January 7, 2022

Some recent graduates are choosing to begin their journalism careers as freelancers instead of pursuing full-time jobs. Here are some tips from former journalism students who have chosen to freelance, along with advice from professors and freelancing experts who are filling the information gap.

Think of yourself as an independent, not a freelancer.

“To me the distinction is that those who are independent are focused on creating independent paths and crafting, shaping and co-creating opportunities, whereas sometimes the notion of freelance implies that we’re taking whatever freelance rates a publisher may be willing to pay. In that scenario we’re at the whim of a publisher, whereas as an independent, we can build direct relationships with our readers/listeners/viewers and publishers as well, and we have the potential to have more agency in the work we do and how we’re compensated for it.” – Jeremy Caplan, director of teaching and learning at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism

Structure your freelance life so you don’t burn out.

“Setting boundaries in your freelance business is the thing … that is going to allow you to be able to proceed and not burn out and have a sustainable business that lasts for years. … Having some structure about what services you offer and what they are and how much money you charge for certain gigs. All of that is really important. Standing your ground. And that builds a lot of confidence as you see people responding to your needs.” –Jenni Gritters, co-host of The Writers’ Co-Op

Write what you want but be creative about where and how you’ll pitch.

“Let’s say you really want to do fashion, I would be flexible about where you think a fashion story should go. It may not be Vogue. … It might be a fashion story about cannabis-themed apparel for like broccoli. Seriously, who is taking a pitch? How can you fit your specialty into their thing? You’re still writing about the topics you want to write about, but you’re not covering New York Fashion Week.” – Sara Harrison, science writer

Keep the rights to your work, so you can reuse it.

Some journalistic work has the potential to live on a new platform, perhaps as a podcast, a movie or a book. “(If) you come up with a really good story, figure out ways to sell it in a bunch of different forms. The reutilization of content is big right now.” – Colin Hanner, freelance journalist and screenwriter

Be a nice boss.

“If your boss told you that you had to work 50 hours a week and you couldn’t take a break when you were sick or your pet died or something, that would be a terrible boss. … You’re freelancing because you want to have a good boss and you want it to be you.” – Mara Grunbaum, science journalist

Find a freelancer community.

“I would really, really encourage people to work with other people and to collaborate. And I think that when you are sharing information with people, when you’re commiserating with your peers, when you’re comparing notes, and sharing contacts and sharing experiences, it gets so much easier.” – Rachel Kincaid, editorial operations director, Study Hall

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Jacqueline Marino is a professor of journalism at Kent State University where she teaches writing, ethics and the business of journalism. Her academic work on…
Jacqueline Marino

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