So you want to be a freelance journalist?
Have you ever thought about becoming a freelance journalist? If you’re inquisitive (nosy is even better) and you’re happy talking to anyone from a film star to a grieving mother, then freelance journalism could be the career for you.
Freelance journalists need a good command of the English language and the ability to write copy that’s clear, succinct and interesting. If your spelling and grammar are poor, editors will ditch you in favour of a freelance journalist whose copy needs less editing.
Being a freelance journalist means that you don’t have a regular, full-time job, or, most importantly, a regular income. You’re self -employed and you have to generate your own income. If you thrive on routine and a dependable wage, you should think twice before becoming a full-time freelance journalist. That being said, you can still make freelance journalism a successful sideline to generate additional income.
Most freelance journalists work from home, though some like to rent a desk in an office for the company and to avoid distractions at home. While many people are attracted to freelance journalism by its flexibility, deadlines mean you can’t always drop everything to have a coffee with an old friend, or if the kids are ill or an elderly parent needs taking to hospital.
How do freelance journalists sell stories?
When you are a freelance journalist, you’re your own boss, so it’s up to you to come up with a stream of strong ideas and develop good working relationships with editors who might be interested in them.
Freelance journalists need to be up with the news and know what makes a story. Editors always want to know about new research and trends. But they also want an original way of looking at a subject that’s been written about dozens of times before.
For example, you can guarantee that in the run-up to summer, every women’s title will publish an article about how to get a perfect beach body. And at Christmas, they’ll be looking at how to have a great time without getting into debt. Your challenge as a freelance journalist is to come up with a different approach to this kind of subject.
You need to be realistic too. If your brilliant idea is going to take six months of investigative reporting to pull off, you’ve either got to negotiate a fantastic fee or forget it and do something simpler. It might be more boring, but at least you’ll be able to pay the mortgage.
How do I become a freelance journalist?
There are two main ways in to freelance journalism:
The first is to become a staff writer, often once you have gained a journalism qualification. Being a staff writer is a great way to build up contacts, though difficult to obtain in the current climate. As a staff writer you might work for several publications and even if you don’t, with luck you will have colleagues who do move around. So when you become a freelance journalist, you will have both experience and contacts on different magazines.
The other way to become a freelance journalist is to do a course, learn the skills and then start pitching to editors. There are some great courses around for budding freelance journalists. Look for one where you are tutored by a real, live freelance journalist who still works in journalism. They will be able to give you advice that’s up to date and relevant.
The British College of Journalism offers courses in freelance journalism where you will be partnered by a working journalist. The 12-tutorial course will give you the chance to practise things like pitching, interviewing, feature writing and coming up with ideas. This will equip you with all the skills and confidence you need to become a successful freelance journalist.
To find out more about the freelance journalism course please request your free course guide.