Archive for September, 2012


Webinar on freelancing, Oct. 2

The Society for Technical Communication (STC) offers a webinar on “Launching Your Own Tech Comm Business: The Solopreneur Side,” presented by yours truly, SPJ Freelance Committee vice chair Ruth Thaler-Carter, from 10-11 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, Oct. 2. Cost: STC members, $59; not-yet members, $149.

Full details at:
http://www.stc.org/education/online-education/live-seminars/item/launching-your-own-tech-comm-business-the-solopreneur-side?category_id=53

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Inspiration for freelancing abroad

The first freelance panel at this year’s SPJ annual conference, Excellence in Journalism 2012 focused on international journalism.

The panel, Striking out alone in the world: winning strategies for International Freelance Reporting, featured Kira Kay and Jason Maloney, co-founders of the Bureau for International Reporting, Jina Moore, contributor to the Christian Science Monitor and others, and was moderated by John Schidlovsky, director of the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins.

In a well-organized, sharply presented panel, they drew on their extensive experience abroad and working with other journalists My summary of their remarks starts with this:  It is still possible to be a freelance correspondent abroad, but don’t expect a glamorous life hobnobbing with world leaders in posh hotels. Especially without putting in a lot of legwork.

Some quick points:

1)    Develop your contacts, sources and ideas while here in the U.S. Jina Moore suggested that if interested in Vietnam, go to Vietnamese restaurants in your area and find out what they’re talking about. Write about people from the country or with connections to the country that you want to visit. Develop a reputation for being interested in the place and it will help open doors when you’re ready to go.

2)    How to pay for it?

The message by and large was tap into foundations and international reporting fellowships. John Schidlovsky rattled off a number of sources for funding, including his own organization, the Pulitzer Center, the Alicia Patterson Foundation, and the panel was sponsored by The Stanley Foundation. Kira and Jason have incorporated as a non-profit so their fundraising could help their administrative overhead and provide for a bit of salary. Not something that will work for regular freelancers (it’s worth trying to get a newspaper or magazine to pay a small administrative fee, but don’t hold your breath).

Jina Moore said it was still possible to string together multiple assignments from a place to cover your costs — John Schidlovsky noted that one IFP fellow did 11 stories from Micronesia just by being creative about story approaches. But know that it is difficult in the Web era to repurpose an assignment for different outlets. Jina has developed her skills so she can work in both print/text and radio, and that helps her do more stories while traveling.  She cautioned, too, not to expect to pay for a trip by getting a plum assignment when you’re on the road.

3) planning a trip requires setting up fixers and multiple interviews ahead of time, before you’ve gone. You also need to network, to develop a group of editors that you can ping before going some place. Spend time in New York or other places where you can try to meet editors in person, to develop relationships.

Don’t just jump into a hot spot looking for stories, the panel cautioned. Yes, you can find great pieces, but also great peril. Jina Moore said she had never gone to Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan because she feels like she’s not prepared to be there.  That is, she feels unprepared to deal with the potential for being kidnapped or worse, or asking her organization to get her out if tthings worsen.

Kira Kay said formal journalist visas are a good idea unless you can’t possibly get into a country with one. Having one has helped her get out of difficult situations where local officials wanted to take her equipment and notes, but could not do so because she had an official visa. She also said to make sure you know who to reach out to for help if trouble erupts.

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Guide for freelance journalists debuts at EIJ12

Updated, 9/28: A year’s worth of work by SPJ’s Freelance Committee debuted at Excellence In Journalism 2012 with the introduction of On Your Own: A Guide to Freelance Journalism, the committee’s first effort to consolidate the collected wisdom of its members.

The 77-page guide, available only in digital form, addresses a broad range of questions common among new and aspiring freelancers — from bookkeeping to business licenses to branding — soon will be made available to SPJ members in good standing. Later this fall, it will be sold as an e-book for a nominal fee, with the proceeds going toward committee programming.

Incoming chairman Michael Fitzgerald says the committee plans to update the guide on a regular basis, and include more personal experiences from freelancers to reflect changes and trends in the marketplace. SPJ also encourages freelance writers and editors not yet affiliated with the society to join and add their input to the guide.

Comments, suggestions and criticisms are welcome and should be made to David Sheets, the guide’s editor, by email at dksheets@gmail.com, or through Twitter at @DKSheets or LinkedIn.

David Sheets, a freelance journalist and former content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is Region 7 director and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter.

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Freelance Q&A: When will I get paid?

There are three primary times when a freelancer can expect to get paid from a news organization:

  • Upon submission – when the freelancer submits the work
  • Upon acceptance – when the editing and fact checking is complete
  • Upon or after publication – self-explanatory

I’ve been paid by different news organizations in each of these ways. I prefer being paid upon submission because I control the timing of payment and cash flow. Being paid upon acceptance is my second choice. You’ll develop a feel for how long a piece takes from submission to completion of editing, so you can work around that as well.

Being paid upon or after publication can get tricky. I write for one magazine that mails the checks almost the same day the magazines go out. I’m happy with that arrangement because I know what to expect. However, I have written for one company that paid 90 to 120 days after publication, on a good day. I’d be wary of such situations, because slow payment on the part of a media organization can indicate a cash flow problem or a lack of respect for its freelancers.

Perhaps the most important thing a freelancer can do is to understand the terms of your agreement before accepting any assignment. Of course, you want to know what the assignment is, approximate word count and due date, but you should be just as diligent with the financial details of the assignment. Often these details will be outlined in a contract or business agreement. If not, get them in writing via email. That way it is clear who does what, when and how. You do the work on time, they pay you, everybody’s happy!

 

Dana E. Neuts is a full-time freelance writer and editor and is the publisher of iLoveKent.net and iLoveWashington.net. An avid SPJ volunteer, she is the regional director for SPJ’s region 10, serves on the membership committee, and is the chair for the freelance committee. She is also a candidate for the office of national SPJ Secretary/Treasurer. Followe her on Twitter (@SPJDana, @SPJFreelance, @VirtuallyYourz).

 

 

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Freelance Q&A: Why won’t anyone talk specifics about rates?

As a new freelancer, it can be frustrating to not get a straight answer about how much you can make annually or what a “good” price per word is. But the reality is that so much depends on the situation – the media organization’s budget, your experience, complexity of the story, your relationship with the editor, etc. – that you can’t nail down a range. It’s truly a moving target. One of my first, and favorite publications, paid me $0.07 per word. When their revenue dropped, it was reduced to $0.06/word, but I loved the work and my editor so I stuck it out. I wouldn’t write for that amount now, however, but that’s really a personal business decision.

You will also find that, on message boards and list servs, members are discouraged, sometimes even prohibited, from discussing rates. I think there is a fear that there will be price fixing or increased competition. Those fears are debatable, but freelance etiquette tells us not to discuss rates in such forums. If you are meeting fellow freelancers for lunch and want to talk shop, feel free. Most of us do it, but don’t do it in an online forum. You’re likely to get booted from the group.

 

Dana E. Neuts is a full-time freelance writer and editor and is the publisher of iLoveKent.net and iLoveWashington.net. An avid SPJ volunteer, she is the regional director for SPJ’s region 10, serves on the membership committee, and is the chair for the freelance committee. She is also a candidate for the office of national SPJ Secretary/Treasurer. Followe her on Twitter (@SPJDana, @SPJFreelance, @VirtuallyYourz).

 

 

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Freelance Q&A: How do I charge for my work?

In most cases, the media organization for whom you are working will dictate your pay, and your paycheck will be calculated one of three ways:

  • By the word
  • By the page
  • By the assignment (or a flat rate)

Payment by the word can be tricky to calculate, because it will probably be determined based on the edited word count, not the word count of the original submission. You can use that word count as an estimate though. Let’s say you write a 600 word piece at a rate of $0.20/word. You’ll earn $120 for that story, give or take, based on word count. The same is true of payment by the page. It will be based on the edited version, not the submitted version. For payment by assignment, this is typically a flat rate per piece. Longer, more complicated stories normally merit higher rates but that will depend on the news organization.

There is one other payment method to be aware of – the kill fee. This is a fee that a news organization pays for a story that it decides not to run. Let’s say, for example, you write a story about seed potatoes for an agricultural magazine. You fulfill the assignment, submit it to your editor and your editor decides to write about vegetable seeds instead. You may get paid a kill fee. It will be substantially less than the amount you would have received had they used your story, but you will get something for your time. I’ve had editors offer to pay a research or travel fee, too, when a story didn’t really pan out but I had spent time doing some preliminary work.

If you are doing corporate work, like writing website copy, you will need to set your own rates. I recommend reading Michelle Goodman’s “My So-Called Freelance Life” for advice on setting rates for your services.

 

Dana E. Neuts is a full-time freelance writer and editor and is the publisher of iLoveKent.net and iLoveWashington.net. An avid SPJ volunteer, she is the regional director for SPJ’s region 10 and is the chair for the freelance committee. She is also a candidate for the office of national SPJ Secretary/Treasurer. Followe her on Twitter (@SPJDana, @SPJFreelance, @VirtuallyYourz).

 

 

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Freelance Q&A: How much money can I make?

“How much money can I make” is often one of the first questions a new freelancer asks. There really is no easy answer to that question, but I believe how much you make is largely within your control. Why? Because you choose who you work for, how often you work and how much you get paid. Granted, you can’t control the budgets of media organizations for whom you work, but you can work around that by planning your work accordingly and managing both your time and cash flow.

If you are a full-time freelancer, you can make as high as six-figures. If you are part-time, your income will be dependent on the amount that you work. Either way, you CAN make a living as a freelancer if you work at it, and you can make as much as or more than you do working for a single news organization. It’s really up to you.

 

Dana E. Neuts is a full-time freelance writer and editor and is the publisher of iLoveKent.net and iLoveWashington.net. An avid SPJ volunteer, she is the regional director for SPJ’s region 10 and is the chair for the freelance committee. She is also a candidate for the office of national SPJ Secretary/Treasurer. Followe her on Twitter (@SPJDana, @SPJFreelance, @VirtuallyYourz).

 

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