Archive for the ‘Freelance community’ Category


Collaborative Freelancing

By guest blogger Hazel Becker 

During the Collaborative Journalism Summit at Montclair State (NJ) University in early May, my mind returned to questions I’ve been pondering since becoming chair of the SPJ Freelance Community this year. Who are we independent journalists? What makes us different from other journalists, or from other freelance writers? And why are we freelance journalists when we could be something else?

Hazel Becker

Hazel Becker is chair of the SPJ Freelance Community.

In my earlier contemplation, I asked members of our Facebook group to tell us why they freelance. The reasons respondents gave ranged from “it’s my career choice” to “I can’t find an entry-level job.” Although about half those responding said they freelance by choice, other responses make it clear that some of us go to great pains to make a living and still be journalists. Some of us sell stories to media outlets on a freelance basis while working full- or part-time at other pursuits. Others take on freelance corporate writing and PR work along with story assignments because the pay is higher. Some continue to tell news and feature stories while job hunting after graduation or layoffs. A few, like me, freelance in retirement to stay in the game during these exciting times.

At the New Jersey summit, I was glad to hear that independent journalists have been involved in some of the collaborative projects discussed, including the International Consortium of Investigative Reporters’ Panama Papers effort that won a Pulitzer Prize this year. If we want to increase our involvement in such projects, we need to assess and state our value proposition as professional freelance journalists.

Professional. Freelance. Journalist.

Those three words, taken together, describe the main audience for this blog as well as membership of the SPJ Freelance Community. Breaking the phrase down into three separate words reveals some things about us that will help us identify ourselves and state our value proposition. In reverse order:

Journalist, to most of us, means true storyteller. Whatever the mediums in which we work, we tell real stories — about events, environments and the people who experience them. Whether we’re writing the first draft of history, chronicling a series of events or profiling a person, place or thing, our aim is always the same: to tell a story we see to people who haven’t seen it as we have.

Freelance generally means free to purvey our craft on behalf of not just one but many sponsors — essentially, harkening back to medieval times, free to wield our lances on behalf of whatever cause we choose. As did the warriors of the 13th through 15th centuries, we choose primarily based upon what we get in return — usually payment, prestige or pleasure, the three Ps suggested by freelancer Katherine Reynolds Lewis as worthy compensation for our work. We are on our own, independent, not controlled by any government, political or corporate entity or employed by a single publication.

Professional, broadly defined when pertaining to individuals, means those who work according to a set of generally accepted standards and practices in a field. When pertaining to journalists, I define professional as those who seek truth and report it, act independently,  minimize harm and are accountable and transparent.

These four tenets of the SPJ Code of Ethics form the basis of practice standards for professional journalists, not only SPJ members and not only those who say their work is guided by our code. They also should be a stated part of our value proposition as professional freelance journalists because they set us apart from other freelance writers in the crowded, internet-driven marketplace for our work.

Selling Our Value to Collaborate

As freelancers, most of us collaborate to some extent. We work together with publishers, editors, news directors and other media operatives to tell our version of stories to their audiences. We know how to do this! To get in on the action, we just need to sell our value — whether to collaborative projects or to prospective clients.

This graphic report from the Collaborative Journalism Summit illustrates the discussion of how freelancers can be involved in collaborative projects. (Graphic by Phil Bakelaar)

Freelancers who have special skills (foreign language or technology proficiency, for example) or deep knowledge of certain subject matter have an advantage with clients or projects that need those skills. But generalists also have something to sell — their presence in and knowledge of the areas where they live or work.

Here’s one approach to collaboration: The North Carolina Newsroom Cooperative formed to support independent journalists in the Triangle area of North Carolina in 2015 during debate over that state’s H.B. 2, the “bathroom law” targeting transgender people. Early members of the cooperative wanted to tell North Carolina’s story about the legislation, not the outsiders’ versions then being circulated by what they describe as the “parachute media” who arrived in droves after the bill was enacted. In addition to its co-working space in Research Triangle Park, the nonprofit offers networking, educational opportunities, legal advice and events to help members promote their work.

The U.S. news media are in a period of introspection following their dismal performance in reporting on the sentiment of the country in the 2016 presidential campaign. There could be no better time for independent journalists to sell their local knowledge and connections to regional and national media needing to broaden their reach and increase the diversity of voices they listen to and tell about.

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Score one for the freelancer! (a cautionary tale)

By guest blogger Hazel Becker 

This is the story of a freelance journalist who went up against a national publisher and won. The individual facts and circumstances are not uncommon.

Hazel BeckerThe freelancer had a personal story to tell, and pitched it to the editor of a publication that would have broad reach. The editor said yes, and the two agreed on compensation and a deadline. The story was published in print and online, pretty much as written.

After publication, as agreed, the writer submitted an invoice. In response, s/he received a contract to sign, awarding the publisher the right to disseminate the story electronically and republish it at will. After responding that s/he had asked about a contract and was told none would be required, along with a copy of the email in which all these terms had been discussed, the writer was told that if the signed contract was not returned, s/he would not be paid and the story would be taken offline.

The writer spent considerable time coming up with an altered version of the publisher’s contract that clarified some provisions and laid out specific terms s/he would agree to. Specifically, the writer made it clear that the work was not to be adapted or changed. S/he also stated that additional electronic rights had not been granted and would need to be negotiated separately.

Here’s the happy ending: the publisher agreed to go along with the agreement between writer and editor, and paid the invoice. This freelance journalist pitched to a respected national publication because s/he wanted this personal story to be told to a broad audience. After some hassle, s/he retained control over how the story would be told in the future and received the agreed compensation.

Here are some lessons, learned or reinforced, from this story:

  • Always have a contract. This happy ending would not have been possible if the writer and editor had not memorialized their agreement in email.
  • Email agreements can serve as contracts. The email thread between the writer and editor specified the elements necessary for a contract: the writer would send the specified work, the work would be published in print and online, the writer would submit an invoice, and the publisher would pay a set amount. No legal language or special form was needed.
  • Don’t be afraid to challenge authority – or contract provisions you don’t agree to. When push came to shove, the publisher agreed to forgo most of the legal provisions it generally asks writers to accept. Strong-arm tactics aside, the writer stood up to the big guy and won.
  • Be clear about your negotiating goals. This freelancer wanted two things from the publisher – control of how this personal story would be told, and compensation for the work. S/he didn’t get sidetracked by other aspects of the contract or negotiation. In the end, s/he got what s/he wanted.

Not all contract disputes will come out this way – and not all of them should. The fact that the freelancer’s rights were preserved in an email exchange may have been the deciding factor here.

Most contract negotiations are carried out before the job is done, and standard contracts can be intimidating. Sometimes publication lawyers load freelance contracts with clauses that apply to all the media organization’s work, for “simplicity’s sake” or other reasons, and the publication won’t budge. Some publishers ask freelancers to take on more responsibility than is warranted. As independent contractors, freelance journalists often weigh their need of cash flow or total compensation ahead of other considerations. We have a tendency to accept the terms offered, knowing that most of the time it will come out fine.

But there’s no reason not to try – and if you can take some strength from this freelance journalist’s tale, please do.

Also, please tell us your own stories about contract provisions and negotiations. Send them to spjfreelancecommunity [at] gmail [dot] com. We’ll cull the results and write more on this subject in the future.

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Let’s get personal: Essay-writing for journalists

By guest blogger Hope Yancey

Back in 2010 and 2011, a section of my local newspaper, The Charlotte Observer, solicited short essays on the topic of style. I sent some on spec and eventually saw a few printed on various style-related topics — including my misguided preference for novelty holiday sweaters,  attempting to wear contact lenses,  thank-you notes as an indication of style and one misadventure in scarf-tying.

These lighthearted works were fun to write and brought in modest paychecks. I enjoyed the experience, but I also wished I could write for publication on a regular basis.

Later, I came across a notice advertising a need for freelance correspondents to write features and neighborhood news for the same newspaper’s community news sections. The pieces I had written for the style column gave me the confidence I needed to apply, not to mention a handful of useful clips for my portfolio. So, you could say my path into freelance journalism began with a personal essay.

I retain a certain affection for essay-writing, even though I went on to write articles for the paper for several years on the arts, education and nonprofit happenings, and write posts for a magazine’s food blog. I love personal essays because they are personal. That, and they are full of the same kinds of sensory description — following the same commandment to show, not tell — that are the hallmarks of most good writing. In some ways, personal essays also are easier to write than articles, despite the creative energy involved, because they require less research or interviewing.

Between regular writing assignments now, I’m returning to my roots. I’m keeping my writing skills sharp by rediscovering my love of the personal essay as a literary art form, something I hadn’t found much time for at my busiest.

Literary magazines and journals, whether online or print, are plentiful. Most seem to pay in the form of complimentary copies of the journal, if they pay at all, so this is not an endeavor that will help meet the bills for us freelancers. The rewards of trying them out and searching for a literary home for our most personal writings are more intrinsic than that.

Many literary journals have a nonfiction or creative nonfiction department for essays and similar works. Their websites will specify if they take “simultaneous submissions,” or if one must avoid sending the work elsewhere while it is under consideration. Some desire a cover letter with an entry; others want none. When I do include a cover letter, I keep it brief, perhaps referencing how I found the journal and why I think my writing would be an appropriate fit. I might type a sentence or two introducing the material. It’s not all that different from the query letter one might send with an article pitch, except here I am sending the finished piece. Each journal has its own personality or focus. As with any publication, it is best to read submission guidelines closely and samples of published work to gain a sense of the flavor of the publication and what it’s seeking.

Don’t be discouraged if at first it’s difficult to transition between journalistic writing and composing personal essays. I’ve found sifting through personal artifacts and contemplating my treasured objects or family photographs in a new way to be a rich source of essay ideas. Tapping into the humor in everyday life can provide inspiration, as well.

One lesson I learned from my scarf experience years ago: When you get stuck, just hang on, tie a knot in the thing somewhere and keep going.

Hope Yancey is a freelance journalist in Charlotte, N.C., and a member of the SPJ Freelance Community. Follow her on Twitter @Hope_Yancey.

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Some encouragement for freelancers as we head into 2017

Hazel BeckerFor many independent journalists I know, it’s discouraging to see the continuing string of newsroom layoffs that began in late 2016, including those announced by Dow Jones and Gannett in October that put hundreds of journalists out of work. Freelancers worry about the flood of laid-off staffers pouring into an already crowded job market. Yet, without a place for all these newspeople, we risk losing dedicated journalists at exactly the time when their energy is most needed to weather ongoing upheaval in our industry.

Recently, I have found one bright spot in this bleak picture: evidence that more mainstream organizations are joining SPJ in the recognition that independent journalists need special services to help them run successful freelance businesses. After the New Jersey Gannett layoffs in November, Montclair State University’s Center for Cooperative Media teamed up with Poynter’s NewsU to offer free training for out-of-work journalists in the state, the idea being to help them make a go of it as freelancers. The training includes a certificate program in “building your brand through social media,” an array of coursework topics including how to become an entrepreneur and how to contribute to a local publication, and webinars and classes to help strengthen skills veteran newspeople need to thrive, working on their own.

NewsU isn’t new. For more than a decade, Poynter has been building a curriculum of more than 300 courses for newsroom and online training. What’s new is the acknowledgment that journalists need a path for continuing to work in the profession, even after their jobs are eliminated.

SPJ took a bold step a few years back by allowing groups of members with common interests to form official communities. They’re akin to national chapters, but organized around a common interest rather than location. It’s no surprise to me that the Freelance Community is the largest and most active of those groups. Through online events and chats as well as the community’s Facebook Group, we are engaging hundreds of independent journalists around issues ranging from access to information to freelance rates and contracts. Our resources help independent journalists keep track of contest entries and fellowship deadlines. Online discussions also spread the word about calls for pitches and training opportunities available to freelance journalists.

Independent journalists also are building community in person. Across the country journalists join with other freelancers for monthly Spark events sponsored by the Freelancers Union. Within SPJ, the monthly freelancers’ lunch meeting in Washington, D.C., will spread this year to other cities, and freelance programming is taking hold at the chapter and regional levels. The Freelance Corner at Excellence in Journalism (EIJ16) in New Orleans last year kept Freelance Community leaders busy throughout the conference, where budding and veteran freelancers alike crowded sessions and networking offerings.

Such groups and activities hold real value for journalists working outside the hub of a newsroom. Sharing information, skills and activities with similarly situated individuals throughout my time in SPJ has made me a better journalist and a more successful freelancer. I’ve found sources and story ideas in abundance by talking with other freelancers at the D.C. SPJ chapter lunches. I’ve learned different perspectives on some common freelancers’ dilemmas from the Freelance Community’s online chats. My technology advancements since joining the Facebook discussion group have made me more efficient and helped me solve problems that have bothered me for years.

There’s also truth in the adage that there’s safety in numbers. Coming together with other freelance journalists is important to our survival as the news business continues to morph. Wherever you are, however you do it, make sure you are counted among professional freelance journalists — and share the benefits of their collective wisdom to keep your business and our industry strong.

The best way is to join the SPJ Freelance Community today!

Hazel Becker’s two stints as a freelance journalist sandwich a 28-year career with BNA publications, now Bloomberg BNA, as correspondent, reporter, editor and product development manager. Freelancing over the last 10 years, she has covered personal finance, insurance, business and government for online publications and magazines from her home in Washington, D.C. She is the 2017 chair of the SPJ Freelance Community.

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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 iLoveKent.net. 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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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 SPJ.org 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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