Freelance does not mean free

Who put the “free” in freelance? If you are a freelance writer, editor, journalist, graphic designer or another type of freelancer you know that freelance does not mean free. But not everyone knows that.

A few years ago there was a local freelance photographer that I’d see at networking events. He’d stand up, smile, wave and say “I’m the only truly “free”-lance photographer in town!” He was proud of the fact that he gave his work away. Several times I pulled him aside afterward to tell him he was making it harder for the rest of us to earn a living when he was creating the perception that freelance does mean free. It doesn’t.

At first, he didn’t really get it. He was retired from the military and, though once paid for his photography, he was doing it because he enjoyed it, not because he needed the money. He continued on this “free” path for a few years, before finally changing his outlook. I’m happy to say that he now charges for his work, and he watermarks his photos so that can’t be as easily borrowed as they once were.

I’m not sure how to change the perception that freelance means free, but maybe the term freelance needs to be updated. The Georgia pro chapter suggested using the word self-employed. Another freelance friend prefers the term independent journalist, which is also the name of this blog. I’m leaning toward that title myself. I am independent, I am a journalist, and I get paid for my work.

Do you find the terms “freelance” and “freelancer” misleading? What do you prefer to be called? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

~ Dana Neuts

Follow me on Twitter:  @VirtuallyYourz and @SPJDana

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Dana Neuts, SPJ PresidentBased in Seattle, Dana Neuts is an independent journalist and the publisher of Her work has appeared in The Seattle Times, AARP Bulletin, 425 Business, 425 magazine, South Sound magazine and others. She is a member of the Kent Community Foundation board and is currently serving as SPJ’s national president.


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Freelancers need to make a living, too

Guest blogger: Ellen Eldridge

One of the hardest lessons to learn when freelancers start out is how to charge for services. Those coming out of professional careers may have a different perspective, but I’ve seen personally and among my artist friends that asking for money for a job you love to do sometimes feels like panhandling for spare change. And clients will abuse you if you let them.

We writers must have confidence in our abilities and know we are worth our fees. In 2013, after nearly seven years building the magazine I sold in July, Target Audience Magazine, I started building my freelance career managing social media and editing. I had joined Twitter around the time I started my blog, which was fall 2013.

Many of my friends are self-employed, including my husband who works as an independent guitar teacher, so I know the speech: demand respect. I worked for a few years as the lesson coordinator for Ken Stanton Music, where my job involved interviewing and hiring independent contractors to teach music as well as promote the lesson program, plan the recitals and publish the newsletter. Music lessons are often one of the first things families cut back on when budgets get tightened, but I encouraged and insisted that the teachers ensure their students paid for lessons ahead of time. Once you teach a student who hasn’t paid, you have a very tough time of getting money. The same is true for writers and editors.

As a freelancer who mostly helped friends and friends of friends, I never felt like I needed an official contract. A handshake and a smile felt contractual enough. And I sold myself cheap. I pretended to demand respect, but I feared pricing myself out for what I was worth. I’ll still work without a contract, but I won’t work without respect.

The hesitation to draw firm boundaries with clients and insist on workable pay scales often comes from a lack of experience and from self-doubt. I’ve come to a point where I feel more confident than ever in my abilities. I’ve been working as fast and as furiously as I can to learn everything and network with everyone in my industry.

I’ve been fortunate to experience many sides to being a writer and my increasing love of marketing and helping build people up led to where I am now. I am confident and I know that now that I have more opportunity to work and intern with more people and organizations. All I need remember is that I am worthy. I deserve respect. I deserve pay just like anyone else in this world because I have experience and I work hard.

The best advice I can give to other freelance writers, journalists and those who are breaking into content marketing is to find a niche and own it. Take what experience you have and apply your skills to a workable pay scale. Because freelancers don’t qualify for insurance and are taxed at high rates, cover your costs. Some do this with hourly rates and some work out flat fees for services. Demand the respect of a fee for your work that will help you continue building your business. We all have to pay our dues, but when you sell yourself for too little, you end up burning out and resenting your clients.

I read an article published by Flight Media about knowing when to dump your client. “Refuse money?” you may ask, but yes. Some stressors and certain situations will not be worth the heartache. I’ve learned this the hard way. Aretha Franklin sang it the best, but something we freelancers need repeat to ourselves like a mantra is RESPECT. Sock it to me, baby.

Are you a freelance or self-employed professional who has experienced the need to fire or turn away a client or a job? I’d love to know your story in the comments.


Ellen Eldridge is the president of the Kennesaw State University chapter of SPJ (Region 3) and a candidate for SPJ campus representative for 2014-15. A freelance music journalist for Atlanta Music Guide and Performer Magazine, who is also raising two toddlers with her husband of five years. She founded a marketing magazine, Target Audience Magazine, in 2007, and she manages a staff of contributing writers and photographers looking to build their portfolios. Her website is Follow her on Twitter @EllenEldridge27. 

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Look outside the box to establish relationships with editors

Guest blogger: Ricardo Torres 

If there’s one thing most freelancers need to know, if they don’t already know it, is that editors get thousands of emails a week. Even editors with the smallest audiences normally get several hundred messages a week.

Getting noticed is always tough and sometimes writers need to get creative.

When I started freelancing in 2011, I established a relationship with the Wisconsin Reporter, a political website funded the by Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, by stealing a move from one of my idols, Hunter S. Thompson.

Thompson was famous for his pieces in Rolling Stone magazine and started writing for it after he sent editor and publisher Jann Wenner a letter telling him how much he enjoyed the magazine. From there a relationship started that would span decades.

Fast forward to me sitting in my childhood bedroom desperately looking for an opportunity. In my personal email was a message that looked like spam but was actually a mass email from with a brief summary of a Wisconsin political issue. Gov. Scott Walker had passed his infamous Act X eliminating collective bargaining for most public unions and the state became divided.

There was a massive recall effort by activists and they were actively seeking signatures for their recall. Well, in my email was a story by Matt Kittle, Wisconsin Reporter bureau chief, about how a Madison conservative radio talk show host found their name on a recall petition. The story talked about how some of the names appearing on recall petitions all over the state were fake or forged.

I thought it was a good piece. Something I hadn’t read anywhere and I sent Kittle an email telling him what I thought about the story and if he ever needed someone in Milwaukee to cover something I’d be happy to do it. I included some of my background and told him if he wanted to see my clips and resume I’d be happy to send him those also.

He sent me an email shortly thanking me for the kind words and that he’d want to see my clips. I sent my best stuff at the time. He called me later that week and we had an informal phone interview.

From there he sent me on a “try-out” assignment for $50. I had to cover the grand opening of Tammy Baldwin’s downtown Milwaukee senate campaign office.

After I was finished writing I sent him the story and he liked it. He sent me on other assignments covering the recall and other events.

Lately I haven’t been doing as much work for the Wisconsin Reporter but I still keep in touch.

You can’t doubt the effect simple compliments can have on people. We work in a profession where we are routinely called liars, hacks, propagandists, and many more things. Just read the comment section on any news website and you’ll see.

So when an editor get’s an email from someone basically saying “I saw the story you wrote and I dig it,” they might set themselves apart from the normal feedback.

ricardo headshot

Ricardo Torres is a journalist from Milwaukee. He is a producer for Newsradio 620 WTMJ and a reporter for the Catholic Herald. And he’s always looking for the right story for the right medium. Check out his work here and his latest piece of freelance journalism, which just got published yesterday, is here.
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Dealing with rejection

Guest blogger: Bret Schulte

I recently climbed one of the towers of Old Main at the University of Arkansas to attend a workshop to help faculty win grants. I teach journalism, and I have a story idea that would benefit from a few bucks. It’s not like newsrooms have any money to spend.

So, I went and learned a few things. I learned you can call project administrators for help, and by that I mean, you can actually call the National Endowment for Humanities and ask them if your any idea is any good. (That would have saved me some time last year.) I learned to write simply and directly, basically like a journalist and not an academic. (Good news for me.) I learned that references really matter. (Not good news for me.) And I learned to take the elevator to the 5th floor. All useful.

But none of that really stuck with me. Except the stairs. Honestly, I had to go back and dig into my notes to find that stuff to share with you. What I did remember—what really, really got to me—weren’t any of the tips from the university’s most prolific grant writers and biggest winners. It was the number of times they’ve been rejected.

An acclaimed historian who is published by Oxford University Press talked about winning a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities—which is like winning the lottery, but for way less money and only after a wretched process of writing and revision and begging for references. Still, she got it!  Nevertheless, she cast herself almost entirely as a loser to the members of this workshop. Again and again, she had applied for grants and failed. She even lost most of her bids for funding in the somewhat-less deadly field of competitors for grants and stipends at the University of Arkansas.

Then there was the poet who won a Guggenheim Award, which basically makes him a secular saint in the academy, in this case the secular saint of great chest hair spilling from his shirt. He, too, mused about the tragedy of rejection to a swooning audience. If a poet with great chest hair has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous rejection what chance do the rest of us have?

Sadly, not much.

Journalistic freelancing, increasingly, is about coping with rejection as much as it about writing stories. In a sad, sadistic way, I liked hearing that other people who are literally, certifiably smarter and more accomplished than I am, also endure rejection and failure.

Perversely, I felt better about myself. Granted, the competition is less fierce and the criteria somewhat lower for most journalism, than say, the Guggenheim Award. But I needed to be reminded that failure is a common human experience, not exclusive to me, or to journalists in general.

The past few months, I’ve had a lot of story ideas rejected. Part of it is the industry’s contraction, which has meant more laid-off reporters competing for freelance gigs. Also, it means fewer freelance gigs. The competition is ferocious, which means the odds will never be in your favor.

And part of it is me. I pitched a “check-out-this-fascinating-Southern-subculture” story to a magazine that is way more interested in happy consumer stuff, like, “How to impress your guests with an amazing cocktail”—which if I was writing it, and knowing my guests, would consist of: Pour bourbon into a glass. In other words, I should have paid more attention to what the magazine actually published, as opposed to what I wanted it to publish.

After having a few ideas rejected by another magazine, I (accidentally) followed the advice of one of the really smart people at that workshop: Ask for help. I emailed an assistant editor for advice on pitching the magazine. Surprisingly, this friendly person wrote me back a thoughtful list of suggestions on what they’re looking for. Just as helpful, he admitted that not even he understands why some stories are chosen and others rejected.

The advice helped, but so did the confirmation that there is no order in the universe. Sometimes things go your way; most often they don’t. Although I don’t think it’s possible to take rejection personally, despite all the self-help gurus out there, I do think it is possible to remember that it is not just you. Yes, you can write a better pitch with better reporting and a better narrative. Yes, you can be smarter about where you pitch your stories. And yes, you can seek advice. But without getting too cosmic about freelance journalism, sometimes it’s just not going to happen. Sometimes the editor, or the panel awarding grants, just isn’t feeling it. Sometimes, there just isn’t any money. Sometimes, the competition is just better. All of that is true for everyone—even for a poet with terrific chest hair.

Bret Schulte is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas. He has worked or freelanced for The New York Times, The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Columbia Journalism Review and others.

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Freelancers who lunch

By guest blogger Hazel Becker 

One freelancer needed months of moral support to get an ultimately prize-winning feature through multiple versions and edits demanded by the editor of a nationally renowned newspaper.

Another came seeking advice on how to get paid by a foreign publisher, either in U.S. dollars or through a system that would allow her to convert the payment into dollars without paying huge fees.

Then there was the one who needed help evaluating whether to fire an anchor client owned by a longtime friend who had fallen on hard times and stopped paying invoices. (That was me … )

These are just three examples of the kinds of problems and topics discussed at the monthly freelancers’ lunch sponsored by the D.C. Professional Chapter of SPJ. We’ve met at the National Press Club almost every month since May 2009, on occasion with as many as 15 attendees and seldom fewer than six.

When we started meeting, we had a steady group of about a dozen freelancers who showed up often and came to rely on each other for advice about issues freelancers face. We’ve talked about markets and marketing, credentials, blogging and e-books, software and web-based tools. We regularly revisit questions about contract clauses, rates, pitching and querying – bread-and-butter issues for freelancers whether new to the game or seasoned and successful.

The idea to start a freelancers’ networking lunch grew out of a session longtime full-time freelancer Stephenie Overman and I presented at the Region II conference in 2009. We hoped to attract about 15-20 people to a breakout session at the regional on “The Business of Freelancing,” and somehow we managed to accommodate almost 50 people in a room designed for 35. During the Q&A, they wanted to know about work-for-hire, “first North American rights” contract clauses, filing taxes, how to get published and how to get a press pass – the 2009 versions of topics that are still relevant today.

Our “lunch bunch” started meeting a month or two later. Stephenie keeps an email list to let people know when the next meeting will be, and we post the date on the D.C. Pro chapter’s website.

By group decision, we’ve kept the format relatively informal. We don’t generally have speakers or announced program topics. We always begin by introducing ourselves – we usually have someone new, or sometimes a visitor – and saying what we’ve been working on lately. Then we go around again to see if anyone has problems, questions or topics they want to discuss.

Our group’s composition has changed through the years as news media layoffs have pushed many experienced journalists into the freelance world. A few freelancers who began attending our lunches years ago as “newbies” have taken on contract editing gigs as anchor clients. We’ve learned together how to be better business people, and we’ve supported each other through some grueling assignments and business tasks. Though some early participants have moved, taken full-time jobs or otherwise drifted away, we don’t see interest in the group waning.

And, as I said, we welcome visitors! If you plan to be in D.C., check the chapter’s website at to see if we have a lunch scheduled while you’re here.


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Expand your freelance network – join SPJ’s freelance community!

Hello, freelance colleagues!

Have you heard about SPJ’s new Freelance Community? Launched this summer, the community is a new way for SPJ members interested in freelancing to connect with each other. It’s an ideal place for freelance journalists, editors, photojournalists, broadcast journalists and other freelance-related media to network, share ideas, find work, brainstorm, trouble-shoot and more. Check out the new freelance site on where you’ll find dozens of resources*, including:

To learn more about the Freelance Community, email Michael Fitzgerald or, join us Sept. 4-6 at Excellence in Journalism 2014 in Nashville, Tenn. We’re organizing a “no host” freelance meet-up on Thurs., Sept. 4 at 8:30 p.m. Central Time. RSVP here.

Expand your freelance network and job opportunities – join SPJ’s Freelance Community today!

*To access some of the community’s resources, you will need to login with your member ID and password. If you don’t have one, click here. If you have a member ID but have lost your password, click here

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Managing writing projects

Someone asked me recently how I managed my writing projects. The truth is, not very consciously. I often juggle multiple assignments, but I don’t think of them as projects to manage. My life might be a bit more sane if I did. So I’ve been looking for ways to think like a project manager, without having to learn project management software.

Lots of writer friends like Scrivener, especially when working on book projects.

I’m not sure it’s as useful for multiple small projects, but it looks like it could be adaptable.

Schedule organizers can help, too, and there are lots of phone-based tools for aspects of schedule organizing. But these are just a piece of a system for managing my articles as projects.

By happy coincidence, one of the most organized editors I’ve ever worked with, Wade Roush, posted a note on how he tries to organize his stories.

He uses a program called Evernote, along with Post-Its on foam board. He notes that his approach is similar to the Kanban system popular in just-in-time manufacturing, which he delves into (the photo here shows the basic format: Backlog/Doing/Done).

I don’t really have a good spot for a large piece of foamboard in my office. I’ve been writing down projects with little timelines in a notebook, using two-page spreads to give myself more space. That’s been okay, but I find that I sometimes misplace the notebook, making it hard to use as a daily guide. I write down little notes to myself in a Moleskine, a running to-do list, and while I like checking things off, it might not have the same impact as physically moving a sticky note from one place to another on a piece of foamboard. I am going to try to find a place for a piece of foamboard that is neither in the way nor out of it. We’ll see whether this helps me get through a stretch of six project deadlines I have coming up.


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Juggling act

Guest blogger: Ellen Eldridge

My turn to introduce myself at the pro chapter meeting of Society of Professional Journalists in Eatonton May 10, where the faces of proven journalists, columnists for major market newspapers and freelance entrepreneurs look to me to hear what I have to say. I stutter and look down, thinking I’m so much better at introducing myself on paper.

Hitting only the highlights of my recent accomplishments takes time: intern with a community newspaper, editor-in-chief of a college feature magazine, mother of two and a wife. Where do I start in describing who I am in the context of what I do professionally? My life is my work.

Many times friends, family and passersby marvel that they don’t know how I do it all or when I find the time to sleep. Balancing a freelance writing career, a family, a magazine, marketing company and college classes reminds me of old-fashioned plate spinners. Only no one trained me in the art of spinning plates.  These comments about my seemingly unending laundry list of activities and responsibilities often cause me to stop and think. That’s the point where I realize, I just don’t know how I do it all either.

I sit surrounded by the squeaking sound of my 1-year-old son bouncing in his jumpy horse. On the television that my son watches with his 3-year-old sister, Garfield snatches a spider out of the air as a classical background track melts into the sound of the fan buzzing in the living room. Enjoying the rare moment of relative quiet, I appreciate my husband’s sleeping body on the couch. He’s resting, while on call for the toddlers so I can write, after being out until 3 a.m. playing guitar in a side gig at a local venue. It’s 9 a.m. on Mother’s Day, and I’m hunched over my MacBook Pro, the way I spend the majority of my waking time.

What I do know is what I don’t do. I don’t socialize anymore, and I relish the opportunity to let the ideas and inspirations incubate as my husband and I snuggle on the sofa for a sitcom or two. When I go out, I’m on assignment. Though I generally get to see the concerts I care for, sometimes getting paid to cover them with images and words, I don’t see many shows anymore.

I balance by carefully choosing what I most want to do, and I no longer let money dictate the best opportunity. Fortunately, I’ve found the one thing that money cannot buy: a happy and stable marriage. The support offered to me from my partner means that I have freedom to invest in myself.

The freelancing professionals reading this know the jokes. Scenes of what work-from-home means are created in friends’ minds. Whiskey-swilling writers manically typing the articles and cover stories they read in their favorite magazines and newspapers. But, the reality is that many of us are juggling spinning plates of day jobs and family. After winding up the plate with the kids’ breakfast, we catch the slowing plate of a journalism career.

I’ve paused the writing of this article about four times over the last two weeks. This morning I stopped mid-sentence to wipe a juice-spill and reconstruct a paragraph.

The trick the successful freelancers understand is simply that one cannot keep all the plates spinning. Some must fall to the floor, where a husband or friend must agree to pick up the broken pieces. Mop the floor and move on.

Freelancing takes dedication and the resolution to preserve, constantly proving that what you want to do, you do well. How does one become a writer and how does a writer become good enough to freelance? She writes. When the kids are napping or the boss hasn’t assigned a new task, she picks up her pen or pounds out ideas on her MacBook Pro. And after she writes, she rewrites.

Then she seeks rejection in the form of trying to get published. The life of a freelance writer is a numbers game. The more you fail, the more you succeed. Keep spinning the plates until the music stops because if you want to be something, the only way is to do it.


Ellen Eldridge is the president of the Kennesaw State University chapter of SPJ (Region 3) and a candidate for SPJ campus representative for 2014-15. A freelance music journalist for Atlanta Music Guide and Performer Magazine, who is also raising two toddlers with her husband of five years. She founded a marketing magazine, Target Audience Magazine, in 2007, and she manages a staff of contributing writers and photographers looking to build their portfolios. Her website is Follow her on Twitter @EllenEldridge27. 

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Inspiration for finding the story

Guest blogger: Bret Schulte 

Writing is hard. If writing comes easy, my guess is you’re either doing it wrong or you’re a genius, and I’ve never met a genius. (If I’ve met you, no offense.)

Freelancers are faced with the toughest part of a tough job: Finding the story. Where beat reporters have the advantage – if you want to call it that – of tending small gardens of public interest, such as cops or schools, in which each blossom might decorate the next day’s publication, freelancers trod acres upon acres of generally disregarded underbrush.

Is that a white truffle there? Or is it a poisonous fungus that will sicken some poor editor?  In the world of truffle hunting, they have trained pigs and dogs to sniff out the good stuff. Journalists are not so lucky, but I do think there are ways you can improve your hunt.

Story ideas are everywhere if you train your brain to see them. That’s harder than it looks, and I still struggle with it after years of storyspotting. The trick is recognizing when you encounter something interesting enough to make you go: “Huh.” That is a story-idea moment! And if something is interesting to you, there’s a good chance it will be interesting to someone else, too. A tandem of 12 year olds just took the bridge tournament at the Grand Denouement Senior Living Center? Huh. Pitch it.

Location matters. If you write for a local paper, be thinking hyper local. Get on neighborhood listservs; prowl the blogs; read the bulletin boards at the local library, town hall, or co-op. Scan Craigslist. (Safety alert: Craigslist can be, uh, terrifying.) Read business publications. Every place I’ve ever lived has more business publications than it possibly needs, and what they’re covering as news stories you can make into terrific enterprise pieces on entrepreneurs and employment trends. A biz story on a bump in tax revenue on area restaurants is a feature story for you on a burgeoning entertainment scene.

If you’ve got an appetite for something bigger, again use your location to your advantage. What is happening in your town, your region, your state that is so peculiar or newsworthy that the entire country might be interested? The wire services will cover politics, breaking news, and sports. What editors need you for are the human-interest, trend, and enterprise stories that beat reporters are too busy to write, or see.

When I’m pitching stories I regard my geography – I live in northwest Arkansas – as my primary asset. I have relatively little competition and the area is off the national radar, to put it nicely. It also provides the opportunity to take a national story and give it a geographic freshness that might interest a national audience. A few years ago, when I came across a quarterly report from a brokerage that handles the buying and selling of newspapers, I found that corporations were selling off their small papers. Buying in: family owned chains. Mom and Pops. A total reversal of the trend of the ’90s and ’00s. I just discovered a national story! But I thought I might be able to ratchet up the appeal by finding an example of the trend somewhere off the beaten path. I thought I could take the readers somewhere special. Somewhere like Manhattan, Kansas.

Columbia Journalism Review liked it, so I drove the five hours to Manhattan, ripping across the Kansas plains and taking most readers somewhere they haven’t been since closing the cover on In Cold Blood. Spoiler alert: In my story, the family lives.

When an editor from National Geographic News contacted me about writing a story on the Keystone XL pipeline (I had done energy/environmental reporting in the past), she did so because of where I lived – not despite of it. Next door is Oklahoma, home to the oil pipeline crossroads of the country in the little town of Cushing. I wanted to do as much with geography as possible, so I drove to Cushing and spent a few days meeting with residents of Cushing as well as protestors of the pipeline scattered across the state. The story carried as much local color as it could bear and that reporting changed its shape and direction.

The best, easiest place to look for stories are in newspapers and magazines, where full-time journalists have already done the hard work for you. As a freelancer, let those stories inform and inspire you. What do these stories not cover? Are there characters whose incredible experiences have been reduced to a few sentences? Can you find a profile or human-interest story? Is there another point of view not being covered?

Read everything. Modern Dog is just as relevant as CNN when it comes to finding ideas. Do you see a local angle to a national story? Don’t limit yourself to the editorial content. I’ve written at least two stories that were inspired by advertisements: One was in Harper’s for a robot made by Honda (it’s true), and the other was about a family-owned electric supply store that lost to the gentrification of Washington, D.C. The owners posted an ad for a going-out-of-business sale in The Washington Post, which I read everyday because I wrote for it.

Look for the odd and surprising. In 2010, an expat Frenchman living in the Ozarks started to build a medieval castle in Lead Hill, Ark. That got a lot of attention. The New York Times wrote it up as a tourist attraction. I wish I had done the story; I didn’t. However, two years later when the castle came tumbling down – financially, I mean – the story was mine. It wasn’t surprising anymore that the castle existed. People knew. But there was something else surprising, and that became my angle: You could buy a half-built castle in the Ozarks for $400,000! Fifty acres of land included! The New York Times took the story. Of course, every good freelancer does his/her due diligence to make sure the publication has not already run the story. And if it has, that you have a fresh take on the subject.

Make smart friends who will help you. Look, it’s almost impossible for my friends not to be smarter than I am. Still, I consider myself blessed. And if you have smart friends (I know you do), you’re also blessed. By having smart friends who know you are looking for stories, you have just multiplied your reach and operation and analytical skills. My piece for the Times about Teach for America alums settling in the Delta came from friends who had traveled to the Delta, who were smart enough to see a story when they saw it, and who were generous enough to let me know about it.

When I worked full-time in the news industry a veteran reporter who trafficked in tips like no one’s business told me his secret. “Before I’m done talking to anyone, I always ask them what they know that is new.” His best source of stories were people.

Good hunting.

Bret Schulte is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas.

He freelances for The New York Times. He has also written for Columbia Journalism Review, American Journalism Review, Nieman Reports, and National Geographic News. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, the International Herald-Tribune and other publications. He is a winner of three Green Eyeshade Awards, which recognizes the best in Southern journalism, and was a 2012 finalist for a national Mirror Award.


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A freelancer’s take on where the news business headed

Taking a look at the news business, most viewers and readers would assume firms that deal in information are destined for extinction. While large newspapers shutter their operations and broadcast outlets form partnerships and try to consolidate, there are a few news organizations staying viable and even turning a profit. Freelancers are caught in this belt-tightening and have to be aware of what’s happening around them.

The successful companies have focused on one of two approaches. They either tighten the reins and concentrate on local coverage, or they take a broad look at issues and create content that’s attractive to a global audience. This is where opportunity lies. Taking a local view of things – and getting down and dirty with the audiences right around you – is where I think news content is headed.

For example, the team at the Orange County Register headed by owner Aaron Kushner is garnering its profits and hoping for future profits by betting on local audiences and coverage.

According to an LA Times and OC Register – hyper-local journalism  August 2013 article in the LA Times, “Kushner is trying to increase print revenue by pumping the Register — and the community papers that come bundled with it — full of features about high school sports, community events and other good news while preserving the Register’s tradition of hard-nosed local and investigative reporting.”

That’s exactly the type of coverage journalism organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) regularly discusses in training sessions focused on the future of reporting.

To that end, a hyper-local approach in which reporters take a deep dive into issues that resonate with small-town readers/viewers is how news outlets are attracting repeat customers for their news. Essentially, in an age when everyone can get sports scores, top breaking news and other big stories on their mobile phone, the push to hyper-local might be a game changer.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s still an audience that wants to follow national and global news in a new way. Instead of getting a local perspective on conflicts in other countries, news consumers want British news and perspective from the UK, Asian info from Asian outlets and correspondents, and national U.S. stories from specialists embedded in Washington, DC.

Does this type of news gathering and dissemination work? Judging by CNN, FoxNews and other outlets’ influx of ‘perspective’ programming, this type of news education show is capturing eyeballs. While lots of pundits are saying that digital news is the future, the real future of news is going deeper and making real connections with your audiences. The skilled freelancer has to understand that to break into an outlet’s roster of reporters, she has to deliver the goods AND know the landscape.

The business of communication isn’t new, but these days for news outlets and freelance news pros to be successful, they all need to think both big and small. Hyper-local news connects publications with their communities and global coverage makes people feel connected and educated about the world around them.

Ultimately, journalists’ approach to news gathering hasn’t changed. The only real change is what reporters cover these days when they’ve got to have a focus both near and far…locally and globally.

How do you see the news business changing? Is social media a game changer in allowing audiences to interact with news pros? And if it is, how should journalists respond when they’re engaging with readers and viewers?

Jeff Cutler is a content specialist who regularly trains people on the use of social tools to share their message(s) and reach audiences. Jeff has written for NPR, The NY Post, Technology Review, Gatehouse Media and others. Find out more with a quick click on his site – connect with Jeffvia SocMed (links at the top of his site).

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