Archive for April, 2011

7 tips on how to spot a freelancing scam

As print publications retrench and online publications expand, both are trying to figure out what to do about generating fresh content at minimal expense. And with staffing costs rising, it makes sense for both to hire freelancers.

But apart from the reputable publications vying for their services are numerous shady operators trying to take advantage of a freelancer’s eagerness and talent.

It used to be that the quality publications were easy to spot — they had highly regarded, established reputations and stately brick-and-mortar addresses to house them. Plus, they carefully mined the freelance market for only the best contributions and set the bar for newcomers trying to put their names in print.

These days, all it takes is a computer and a Web connection to feign legitimacy.

So, when shopping the market for possible publishers, be wary of potential charlatans preying on a freelancer’s good faith. Here are a few things to watch out for:

Too little detail in ads — Sales pitches that are devoid of information, or those that merely highlight links to job-bidding sites instead of company websites, probably are trying to lure freelancers into something other than a job. Do a little homework on a potential employer before entertaining ideas of becoming a prospective employee.

Payment in advance — Some sites promise long lists of job offers or professional contacts and preferential treatment for a freelancer’s work in exchange for a monthly or annual fee. Don’t bite. Nobody should have to pay just to be considered for employment.

Specific requests for original work — Legitimate publications may ask writers to contribute general samples of their writing to better judge a contributor’s style and readability. But those that get specific regarding subject, format, keywords and source links may be only mining the marketplace for free content. A way around this: Suggest writing two or three paragraphs, or just the lead, to demonstrate an approach to a story. If they back away, do the same.

Exaggerated promises — Sure, the job may be a great opportunity for budding writers, with the promise of big pay later. Or the ad is hiding a larger truth: that the job really means working long hours for nothing in return. Avoid writing for free; the promised payout of regular assignments later as sole compensation now rarely works to the contributor’s advantage. Freelancers never should sell themselves or their talent short, because promises don’t pay the bills. Furthermore, jobs that sound too good to be true probably are.

A flood of ads — Requests for content that turn up everywhere, and repeatedly, suggest the purveyor is desperate and prefers volume over quality work. Steer clear of anyone trying too hard to attract attention.

Website sign-ups — Sites that insist on registration just to be considered for a job could be doing that to drive up their number of original visitors, especially if they are sites that also have forums encouraging reader comments. Not all sites utilizing this approach are untrustworthy, but exercise caution if they place a premium on comments and lengthy profile information, as they may only do that to bombard visitors with spam.

Grammar and spelling errors — What publisher that promises great things in exchange for quality content lacks similar quality in its sales pitches? Probably not the kind of publisher that’s worth a self-respecting freelancer’s time.

David Sheets is a sports editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Reuters is looking for local stringers

This information was contributed by journalist Jim Brumm.

Reuters is looking for additional stringers for a domestic news service designed to deliver local and state news of national interest in the United States. Called the Reuters America Service (RAS), it has been in operation since January 1.

To gather this local news and provide local datelines, Reuters is using stringers around the nation. The first brought on board were those the news service already was doing business with.

If you’re in that category, reach out to the contact person you’ve been working with and ask who is responsible for RAS in your area. Instructions for RAS stringers explain the work does not in any way replace the usual work done in covering the stories you’ve always covered, and goes on to state: “RAS is a supplement to the Reuters service in America, not a replacement. It provides an opportunity to give you extra work with our agency.”

If you have no current contact at Reuters, send an email to Peter Bohan, editor of the new service at , and introduce yourself.

He said RAS will basically have 5 levels of quality, based on both contributions and results. Payments will range from $25-50 for tips or brief color and quotes to $200 or more for top breaking news or special assignments. Invoices will be submitted twice a month for payment about two weeks later (if past experience with Reuters is any guide).

Bottom line: “we’ll be raising the bar on quality for ‘timely, colorful, meaningful local news of national interest.’”

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Developing an Expertise as a Freelancer

By Paula Pant, who writes the personal finance blog

Congratulations, you’ve just entered the world of freelancing. If you’re like me (and I know many of you are!), you ventured into the Freelance Jungle hot off the heels of working at a daily newspaper, where you never had to worry about finding clients, negotiating contracts, or following up with editors about your long-overdue paycheck.

Hundreds of topics have been posted about how to do all of the above things, but I’ve seen very little written about one of the biggest hurdles I faced when I became a freelancer: what should I write about?

At the newspaper I was assigned to the “education” beat, although the paper was small enough that all the beat reporters felt like we were general assignment. If there was an education story, I wrote it. But if there wasn’t, I covered murder, fires, and celebrities who came to town.

Furthermore, I never really WANTED to be on the education beat. I had no particular interest in educational issues. I was assigned that beat, and I ran with it. But I lacked the passion to continue writing about that same topic as a freelancer.

In short: I had no expertise.

Do I Need an Expertise?

At first, I didn’t see the need to develop an expertise. “I’ll just write about whatever!,” I thought, just like I had in my general-assignment days.

For a very brief second, it looked like that strategy would work. I had a regular stream of work for a local magazine, writing about a wide variety of local stories: store openings, profiles of local business leaders, stories about upcoming charity runs.

But there was nowhere to grow. My method wasn’t scalable.

Choosing an Expertise

After that I tried to mold my expertise to fit the magazines for which I was currently freelancing. I happened to be writing for a smattering of food magazines, so I figured, “Alright, I’ll be a food writer!”

Problem: actually trying to do that, without the requisite background or passion, proved to be much more difficult than I thought. I was competing against a pool of talented food writers with genuine passion and years of experience. Unless I was willing to put the work into rising to their level, there was no way I was going to scale up to the bigger and better-paying publications.

You Are What You Read

Years ago I heard advice that’s carried me through my career: write what you read.

In college, I devoured nonfiction: newspapers, magazines, books. I quickly realized I should write for the same mediums that I read. I forged into journalism shortly after making that realization.

When I became a freelancer, I applied this same advice one level deeper: what topic do I read most often? What’s my favorite magazine? What’s on my bookshelves?

The answer was astonishingly easy. My favorite magazine is Money Magazine. My bookshelves are stocked with Trent Hamm and Philip Fischer. As soon as I became conscious of this, I wondered why the idea hadn’t seemed obvious from the beginning: I should write about money.

But I Don’t Have a Degree in It!

Once you recognize the topic in which you want to cultivate an expertise, you may face the same follow-up concern that I did: “But I’m not an expert in it! I don’t even have a degree in that field!”

I don’t have a finance degree. I’m not a certified financial planner, certified public accountant, or certified anything else. How could I gain credibility? If this is your situation — how can you gain credibility?

The answer is simple: just do it. If you read about your preferred topic, chances are you’re already well-versed in its fundamentals. You already have a long list of innovative thoughts on that subject matter percolating in the back of your mind.

Keep reading books and magazines on that topic (this is the fun part of our jobs!). If you love it, then is exactly what you’d be doing in your spare time anyway. The more you read, the more ideas you’ll generate.

Get those thoughts down on paper. Pitch them as story ideas. Launch a blog. Tweet about it. The more you publish about that topic, the more credibility you gain.

Soon you’ll be able to say with confidence, “Hi, I’m John, and I write about cars,” or “I’m Jane, and I’m a landscaping and gardening writer.”

Hi, I’m Paula Pant and I write the personal finance blog Check out my popular recent post, If I had a Million Dollars, I’d Go Into Debt. Follow me on Twitter @AffordAnything

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Freelance Workshops in D.C.: April 15 – 16

SPJ freelance committee member Ruth Thaler-Carter will be leading several editorial freelancing workshops in Washington, D.C. next week for the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA):

Basics of Editing and Proofreading

Friday, April 15 (1–4 p.m.), True Reformer Building, 1200 U Street NW, Washington, DC

Learn or refresh your knowledge of the essentials of editing and proofreading, including marks and symbols, essential style manuals, levels of editing, using Microsoft Word as an editing tool, using Acrobat for proofreading, and working effectively with clients and colleagues, and expand your files of helpful resources, from publications to organizations and more. Applicable to in-house and freelance colleagues. Ruth E. Thaler-Carter brings more than 25 years of experience as a freelance writer and editor to this practical nuts ’n’ bolts workshop.

EFA Members $50 – Nonmembers $65


Getting Started in Editorial Freelancing

Saturday, April 16 (10 a.m.–1 p.m.), True Reformer Building, 1200 U Street NW, Washington, DC

You need more than writing skills and a computer to be a successful freelance writer, editor or other editorial professional. You also need business sense, knowledge of the market, and a firm grasp of the tricks of the trade, among other attributes. Ruth E. Thaler-Carter will share her 25-plus years of experience in this tough but highly rewarding arena, working from her booklet, “Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer” and her EFA publication, “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business.”

Whether you are a writer, editor, indexer, graphic designer — you name it — you will find out how to jump-start your dream of living the freelance lifestyle with tips on setting up and organizing, finding work, networking, using resources, getting paid, combating isolation, and more. Energize your business with practical, upbeat insights into the joys and challenges of editorial freelancing. Even seasoned freelancers will garner new insights and useful suggestions.

Instructor Ruth E. Thaler-Carter has been a full-time editorial freelancer since 1984. She has published articles and reports locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally; desktop-produces newsletters for businesses, associations, and not-for-profits; and does proofreading and editing for a variety of clients. Her freelancing seminars have been popular with the EFA, the American Copy Editors Society, Cat Writers Association, International Association of Business Communicators, American Independent Writers, National Press Club, National Writers Union/DC Local, and other groups.

Attendees have called this workshop “fun and full of good energy” and “… lively and informative [and] very grounding.”

EFA Members $50 – Nonmembers $65

Freelancers and Their Websites

Saturday, April 16 (2–4 p.m.), True Reformer Building, 1200 U Street NW, Washington, DC

No matter what kind of freelance business you have (or want to have), it has to get noticed on the World Wide Web, and that means having your own website. Find out the basics of creating a website: getting a domain name and hosting service, planning content, and designing an effective, attractive website that will help attract readers and publishers to your work. Freelance writer/editor Ruth E. Thaler-Carter maintains her own website, manages content for several others and has created some sites herself. She will provide tips on why writers should have websites and how to get them started, show you how to find and use templates and basic design techniques, and provide examples of colleagues’ sites to use as inspiration—both what to do and what not to do. Note: This is a general class, not a high-tech offering.

EFA Members $40 – Nonmembers $55

20% discount for taking all three classes.

Lunch will be on your own.

Meter parking on U Street. The site is near the U Street/African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metrorail Station, on the Green and Yellow lines (use the 13th Street NW exit and walk a half-block east from the escalator to the entrance of 1200 U Street NW).

Registration info at:


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