, on occasion. I also cover the High Court in Dundee when it sits, usually for nine to 15 weeks a year. On top of that, I cover basically any other story that crops up in the area. It is a very busy patch, so there’s almost always something on the go.
What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?
Yesterday, my working day started, as usual, very early – around 7am – when the paper boy delivered my usual stack of newspapers. I work from home so I can be fairly flexible, but I prefer to start as early as I can and be ‘ahead of the game’, if possible.
So I started off with a look through the nationals and regionals – mostly checking if there was anything worth following up – before writing up the bare bones of a couple of tales I was interested in and making a note to make a couple of phone calls to flesh them out a bit.
I then checked over the background copy I had prepared over the weekend for a couple of court stories I was covering in Dundee, and lined up some pictures to go with them.
Mainly, I had the sentencing of three Slovakian nationals who were convicted of human trafficking after they brought a couple to Scotland in an attempt to sell the woman as a wife to an Asian man. It was a long, complex trial and, as a result, the copy I had prepared was also long and complex. So I took some time to simplify it and shorten it to a more reasonable length.
All of that was before 8.15am – so I took a bit of time out before heading down to Dundee from my home just outside Perth in time for the first cases calling at 9.30am. The photographer I work with, Alan Richardson, didn’t have it quite so easy – he’d been in position before 8am to get new pictures of the convicted trio arriving off the prison vans in icy temperatures. Rather him than me.
The big problem I come up against quite often is that there’s one of me, and up to seven courts running at once in Dundee. This is where having a great relationship with reporters on local papers, as well as with the court staff, comes in handy.
I had a quick chat with a staffer from the Evening Telegraph, who was also interested in the same four cases I had come over for. They were calling across two courts, so we split up and took one each.
As is always the case at court, however, things didn’t run quite to the timetable. One of the human traffickers’ solicitors didn’t appear until after 10am. That, combined with a delayed sheriff, meant that I was somehow able to get to all four cases myself, which is always preferable.
The human traffickers received a total of nine years in jail between them with police and prosecutors hailing the sentences as a triumph. Obviously a good story – so I took some time to craft the copy and get it out to all the nationals as quickly as possible.
Normally when I’m trying to get across four cases – especially when one is as complex as the human trafficking one – I can be in court for hours. Unusually, the whole thing was finished by 10.45am. That’s extraordinarily early for me to be finished in court, so I took full advantage by getting back to my office and getting on with some other work.
This is where the dull side of freelancing comes in. You have to do your own accounts and expenses, so I spent an hour or two surrounded in spreadsheets, only breaking to check the local evening paper for anything of interest and check for any interesting email that might make a story.
It was an odd day – a busy court diary but it was all over before 11am, leaving a quiet afternoon.
How different or similar was it to your average working day when you started in the post?
When I first set out as a freelancer, my intention had been to primarily concentrate on Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court – which is massively under-covered, given how busy it is.
But a combination of factors – mainly, the inability to get access to court papers there in a timely manner – made that difficult. However, it had also become pretty clear during my time at STV in Dundee that the sheriff court there wasn’t getting the coverage it should, either. And the staff there are just brilliant – really helpful and used to dealing with the Press, thanks to the constant presence of staff from the Evening Telegraph and The Courier.
I kind of gradually fell into covering Dundee Sheriff Court until, after just a few months, it became pretty much the core focus of my work.
When I first started out, I was pretty anxious about actually making enough money to survive, so I’d spend hours driving about picking up local papers around Fife and Angus to scour for stories, as well as sitting through hours of court without any actual idea of what I was looking for.
Thankfully, it all worked out pretty well, and I’ve been able to streamline my working days. The upside of that is that I can spend a little more time at home – which is about to become all the more important with my wife and I expecting our first child in April.
Right now I’m pretty busy, and it is almost all court work, and almost all in Dundee. But it is a ‘feast or famine’ thing and it is always changing. One week I can have not a single case in the diary so I’ll maybe spend a day in Dundee listening to the pre-trial hearings for sheriff and jury cases and the custody court. The next, I’ll have constant cases across my whole area.
How do you see the job evolving?
It really all depends on where the newspaper business goes over the coming five to ten years. I can’t see any dimunition of the interest in court cases – be it a sensational murder or a noteworthy case for some other reason. For example, [today, Wednesday] I have the sentencing of a man convicted of stalking his Thai bride after he accused her of lacing his food with ‘sex spices’ to quell his libido. You’re going to read that story if it’s in front of you, I would have thought?
But if newspaper budgets are constantly reduced as time goes on, who is going to pay for the likes of myself and the many others to cover these courts? It isn’t something you can leave in the hands of ‘citizen journalists’. First off, no-one is going to do it, and secondly, if they did, could you trust the copy? It could be riddled with legal issues.
You need experienced people with a knowledge of what’s going on to cover the courts. That exists just now and I hope it remains down the line. But I know that when I started in 2007, rates were, in general, the same as they are now – with some actually since cut, and some papers not using nearly as much copy. If I knew what that represented as a real terms cut in income, I probably wouldn’t be a reporter.
What gives you most job satisfaction?
As with any journalist, seeing your story making the splash somewhere has to be ‘up there’. Particularly if it’s something you’ve worked on, beaten the competition to and made a damn good job of.
That isn’t always easy with court stories – generally, it has to involve someone famous or be a really notorious crime – but it can happen, and nothing beats that feeling of seeing your story with your byline on the front page.