Thursday, 28 May 2009

Refining the art of freelancing

Freelances are not only the journalists hit hardest by the recession, they are also in the best position to innovate their way out of it. 

That goes particularly for newly-qualified journalists – and there are going to be thousands of them on the streets in a few weeks as a new crop of graduate and post-graduates is unleashed on an almost non-existent jobs market.

OK, but how do you innovate? Here's a round-up of smart ideas.

Tweet your way to a job

If you tweet avidly you could apply for a job in a hot new category: social media specialist. The New York Times reports that: “The position of social media specialist, introduced by companies like Comcast, General Motors and JetBlue Airways, has become the hottest new corporate job among the Twitterati.”

Stay close to journalism

This time last year Dave Lee was a newly-qualified freelance in search of work. He says the one crucial tip is, whatever you have to do to make ends meet, stay close to journalism.

He says: “So what if there aren’t any full-time reporting roles on newspapers. Are the pages empty? No! They’re still full of words, pictures, stories. All of which are — until Murdoch invents some sort of Churnobot — written by humans. You’ll struggle with local newspapers, they don’t have much of a budget, but you could have better luck elsewhere. On the web, in the nationals — they all need writers.

“So if you need to work at Sainsbury’s — do it. Work lates. Get a job in a pub.

“Just spend your day being a journalist. Get shifts, even if it’s one day a week. Apply for anything that’s remotely near to a newsroom. Work on the reception if you have to.

“You need to make sure you’re in the industry when it’s back on the way up.”

Make your pitches multimedia

Whether you are newly qualified, long-term voluntary freelance or newly redundant, you need to up your game. Michelle Vranizan Rafter regularly posts great advice on her blog, including tips such as New ways to use LinkedIn to find story sources and Why freelances should shut up and innovate

She says they must “think outside the printed page for new markets, new opportunities and new ways of conducting your writing business. The need for good writing isn’t going away – people with good communications skills will always be sought after. But the medium, the format and the styles are changing. So adapt with the times."

For example, make your pitches multimedia   She advocates adding audio, video, maps and other digital information to pitches because it:
  • Makes story packages more interesting, upping the chances that an assigning editor will bite.
  • Makes full use of the interactive nature of the online media
  • Establishes you as a writer who gets Web 2.0 technology

“Some publications are already starting to request that writers include multimedia components in their pitches. Just yesterday, a freelance acquaintance shared this letter from a regional publication that’s asking freelancers to include audio or video in their pitches:

“Beginning with the March 2009 issue of XXX, we will begin enhancing our website with article-related content. The content will include photos and audio and video recordings -- anything that helps to tell a story or bring it to life.

"For example, if you’re pitching a restaurant, let us know if you’d be able/willing to provide a short video of the chef preparing a dish or offering some kitchen tips. Have a great music group you’d like to write about? In your pitch, tell us if an audio recording could be available for the web.

"As you research your stories or even when making a pitch, let us know if you see or think of an opportunity to help showcase an article online.”

She issues this appeal to freelances to share ideas about how to squeeze more money out of the work they do.

Finally, one recently (and reluctantly) redundant staffer turned freelance is writing a blog at to chart their search for work. It’ll keep going until the work starts flowing and is already offering a great insight into how it is done.

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