I recently decided to become a full-time freelance journalist after working in the field part time over the past few years. As a full-time doctoral student, I knew I needed to do something that allowed for a flexible schedule and fulfilled my academic needs as well.
Freelancing seemed like a sound idea. But having never received a degree in journalism, and thus having never found myself connected to the networks such training gives you, I’ve really had to build my own career and community from scratch. It means I’ve had to make mistakes, often and a lot, but it also means I’ve had the opportunity to learn a thing or two that might be useful for others in a similar place in their careers.
Below are some of my top tips for anyone just starting out. I hope you’ll find it helpful, and if I’ve missed any biggies, please share.
Build relationships: I am lucky enough to live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, where there is a thriving media ecosystem of independent and non-profit journalism organizations. By connecting with a number of those organizations, I have been so lucky to find paid work, land on great training opportunities and plug in to thriving journalism networks.
As one example, I was able to publish my first investigative piece, an in-depth look at the decisions being made to close Minneapolis’ last public housing complex, with the Twin Cities Daily Planet media outlet in May. It was an incredibly powerful experience to feel that the work I had done as a journalist was meaningful and helped to deepen the conversation about housing justice in the Twin Cities. Likewise, I encourage you to find organizations you can jibe with and build those relationships intentionally and strategically.
Take advantage of social media: To be honest, I should probably use LinkedIn more, and I keep my Facebook on lockdown for the most part. But Twitter is where I discover the best resources: I learn about existing networks, hit upon all kinds of story ideas and get insight into other opportunities for an emerging journalist like myself. Take your Twitter account seriously; it’s my favorite social media platform and such an important tool for journalists. (Feel free to engage with me at @cmiriam.)
Showcase your work online: Websites and blogs might be “old school.” Or, they might not be. Opinions about their usefulness run the gamut. For me, there’s no question as to the value of both.
I put a lot of effort into my professional website and blog. Both are fantastic spaces to organize my thinking, link to my online “places,” offer up a digital portfolio (I use the clippings.me platform), and keep track of my world and who I am in it.
I always recommend that professional freelancers put time and energy into demonstrating a little about who they are and how their work fits in the grand scheme of things, and a professional website is a great forum for that. It also looks cool and helps me feel connected to the larger journalism community.
Go for coffee with people you admire: Admittedly, I still struggle to do this. There are dozens of journalists and news organizations I have great respect for in the Twin Cities and beyond, but it can be nerve-wracking to send an email introducing yourself or inviting somebody out to coffee. In the end, though, it just takes practice. The worst that somebody can say is “nope, sorry,” but the best is spending quality time with a person you look up to, who can offer suggestions, lead by example or even help brainstorm story ideas. And, it’s fun to make new contacts. So, take the initiative and reach out!
Good luck out there!
Cirien Saadeh is a freelance journalist and student in Prescott College’s sustainability education program in Arizona. As a Ph.D. student, Saadeh develops community-based journalism curriculum, for low-income communities of color, and is also developing a cooperative journalism model based in those communities. You can find her at ciriensaadeh.com. On Twitter: @cmiriam
Tagged under: Freelancing