How to Work as a Freelance Journalist

A career as a freelance journalist requires both the ability to work independently and skill in interacting with everyone from editors to sources to fellow journalists. If you want to work as a freelance journalist, you'll need to understand every aspect of the business, from what kind of story ideas attract readers to how to persuade an editor to accept your story pitch.


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    Create a portfolio and website. Every time you pitch an idea to a new publication, you'll need to prove to the editor that you're qualified. Keep copies of your best articles to send to editors, and create at least a basic website that you regularly update with new articles, awards or other honors and anything else you'd like editors to know about you. Any time you contact editors, you can simply include a link to your site, making it quicker and easier for them to evaluate your skills.
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    Set up a home office. Freelance journalists usually work from home, although some rent desk or office space. Starting out, though, you'll probably work from your home, and will need a quiet space to work and all the tools, technology and equipment necessary for writing, researching and communicating with editors and sources. An entire room is ideal, but if you can't spare that much space, at least find a dedicated work area. You'll need a computer, printer, Internet access and word processing software. You'll also need an e-mail account, which is the method of communication most editors prefer. You'll need a landline telephone, which works better for phone interviews than a cell phone, and voicemail or an answering machine, and possibly a fax machine.
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    Cultivate a network of sources. If you want steady assignments, you'll need access to late-breaking and inside information to help you find unique and timely stories to pitch. Staff writers usually have to find some story ideas on their own, but often receive many of their assignments from their editors. Freelance journalists, on the other hand, are often solely responsible for finding ideas to pitch to publications. Having relationships with people connected to the subjects or industries you cover can alert you to news and developments, and help you quickly find qualified experts to interview.
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    Keep an idea file. Compile any suggestions from your sources, along with other ideas you can use for articles and keep them in an easily accessible file. This way, you'll always have an idea ready if one of your editors asks you for pitches. Or, if you pitch a story but the publication can't use it, you can try another idea from your file. You can simply jot ideas in a notebook, keep a file folder or save ideas online or on your computer.
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    Send out query letters. When you work as a freelance journalist, you should always be looking for your next assignment. Query letters are a combination of a story pitch and a brief bio that you send to editors. The query outlines your story idea, including what angle you plan to take and what sources you might interview. It also demonstrates to editors why you should write the article, by highlighting your knowledge of the subject and skill as a writer. Even if you have a steady stream of assignments, regularly send out query letters to ensure you have enough work to support yourself.
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    Contact local publications. National publications are the most difficult markets to break into, so if you're just starting out as a freelance journalist, you'll have better luck seeking assignments from newspapers and magazines in your area. Once you've established a relationship with them, they're also more likely to offer you ongoing work, and you may be able to support yourself by writing for these publications alone. Send editors an e-mail describing your experience and why you want to write for that publication, and include your resume and links to some of your published articles.

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Categories: Consultancy Freelance and Contracting | Journalism