Chortle this week ran an ‘exposé’ of the News Quiz, with their anonymous source apparently furious that a long-running, well-established and respected radio comedy show would offer a work experience opportunity for new writers. Gasp!
Unlike Chortle’s anonymous source, who turned down the position, I have performed that additional material role, so actually know what it involves.
When someone does additional material for the News Quiz, you gain a real experience of what it is like to work on a topical radio comedy show. You write jokes, which presumably, is what you want to do. You don’t clean the BBC toilets or stack the BBC stationery cupboard (if you’re canny you can get a few highlighters and envelopes from there though, to top up your £50).
You sit at a computer – or pen and paper, if you’re a dweeboid – and write jokes. You watch how the other writers write jokes. And you are paid your £50 expenses regardless of whether you write any jokes at all, let alone get them in the show. The job is totally disposable to The News Quiz itself. It only exists to provide a platform for new writers.
Chortle reporting complaints that The News Quiz is in some way hypocritical for criticising the government-endorsed slavery that is Workfare while paying new writers to write jokes is ludicrous. The major issue with Workfare is people being made to do jobs that in no way increase their skills or employability, with companies using them to do labour that people getting paid should be doing – but the additional writer post on The News Quiz is self-evidently beneficial for an aspiring writer.
And the post is for *aspiring* writers. My first thought on reading the article was ‘why is a man who claims to have 16 years of high profile TV and radio credits applying to do a job that is made for people fresh to the game?’ It’s not a job for someone who has worked on Have I Got News For You. That would be like a surgeon applying to work on reception.
You are only allowed to do one additional material slot per series. If The News Quiz really liked a new writer, they could not employ them in an additional material role for a whole series, they would have to pay them to come on board as a main writer.
Not getting paid for work is a big problem in this industry. Unfortunately, I’m of a generation that has never really experienced getting paid to go to meetings (unlike Chortle’s source) or even for scripts.
Most of the time we only get paid if we have an actual commission. I know many writers who write and submit work endlessly, with only the hope that some of it will get taken on and paid for. Obviously, this isn’t great and does mean that young hopefuls can rarely afford to go full-time.
Chortle is guilty of its own hypocrisy here as they themselves ask correspondents to write, not for £50, but for the chance to win one £75 prize per month. Exploitation? Or an opportunity?
The News Quiz offering a £50 expenses opportunity to see the inner workings of the BBC radio comedy department, get a respected credit and meet with producers who may be interested in your writing is hardly exploitation.
It is a tiny stepping stone given by The News Quiz to up to nine new writers per series. For me it has been a real confidence boost and helped develop potential working relationships with producers which will almost certainly lead to my own 30 Rock-style show on HBO. It’s a stepping stone. As a young writer, it is one I am grateful for.