That Was the Year That Was (2013): Billy Briggs, freelance journalist

GOOD year, bad year? As 2013 draws to a close, we ask Billy Briggs, freelance journalist and editor with the International Network of Street Papers: ‘How has it been for you?’.

Briefly, what is it that you do?

I’m a freelance journalist who writes for – among others – The Herald Magazine, the Sunday Mail, Scotland on Sunday, The Guardian and Al Jazeera. I’m also editor of a news service provided by the International Network of Street Papers that supports 122 street papers in 40 countries.

Choose three words that sum up 2013 (so far), from a professional point of view.

Exceeded all expectations.

In 2012, what was your biggest ambition for 2013, and to what extent did you achieve it?

Staying healthy, staying solvent. With some freelance fees having remained static for years – and now being slashed by some media – freelancing is increasingly fraught; so the goal was to keep getting published in order to pay the bills and remain in a profession I love. So far, so good.

How has 2013 (so far) been for you, personally?

The highlight of my year, ‘by a country mile’, was my dug, Iggi, surviving cancer. That good news heralded January and then the year just got better. In April, I was appointed editor of INSP’s news service and a few weeks later I won a Scottish Press Award.

That was followed by another prize in June – a Refugee Week Scotland Media Award, this time from the National Union of Journalists – so to be recognised by my peers twice really was an immense honour.

Seeing Bruce Springsteen play Hampden in the Summer was a joy, as was hearing Seymour Hersh relate the story of how he exposed the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam at a journalism conference in London.

To round off a sublime year, I fly to America with my photographer buddy, Angie Catlin, to cover stories in Chicago and Detroit.

Any changes this year in technology, legislation, the economy, etc that have had a relatively significant impact on the business?

The Scottish print media is having an extremely tough time, financially, and freelancers are suffering dreadfully because of cuts in rates. I fear many freelance colleagues (both writers and photographers) could be forced out of journalism if fees are reduced further; remarkably, in some cases (not the above mentioned titles, thankfully), by over 50 per cent on what was being paid a decade ago. The dire financial situation also means it is increasingly difficult to pursue investigative journalism to expose issues in the public interest, so democracy suffers as well.

I’ve been saddened to see so many talented journalists lose their jobs and august titles struggle. Hard times. On the upside, the rise of New Media brings fresh opportunities, so the secret for a freelancer is to diversify. I think (hope) that apps could be a life saver for traditional media as young people are already in the mindset of paying for these.

What looking forward to, in 2014 – personally and professionally?

Witnessing the historic Scottish independence referendum, Dundee United winning the Scottish Premier League title with ‘Baby Messi’, Ryan Gauld, and becoming a better writer and editor.

I’d also like a couple more jaunts abroad with Angie Catlin as we’re hoping to have a book published about the foreign trips we’ve had as journalists over the past decade. ‘The Cat’ is one of Britain’s most gifted photographers and we’ve shared some surreal, memorable moments.

Finally – most importantly – bagging more Munros with my best pal, Iggi the dug.