By Brian Scott
Breaking into journalism isn’t easy. Besides polished creative writing skills, you need self-motivation and willing to accept your share of low-paying gigs. Don’t expect more than $35 an article for smaller daily newspapers. Bigger-city newspapers will pay around $200 an article for good stories.
Most full-time reporters received training at journalism schools, after they’d already earned a 4-year undergraduate degree. If you lack the education, you can still get your foot in the door by becoming a stringer (the industry term for “freelance reporter”). Many publications use stringers because they lack reporters to cover all the news at once; besides, newspapers want writers to hone their skills before they’re hired full-time, or because they like the fresh perspectives of a good freelancer.
What’s involved in freelance journalism?
This is the exciting part: as a freelance journalist, you get to chase the news as it’s happening. For many, this thrill is enough to keep them going through the drudgery and low pay.
You’ll need to keep your wits about you. If news is happening right in front of you, you must have the presence of mind to take accurate notes and come up with questions for on-the-spot interviews. Freelance journalism is all about recreating the story on paper so readers can relive the experience you had.
Where do I find freelance journalism jobs?
Before you approach any newspapers, you should have a portfolio of articles under your belt. Five to ten sample articles is the minimum. If you don’t have published samples of your work, you’ll need to do some freelance stringing for free to get started.
Hunt around for some newsworthy events – an upcoming concert, a celebrity coming to town, an impending election, etc. Then, write about it and submit your article to as many free publications as you can think of. You’ll want to make sure your article is relevant to what a given magazine or newspaper publishes, of course, but be as prolific as possible.
When you have samples under your belt, make the pitch. Email the publication, or send them a query letter. Tell the editor you have some good ideas and you’re available for freelance writing.
Alternatively, you might call the publication and let them know you’re a freelance writer and you’re wondering if they use stringers. Be brief, confident, and professional. If they do use stringers, they may ask you to come in for an interview.
How do I ace the interview?
Bring along your portfolio, a list of well thought-out ideas specifically for that publication, and a sample article that you’ve written for them. All of these will help the editor decide whether you’re a good fit for their newspaper.
Some editors want their stringers to use their own ideas and some editors have ideas of their own. Be flexible. A good portfolio will show editors that you can handle a various subject matters.
As in all interviews, be relaxed and confident. Acting nervous and stammering over your words doesn’t make a good impression. Before the interview, imagine the interview going perfectly. This technique helps calm your nerves and sets the stage for a positive interview experience.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you want to write for your city newspaper. How would you craft your query letter?
It might go like this:
The content of your newspaper is unsurpassable. As a loyal reader and enthusiastic writer, I would be honored to contribute to The Daily News.
Our city is full of excitement this season. Here are some of the story ideas I have that would appeal to your readership:
– How do the new pet bylaws affect downtown pet owners?
– Support our agriculture: homegrown food for your family
– The upcoming art show is attracting art lovers from all over North America
– How neighborhoods are improving road safety for pedestrians
– New schools and playgrounds encourage families to move inner city
These are just a few suggestions, and of course I am open to any ideas you have. As an experienced freelance writer, I have covered a wide variety of topics. I hope you will find the enclosed clips to be compelling and well written.
Show the editor that your writing style and journalistic abilities are in line with what they’re looking for, and include your relevant experience. If you have a good query letter and they need stringers, expect a phone call!
About the Author: Brian Scott is a full-time freelance writer with over a decade of experience. He finds many of his paid freelance journalism jobs at Online Writing Jobs ( http://www.online-writing-jobs.com ), a free jobboard that lets you search thousands of freelance writing jobs.
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