Clare Sambrook: I've been working for no money

In the last eight days freelance journalist Clare Sambrook has collected two major awards for her investigative reporting.

The Bevins a ward was presented to her on Tuesday less than a week after she collected the Paul Foot Award.

Most investigative journalism prizes are won by reporters working on publications that can afford to give them time and space to construct lengthy and intricate stories. Sambrook’s journalism has been conducted under her own steam without any real income from the enterprise.

‘It’s barking mad really there are six of us and we haven’t got any funding, we are completely unpaid,’she told Press Gazette.

‘We were just so angry that we thought we would have a go. I’ve been working effectively for no money, apart from the odd small fee for journalism but not a fee that would possibly ever cover my labour costs.

‘I have run into some financial problems as a result. It’s been more than a full-time job everyday, with about ten days off while doing bonkers hours since 2009.”

Financial trouble, bonkers hours, no funding – what was it that got Sambrook – and the campaigners that she works with – so angry?

Sambrook collected both her awards for a series of stories highlighting the plight of child asylum seekers in the UK and revealing that they are often separated from their families and held in secure facilities..

Most of her work is published on the OurKingdom and the openDemocracy.net websites. She has also had a number of pieces published in the national press, predominantly in The Guardian and Private Eye.

‘My own involvement came about in the summer of 2009 when some friends of mine asked for my help,’she said.

‘They were campaigning on behalf of a young family where a mother had been detained, the father had already been in detention for eight months, which left a two-year-old boy on his own without his parents.

‘I helped do a little press campaign for this family while my friends foudn them some legal advice and they now have leave to remain so there was absolutely no need to detain them in the first place.

‘After the success of that we thought, let’s try and build on that and take it national.”

Sambrook helped found the End Child Detention Now campaign with the aim of exposing an issue that had previously gone largely unreported.

‘We have been campaigning against the government’s practise of locking up asylum-seeking families in places like Yarlswood Detention Centre,’she said.

‘We thought we had made some headway because the Liberal Democrats put ending Child detention in their election manifesto.

‘Then they made it part of the Coalition Agreement, they said ‘we will end the detention of children for immigration purposes’.

‘But the Government has reneged on that commitment in a very big way.”

Presenting her with the Bevins Award earlier this week, Andrew Marr said Sambrook had brought attention to a practice that was ‘utterly against all our best traditions”.

Marr also praised Sambrook for straddling the online, printed and broadcast worlds to ‘thrust her campaign as hard as she could up the nether regions of those in power”.

But isn’t it a concern to Sambrook that much of her highly-praised work had to be published for free online? What does that say about the state of investigative journalism in the UK?

‘There is fantastic investigative journalism being done by people on staff,’she said.

‘I wouldn’t say there was anything to worry about around the state of investigative journalism.

‘Indeed, the quality of stories on the [Bevins Prize] shortlist show there is fantastic investigative journalism going on in the national papers.

‘The trouble is getting paid for it as a freelance. I have found it completely impossible…

‘As a freelance it’s astonishingly difficult unless you are doing investigations for the rightwing press but, of course, the Mail on Sunday, which pays very well for investigations, isn’t interested in the plight of asylum-seeking families. So there is no way I could have sold my story to them.”

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