Many historians will know the BBC History Magazine as the shallow, glossy version of History Today. Light on text, heavy on images, “BBC History Magazine” once gave its writers two guidelines to get their stories published: the availability of images and the ability to meet strict word counts.
Well, that all seems to be a thing of the past. BBC History recently wrote the Freelance Market News claiming that “the majority of our contributors are professional historians.” Is the BBC calling the writers who use Freelance Market News for leads a bunch of amateurs?
As a reader of BBC History Magazine, I think I know what is meant by “professional.” It certainly doesn’t mean people who gain the majority of their income from writing history magazine articles (considering the amount of research involved in writing the average article, the pay isn’t that high.) No, most of the people published in BBC History are academics who earn their living from teaching history, not writing about it.
If you’re a freelance writer, then the history magazine sector may not be for you. However, if you’ve already done the majority of the research for your article, as part of a course you’re teaching, or for a book you’ve written, then putting together an article for BBC History Magazine (or History Today) may be worth the effort.
If this is the case, beware that the BBC History Magazine no longer accepts finished stories. The BBC suggests that you “email us a synopsis” and then it will “decide whether it would be a topic we want to pursue.” The BBC won’t tell you how long they want your story to be until then, and they don’t seem to have a standard guide related to payment. “Length of work and payment is determined once we have decided to run the piece.”
(According to the National Union of Journalists, one of its writers received £167 per thousand words, which is more than the £115 paid by History Today. However, History Today does tend to carry longer articles, on the same topics, by the same writers, with fewer pictures. Just don’t send both magazines the same article!)
As the work will be done on commission, I’m guessing that the BBC keeps all the rights to your work. (The BBC usually, perhaps always, demands that its writers give up all the rights to their work, including moral rights.)
The question is, after years of publishing more specific (yet more open-sounding) editorial guidelines, why has the BBC changed its rules for history? Why does BBC History now seem to be pushing away writers instead of encouraging them?
My guess is its editorial staff is getting sick of all the “Mavericks” who don’t agree with their official, supposedly “unbiased”, stance on history – especially when it comes to a layman’s interpretation of 19th century documents. As more primary sources and old books become available for free (or at a low price) to the general public, through Internet databases as well as through increasingly open access to local depositories, academics no longer have a monopoly on history.
The maverick is a threat to the ivory tower historian. Long live the maverick!
To contact BBC History with your story idea, write to the following address:BBC History Magazine,
Bristol Magazines Ltd, Tower House,
Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN www.historyextra.com
tel: 0117 927 9009
email: firstname.lastname@example.org other contact details available at http://www.historyextra.com/contact-us