AYT Career Central: Eleanor Turney, Editor of the Space

January and February are AYT Career Central months with guest blogs and features from arts professionals. Our debut guest blog is from Eleanor Turney, Editor of The Space  

I started as Interim Editor of The Space last August, and immediately went to Edinburgh to programme next year’s Incoming Festival! Once back, I started writing and commissioning content for The Space and, in October, I applied for the permanent job as Managing Editor, running the newly formed editorial team. That was when I stood down as Editor of AYT after four amazing years – I simply didn’t have the time AYT deserved any more, and I was ready to let someone else take the reins.

The Space is a collaboration between the BBC and Arts Council England exploring digital art – what that means now and what that might mean in the future. It’s essentially a commissioning body, working with artists to realise their amazing ideas for new digital art. We work with big, established organisations like Welsh National Opera and Sage Gateshead, and with individual artists at all levels. At the moment, we’re running Creative Fellowships with WIRED magazine, worth £30k, and our next Open Call, launching in March, is open to anyone over 18.

Digital art is a fledgling field. Both the art being created and the way it’s written about are still developing. Being part of an organisation that is at the forefront of that is very exciting – in the past few months we’ve worked with musician John Cale and his orchestra of drones; on National Theatre Wales’s gorgeous, interactive Dylan Thomas celebration; and with dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

The Space started publishing editorial content when I started. Having a blank slate is both liberating and challenging. I have the freedom to shape our coverage, policies and strategy from scratch, but I also have no processes to draw on.

Before I joined The Space, I worked for both print and online publications – including AYT, of course, and the British Council, Ideas Tap, The Stage, The Guardian. Print magazines have to be concerned with page space much more than online ones – word counts don’t need to be as strict online. The world is increasingly moving towards online, and new models will have to be found if writers are still going to be fairly paid for their work.

I worked as a freelance writer and editor for just over three years, and making a living was never easy. I had what is politely known as a “portfolio career”, but really means “scrapping around for as much work as you can find in different places”. Being freelance is definitely not for everyone – I pretty much worked seven days a week for those three years. The problem with freelancing is that even when you have enough work, you’re always looking for the next contract or pitching the next article – you can never rest on your laurels.

You are also, bluntly, only as good as the last thing you did; a happy client will hire you again or recommend you, a dissatisfied one will not. It sounds obvious, but that means things like always hitting deadlines, never turning in work that’s not your best and staying within word counts. It can be exhausting and, of course, you also don’t get holiday or sick pay.

However, it also allows for a huge degree of flexibility. You can make your own hours and do your grocery shopping when Sainsbury’s is empty. In the best times, you can pick and choose the work and clients that most interest you, and create a portfolio of work that means you are never bored. At the other end of the scale, you can end up doing stultifying copywriting because the rent on your mouldy bedsit is due…

I was lucky in that when I went freelance full-time, I had been doing bits and bobs alongside a full-time job, which meant I already had contacts. However, a little research will yield editors’ email addresses, and most are happy to receive concise, well-researched, relevant pitches. Pitching is hard work in itself ­ – you have to tailor your idea to each publication, politely chase if you don’t hear anything, and deal with rejection a lot. It definitely helps if you have a thick skin.