Collage by Ollie with images from Pexels
Breaking into journalism can be a tough nut to crack, Olivia Opara shares her advice and resources on becoming a freelance journalist
If you’re not well connected with the luxury of financial backing, landing opportunities in journalism can be difficult.
In my experience the field seems to be full of wealthy people who can afford to take unpaid work or have strong family networks and can creep in through the back door.
However, if like me when I started, you’re working against the odds and you don’t have money behind you or many contacts, here are some tips and advice on how you can create your first break.
FREELANCE JOURNALISIM STARTER TIPS:
❖ You’ll need experience
It is not advisable for you to go straight into freelance journalism. This is because you need to have experience in some shape or form so that you have a strong portfolio for editors and publications to see evidence of your work when you pitch for a job.
- Start a blog. Blogging will help you build your portfolio and give you more power over what you write. It will also help you see your progress over time
- Writing for local newspapers and magazines is a great place to start. Try contacting papers in your area and inquire about whether they have any trainee/internship or volunteer positions available. You can also write an article with support from Exposure
- You can always have another job, for instance copywriting or creating written content for corporate companies which pay more, while you write in your own time
❖ Networking – contacts are imperative
You need to have contacts. A good network of fellow journalists, editors, publications and organisations are a good way for you to have a better chance of picking up freelance work.
- Social media is a great way to expand your network. Using platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and joining Facebook groups will help you. You can refer here to my article, ‘How to make it happen in journalism: part one’
❖ Pitching for a freelance job
Many journalists pitch for freelance work by sending publications story ideas. View your pitches as little soldiers being sent into battle. While many are shot down – one will be sure to make it through!
- Learn all about the organisation/publication/magazine you’re appealing to. Who are their target audience? What is their niche? Why do they report on what they do?
- In your pitch make sure you’re clear about why your story is relevant. Make sure you send your pitch to the right editor. For example, if it’s a news story send your ideas to the head editor of news at the publication
- Never send in a whole written article as a pitch. Make sure you are concise as editors don’t have time to read a whole article
- Always keep an eye out for relevant stories that you can investigate further. Talking to people, and listening to their stories can be a great inspiration
- Excellent research skills and attention to detail will be needed as editors want freelancers that deliver outstanding copy
- Use social media and create a brain dump doc for ideas
- Always pitch within your capacity and skill set. Think about your character and what you’re willing and able to take on
❖ Negotiating payment as a Freelance Journalist
Getting paid on time can be difficult as a freelancer. Some clients may not even pay you within a month of invoicing.
- The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has a freelance guide that covers things like rates – to help you price your services – check more here
- There are laws that protect freelancers. You are your own boss as a freelancer and therefore don’t have the Human Resources team that traditionally support employees. There are laws that protect freelancers. Know your rights, check out more here
- As a freelancer, you will be in charge of paying your taxes. So make sure that you pay the right amount on time. Learn more about taxes here
❖ How to detect and avoid scammers
Look for respect from the editors you’re pitching to. You have to trust your instincts and only pitch to genuine publications and organisations.
- Never send in a full pre-written article. Genuine editors would never ask you for a finished piece, without reading a pitch first. If you’re asked to send in an article instead of a pitch – Run! This is a huge red flag and your work is most likely to be stolen
- Always do background research on the organisation. You can start by finding out if they’re credible. See if you can read about other journalist’s experiences of working for them
For opportunities and call-outs from editors see these online resources:
❖ Facebook groups
❖ LinkedIn and Twitter
It’s always worth following editors, journalists, writers, publications, magazines and other related organisations on LinkedIn. Twitter can be useful as many do call-outs for jobs and ask for pitches. Follow accounts like:
This website makes it easy to team up with journalists abroad or to find a local fixer.
Monthly summary of funding opportunities:
Grants for women reporters:
General grants programmes:
❖ Training and solutions:
For free training and resources on solutions journalism:
UK focus for training courses and articles:
US focus with many 1-hour free webinars:
❖ Apprenticeships/Fellowship Programmes:
Freelancing is not always easy to navigate but if you are determined, proactive and have tenacity, you can do it. You can be successful. Good luck!