Archive for July, 2009


Committee report

Hi all, Here is our latest committee report. Please let me know your thoughts! Amy Green

SPJ Freelance Committee
July 2009

The Society of Professional Journalists is ideal for beginning and intermediate freelancers who seek help in getting started and, as we grow more seasoned, networking and leadership training. Membership involves no minimum experience requirement, making the organization open to everyone. It is a fantastic value, offering benefits and services freelancers pay much more for through other organizations. SPJ offers networking not only with other freelancers but staffers, editors, educators, photographers and more.

These are some of the things that set SPJ apart from other organizations for freelance journalists. President-elect Kevin Smith wants to expand the committee, and of course the need is there. Whether mounting journalism layoffs will translate into more freelancers remains to be seen. What is clear is that journalism is aching for entrepreneurialism and creativity, quality professionals who are willing to take risks and try new ideas. The committee is in a unique position to nurture this entrepreneurial spirit, which now is more important than ever. SPJ’s broad-based nature lends even better support.

If we decide to expand the committee I propose adding a co-chair, rather than a vice chair, and a larger number of committee members. During our committee meeting in Atlanta last year we decided anyone who wants to be involved can be, but that we would appoint a small number of committee members who are more directly involved. I would like to expand that number and get them actively involved in the committee.

Blog. I would like to give each committee member log-in information for our blog and let a more diverse discussion proliferate here on its own, in a format similar to that on the Generation J committee blog. Freelance journalism can be solitary work. Before I served in this position I peeked in on SPJ’s blog for freelancers often to see what was new and to feel as though I belonged somewhere. This is why I see our blog as our most important activity. Here I write how-to posts as often as I can about the business. When I get interesting questions I share them and my answer. I invite others to weigh in. I post news and job announcements. I invite other freelancers to serve as guest bloggers.

I’d like to see more voices here. Ideally I would like to create a vibrant online forum or community. We freelancers are so diverse, and I am only one person with my own unique set of experiences. I realize this isn’t necessarily helpful for everyone.

Questions. Vice chairwoman Stephenie Overman and I continue to receive many questions via e-mail about freelance journalism. Together we answer each one.

Quill. Now that we have successfully resurrected our regular column for freelancers our next project is to include more diverse material appealing not only to writers but SPJ’s broad-based membership of photographers, editors, educators and more.

Programs. Chapters nationwide continue to hold programs on freelancing. Recent ones took place in Miami, Iowa and Washington, D.C.

Committee teleconferences. We held our first meeting this summer and enjoyed a lively discussion on the future of journalism and our committee.

I continue to enjoy this position. I always feel I could do more with more time and resources, but I feel we are well-positioned to help those in this line of work, whether temporarily or long-term, during such a transitionary time for our industry.

Sincerely,

Amy Green, freelance committee chairwoman

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Be your own publicist

Special thanks to freelancer Elyse Glickman for penning the following post. Glickman has been a published writer and editor since 1987, and since 2002 she has been an active member of the press in Los Angeles. Her work as a writer, editor and photographer has appeared in LUCIRE, Harper’s Bazaar Malaysia, Beverage Industry News, WhereLA, NEO, From House to HOME, Wedding Vow, Casa Y Hogar, La Reppublica, Beauty Store Business, Culinary Trends, JWest, Arizona Foothills, SE7EN, NUVO, Audrey, Food & Beverage and New You. Thanks, Elyse!

In 1992, I thought I had everything I needed  to move forward into a writing career.

During college, I earned straight A’s in my communications classes, co-founded a campus  newspaper, freelanced for several local (Chicago) publications, interviewed  dozens of well-known rock musicians and celebrities, did an internship at an  Upstate New York newspaper with the nicest bosses on the planet and got a  master’s in journalism from a university that all but promised me my brilliant  journalism career a silver platter.

Then  “Reality” bit, and I essentially relived the plot of the  infamous Winona Ryder Gen-X weepie, minus the cute guys and the happy ending.   My school employment centers were no help. After a couple of dead end  jobs and humiliating job interviews that really weren’t, I went to Los Angeles  with nothing to lose.

So where did I go wrong?  Here I was,  the journalism equivalent of the Heisman Trophy winner who couldn’t get  drafted by the NFL. I thought about that a lot, even as I ended up doing  public relations work.  While I disliked a lot of the office politics, I  found the work enriching. Though I secretly envied the people I pitched to, I  learned a lot more about the ins and outs of the journalism game from writers  and editors I called everyday than I did in the classroom.  Some were  supportive and helpful while others were sadistic and bent on getting me  fired.  But I gained wisdom from all of them.

After seven  years of selling other people’s dreams and ambitions to freelancers and  staffers, I got to the point where I decided to rediscover my own. I went to  my first journalism job fair since college in late 2001 and was rejected,  either for “selling out” and going into PR or not having current clips.   However, the day was not a waste, as a guy ahead of me in line suggested  I do some pro-bono articles and rebuild.

Even writing for  somebody for free was a tough sell, but this time, a neighborhood paper  serving the San Fernando Valley listened to me instead of asking loaded  questions like, “If you don’t get this job, will you cry?”   They  asked me, “What do you have to offer us?” Rather than get insulted, I told  them what I had in my corner—more than a decade of solid writing experience in  journalism and public relations, and the power to persuade.  And that  persuaded them.

This was the moment I realized I had to be my own  publicist.  Having worked in PR, I knew how to work with publicists and  develop stories out of their pitches that would sell.  Having dealt with  editors and writers, I had an understanding of what to do and what not to do  when delivering a fully realized pitch. Networking is at the core of this  science, and every relationship, good or bad, serves a purpose.  Asking a  lot of questions is also a given, as every answer—sincere or snarky—helps you  refine your approach.  Doing your homework and knowing your subject,  which is a given when writing an actual story, is also a necessity when  presenting yourself to the world.

However, flacking  yourself does not stop with your first major breaks.  A few short months  after writing fashion and human interest stories for the suburban bi-weekly, I  negotiated some paid work (low pay, but still) at two of the city’s better  known lifestyle magazines and found my niche.  I pitched myself as a food  writer to one publisher, and a general lifestyle writer to the other citing my  recent PR accounts as “experience.”  It worked, and when my name became  linked to those magazines, doors continued to fly open on both the PR side  (superb pitches) and in publishing.  By the start of 2003, I was on my  way to becoming an established food & wine writer, but still managed to  effectively market myself as a strong generalist.

Even  with my ups and downs, and the vicissitudes of editors, being my own publicist  continues to work. When I “lose” a publication due to the economy or a new  editor coming in with his/her own “favorite” writers, I don’t take it  personally.  I simply sell myself to another book.  I have a web  site that documents what I have to offer. However, I am ready to go to the  next level—large national newsstand publications—and I am ready to ask  questions and receive answers—snarky and sincere—on sharpening up my “package  deal.”

Let’s trade pitches.

- Elyse Glickman

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How are you getting through the journalism collapse?

Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago I started an occasional series here telling the survival stories of freelancers in this journalism collapse. It is the best way to get through it, I believe, by doing it together. You can read about my experience below. If you would like to share your story please e-mail me as little as 200 words or as many as 800 at amybgreen@earthlink.net.

By Amy Green

I have decided to declare war on the recession.

Like most conflicts, this one is born of anger. An editor asked me last week whether I have any experience interviewing. Yes, I do, I said. I explained I have worked as a journalist for more than 10 years. I am a former employee of The Associated Press, the world’s largest news organization. I’ve been on the cover of PEOPLE, the front of The New York Times’ National section, and my work also has appeared in Newsweek and The Christian Science Monitor.

Great, the editor said. Then he offered me a horrible pay rate.

Today the written word is so devalued writers virtually are expected to do it for free. Editors feel no shame in this, which makes their behavior even more bizarre. Imagine visiting a doctor’s office and saying to the doctor, “I cannot offer any payment for your service, but you’ll be gaining valuable exposure and experience.” And imagine saying this with a look so pleasant and calm it is clear you do it every day and feel as though it is entirely natural.

That’s because for so many writers it is. The tragedy is so many writers go ahead and do the work for free, depressing prices for everyone.

I hear so much talk today about “branding” yourself through the Internet, on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. And as any conscientious freelancer would I have assembled a nice little online presence for myself through all these sites. But after suffering through article after article about the right and wrong ways to Twitter I wonder, how real is any of this? Are we all only building fake storefronts for ourselves, only to give ourselves away for free once we lure a customer inside? How do we measure success today? Is a writer who blogs and appears on The Huffington Post considered as successful as one who quietly earns $40,000 a year?

For all these reasons I have decided to declare war on the recession.

“This is America,” I told Wade after hanging up with the editor. “I created my freelance business. I have run it for seven years. Every shred of success I’ve had has been all because of me. It is my business, and I am not letting anyone take it away from me.”

Wade said I sounded like a woman possessed, and perhaps I was. I sat down at my desk and began calling and e-mailing editors. I called and e-mailed every editor who has neglected to return a message during the past two months. When an assistant asked whether she could take a message I very politely said, “I am a journalist with experience for The New York Times, PEOPLE and Newsweek. Can I just talk to the editor?”

She put me through. I left a message. The next day I called again, and miraculously the editor picked up. He sounded busy and annoyed but promised to look at my clips. A few hours later he e-mailed to say my clips looked good and here is a contract.

“I told you so,” I yelled at the computer screen. Since then I’ve landed two more assignments, I have an editor interested in a third, and a fourth editor e-mailed today to say she wants to work with me. All are for publications that pay reasonably.

I no longer am taking no for an answer. As long as I keep getting them, the war will continue.

Amy Green is chairwoman of SPJ’s freelance committee. Her work has appeared in PEOPLE, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and many others. She is based in Orlando, Fla. Visit her Web site at amybgreen.com.

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Interesting site

Other sites aggregate news. Dscriber aggregates the people who make the news.

Bringing together writers, editors, photographers and filmmakers, dscriber.com provides a virtual newsroom for professionals who seek an online presence but lack the time and resources to create much more than a lonely blog. Pooling our brainpower allows us to build a site that’s truly special – a valuable association to you as you build your personal brand (you) while extending your audience reach in this exciting era of digital journalism.

Too many other sites in this genre compartmentalize their writers, and thus their readerships, by adopting a “you’re on your own” posture – here’s your page, publish what you want, unedited. Dscriber sets itself apart in that is edited by qualified contributors and friends, generally journalists with expert eyes. Moreover, contributors have each other at their fingertips and can reach out to each other for advice and mentorship.

Overall, the site’s posts are driven by our contributors’ sensibilities, which, in turn, are informed by their particular areas of expertise. The end result is a daily site with a unique collection of compelling posts – similar to an online magazine. And embracing a long publishing tradition, we’re planning to allocate space for fiction and artistic works.

Dscriber is a commercial venture, with an aggressive plan to seek advertising revenue. Whatever money is made will be shared fairly with the media professionals who contribute their work. We’ll also use Twitter, Facebook and social bookmarking sites to get our word out regularly. We even have an e-newsletter.

How might you fit in? Are you a freelancer who needs a professional-quality online presence? Do you have film, photos, audio or original documents that you think would supplement ongoing newsworthy conversations? Do you have notes that you’d like to share, or a column? Are you a photographer or filmmaker who wants reach a larger audience? Dscriber puts the professional touch on your efforts, helping you maintain high standards at a time when editorial standards are flagging.

Join us. Too much of independent journalism is barely a peep in the vast online wilderness or, conversely, lost in the shuffle of corporate noise. Dscriber aims to be a cut above the thousands of individual, unedited efforts posted online each day. You need our help and we need yours.

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