February 22nd, 2013
Giving it the ‘ol college try
By Anna Pratt
It’s always interesting to find out how people wound up in freelance journalism. For me, freelancing seemed like a good way to take my reporting in a different direction after covering the same topics for several years. I’d already dabbled in freelancing a bit, so I figured it was worth a try. Luckily, I had some connections through work and I was able to line up a number of story assignments right away. A handful of years later, I’m still at it. But what about those who are just starting out in freelancing, especially considering how much change the industry has gone through in recent years?
We hear about how the workforce is increasingly mobile, and opening up to freelancers more and more. But how does that affect up-and-coming freelancers? Do people interested in freelancing need a journalism degree? Is it worth the time and money? And, how does a journalism degree prepare one for the entrepreneurial challenges of the freelance life? Guest blogger Emily Manke, who writes at JournalismDegree.com, responds to these questions and gives us some real-world advice on the topic, below. Feel free to weigh in in the comments about your own path to freelancing.
The jury is definitely not out when it comes to whether or not earning a degree in journalism will help you achieve the dream of landing steady freelance work, but there are many useful benefits to obtaining a B.A., or graduate degree in journalism. Obviously, the need to tailor your degree to your interests, and to suit the job market, is huge. Networking, school papers, exposure to professionals, practice, and a good portfolio, are some of the pros to pursuing a degree in journalism.
While who you know isn’t everything, knowing connected people in your field can’t hurt, particularly in a field where you rely on your contacts to eat, like freelance journalism. One thing a college education unequivocally does, is put you in the same place, with other ambitious people of all ages, who are interested in the same things you are. While on the job experience is paramount to ever hoping to achieve success as a freelance journalist, college can introduce you to countless other journalists. Being around other journalism students, and professors, can help advance your career in more ways than teaching you the curriculum.
The opportunity to get published in a school newspaper, is one the can set your career in freelance journalism in the right direction. Keeping a personal blog is also a great way to promote your writing, but it lacks the credentials of a school newspaper. Being published in a college or University newspaper implies that you made it through a submission process, which speaks volumes for your credibility. Depending on how picky your given school’s newspaper is, being rejected can also familiarize and prepare you for the inevitable rejection you’ll face as a freelance journalist.
Every college campus, no matter how small, will have resources available to point you in the direction of relevant cultural events in the community. Whether it’s an on campus event featuring a freelance journalist fresh from their investigative report in Africa, or a flyer to an event in a neighboring city for a journalism conference, simply being a student, puts you in the right place to be in the know when must-see journalism professionals make an appearance in your area. Having the opportunity to speak with a powerful, experienced, freelance journalist, can help answer your burning questions, encourage you, and put you in touch with the right people.
Getting better at anything often requires disciplined practice. Journalism is no different. Studying journalism in college, not only helps you hone your skill through the repetition of school assignments, but it can help you build up your portfolio of writing work. When it’s time to embark on your full-fledged freelance journalism career, the practice, and breadth of work that comes along with earning a degree in journalism that can propel your chances of finding freelance work.
While there’s no way to ensure success in the competitive world of freelance journalism, earning a degree in journalism, is a good place to start. Through meeting the right people, getting your writing out there, and diligent practice, college gives you unparalleled training for writing freelance. Due dates, and deadlines aren’t that far off, so if your freelance career is at a lull, consider a degree in journalism.
As a staff reporter-turned-freelance journalist, Anna Pratt, who lives in Minneapolis, Minn., has ventured into garbage houses, spent the night in a homeless shelter and witnessed a fistfight in a church basement, all for various stories. Over the past nine years, her byline has appeared in the Star Tribune, The Line, the Southwest Journal, the Minnesota Independent and several suburban and community papers, web publications and broadcast media in the Twin Cities. She’s had many beats, including education, community news, business, development, arts, civil/human rights and immigration. Pratt chairs the programming committee for the award-winning Minnesota Pro Chapter of SPJ and she’s running for president-elect of the chapter. She also serves on the organization’s national programming committee. To read more, visitannaprattjournalist.com.