Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category


From committee to community

Nobody likes a committee, except maybe a camel. So when SPJ leadership asked the Freelance Committee to think about becoming a community, we threw off our chains and reveled.

Perhaps not. We are still a committee, after all. We did what committees do: discussed the pros and cons and took a vote. We decided to make the transition. That process starts in earnest at the Excellence in Journalism Conference, when the traditional one-hour freelance committee meeting will become a two-hour discussion of how to make this transition from committee to community effective, and perhaps a model for other SPJ committees that want to make a similar transition (there are other SPJ committees considering the same transition).

An SPJ community will share many things with SPJ’s chapters. Communities will:

• Elect officers.
• Have the ability to maintain bank accounts.
• Have the ability to conduct programs regionally, nationally or online.
• Have the option to charge dues.
• Generate resources that are specific to their audience, such as training
• Have communications vehicles that allow them to share information/content materials, networking opportunities, and member news with themselves and the larger SPJ/journalism audience, such as websites and electronic newsletters.

What communities won’t have are direct geographic ties. That’s already true of the Freelance Committee. Moving to a community structure should make our workings more transparent and also more able to engage with SPJ’s freelance membership. We hope it will make SPJ a more vibrant and useful organization for its freelance members.

We would like feedback on what SPJ’s freelance community might look like. If you’re in Anaheim for EIJ 2013, come to the meeting on Sunday, Aug. 25, from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. If you aren’t able to be there, post a comment, or send an email to a committee member. If you’re reading this after August 25, you can still make comments or send e-mails. We are just starting this process. The SPJ board of directors will have to approve our plan, and that won’t happen until its meeting in April 2014.

Before then, we need to do some things like attract 20 supporters from within SPJ’s membership, and set our priorities.

For priority-setting, below is the wish list the freelance committee put together for a freelance community.

• A discussion forum that will support multiple threads/topics.
• The option for email discussion groups/alerts.
• The ability to support an SPJ freelance newsletter
• Support for a jobs board.
• The ability to highlight a freelancer or freelance regions.
• The possibility of supporting a syndication service.
• Support for Google Hangouts.
• Support uploading of recent work or recent pieces (more than the three we have now).
• Ability to have an SPJ page include Twitter/etc. feeds
• Ability to stream SPJ Freelance twitter on our main community page
• SPJ freelance awards competition.

Tell us what you like, what you can live without and what’s missing.

Thanks,

Michael Fitzgerald
SPJ Freelance Committee Chair (for now)

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Staying Connected: Fostering Freelance Relationships

The corporate world has the water cooler, schools have the teachers’ lounge and kids have the playground. Everyone has a place to hang out, brainstorm, share ideas or simply to complain. What about freelancers? Where do we go to get encouragement or to vent about our latest projects or clients? Some would argue that we don’t have a place. But not me. I never feel lonely as a freelancer. I have exactly as much companionship as I want or need on any given day.

Jelly Bean Neuts

Jelly Bean Neuts

If I’m writing or editing, I’m likely alone in my home office which suits me just fine. Of course, I’m not truly alone then. Jelly Bean, my favorite eight-pound source of inspiration, is always there if I need a friendly face or just a break, and her siblings, Sammy and Ginger, are always handy with a meow or a purr to cheer me on.

When I need to feel a part of something bigger, or need human contact, I work at Starbucks or downtown at my favorite bakery. And when I really need to feel connected, I visit with friends online. I also connect with my freelance friends at local networking events. It might be at an event sponsored by SPJ or Media Bistro, or a meet-up that friends threw together to keep in touch. Regardless, I am only as lonely as I want to be.

For me, this ability to stay connected is crucial to my success, but also to my sanity. While I don’t miss cubicle life, I do miss seeing friends every day and being able to blow off steam when I need to. I make sure I maintain that camaraderie for myself but also to support my freelance friends. These relationships offer an intangible source of comfort and advice, as well as potential project leads. Even more importantly though, we are here to encourage each other.

Just last week, I talked to Anna Pratt, a fellow freelancer and member of SPJ’s freelance committee, to catch up. I asked her what her dream project is and how it was coming along. We both discovered that, while we have ideas, projects or stories we might want to work on “some day,” we need someone else to check in with us, to see how it’s going and to push us when we get stuck. We also like having someone to talk to about issues like collecting late payments, finding more work or firing clients.

  • Stay connected offline through networking
  • Stay connected online – Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Tumblr, etc.
  • Support and encourage each other

So even though we may work in a solitary environment at times, we are never truly alone. We have ways to connect with each other, virtually and face-to-face, and we should foster freelance relationships to support each other. It makes the freelance life so much more fun.

How do you support your freelance friends? I’d love to hear how you stay connected.

—————————————————————

Dana NeutsBased in the Seattle area, Dana Neuts of Virtually Yourz has been a freelance journalist for 10 years, specializing in business, feature and community writing. She is also the publisher of iLoveKent.net, which won a 2nd place award in the 2012 NW Excellence in Journalism contest for “Best Online Community Engagement.” Dana is currently serving as the national SPJ Secretary/Treasurer and will run for President-Elect in August 2013. Follow her on Twitter @VirtuallyYourz and @SPJDana.

 

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

It’s National Grammar Day (insert exclamation point here)

This is it, the day all word mavens and grammarphiles relish with a fervency everyone else reserves for major national holidays, weekends, and end dates on the Mayan calendar.

It's Grammar Time!Yes, it’s National Grammar Day, and if you think itinerant commas or cliches stand a ghost of a chance on this auspicious occasion, think again. It is a day that all of us should spend paying greater attention to the craft of good communication and do, as Grammar Girl urges, “March forth … to speak well, write well, and help others do the same.”

That includes using “their” when “there” or “they’re” doesn’t work, correctly distinguishing “to” from “too” from “two,” slicing off dangling participles, and excising unctuous conjunctions, among many other attentions to linguistic and syntactical detail.

The day’s designation isn’t bound by law or scripture, but motivated by common courtesy. In our information-crazy world, precise use of language rises to the level of imperative. To serve society and convey respect for others, we are obligated to employ language precisely, appropriately. Poor grammar muddles our messages and implies ignorance or arrogance. It can cost reputations and dreams.

Journalists understand this perhaps better than most people, but as we enter the age of “citizen journalism,” when so many American citizens possess the tools and potential to stand in a position of authority on news, the grammar imperative becomes acute. The serious task of news gathering also demands serious presentation. Careful use of language conveys not only necessary detail, but also personal credibility. People who use language properly will be assigned more authority than people who do not.

If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who reads resumes for a living how many job candidates are passed over because of spelling errors and misplaced punctuation.

So, take care today to watch what you write and say. Recognize this sixth annual National Grammar Day by putting usage among your top priorities. If you’re smart, you’ll strive to turn that attention to detail from headache to habit.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, adjunct professor of journalism at Lindenwood UniversityRegion 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Freelance writers, this is your week

National Freelance Writer Appreciation WeekThis week, if you see a freelance writer, give ’em a hug.

Better still, give ’em a job.

The annual National Freelance Writers Appreciation Week starts today, and if you haven’t heard it’s a seven-day serenade to all the wordsmiths and keyboard-pounders who give shape and life to ideas on their own time, often on their own dime, so that others without the patience or aptitude to write still have a voice.

No proclamation made this week possible; no act of Congress, or act of God — just the goodwill and good sense of people who put a premium on well-rounded words and the diligent souls who smooth them into shape.

And there are many of these souls plying this heartfelt trade. Besides being responsible for the words you’re reading here, freelance writers create most of the grant applications, e-commerce strategies and advertising copy that shape our world. They break news and they build reputations; they churn out blogs and business plans, pastorals and poems. In fact, you probably can’t make it through the day without seeing a freelancer’s work in ink or digital print.

So, this week, show your appreciation by giving a freelancer more than just a smile. Become acquainted with and support such prime sites for freelancers as the Editorial Freelancers Association, Freelancers Union, and of course, become a regular reader of the Society of Professional Journalists’ own Independent Journalist blog.

SPJ also offers a Freelancer Directory, where one can shop for freelance help, as well as a Job Bank, where freelancers can shop in return. And there’s “On Your Own: A Guide to Freelance Journalism,” written and edited by SPJ-member freelancers and free of cost to SPJ members. However, a small donation for it is welcome from everyone, as the money goes to help support freelancers and their efforts.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

They don’t teach this in J school

How freelance writers stay motibvatedOne of the most important skills for a freelancer to have is one that isn’t taught in J school, nor is it something you can learn on the job. It’s something that requires constant nurturing and attention. Yep, you guessed it. The M word. MOTIVATION.

Motivation is what gets us out of bed every day, that elusive thing that keeps us sitting at our desks or working on our iPads until the story is done. It’s what encourages us to pitch to new publications, endure rejection after rejection, and work at our craft day after day. It’s also what keeps us from getting distracted when doing the dishes or washing a load of laundry seems more appealing than plugging away at the computer. Motivation drives us to earn a paycheck, and it is what causes us to choose work over taking a nap.

For some of us, motivation comes easy. We live for words and we can’t wait to see our next story published or produced. For others, it is a daily battle. To be a successful freelancer, we each need to find something that motivates us – daily. For me, my motivation is two-fold. As a single mother, I am motivated by the desire to care for my small family. Freelancing is my full-time day job, and if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. But my motivation goes beyond that (most days). I am also motivated by the desire to meet new people, learn new things and to share important stories with the world.

I have slow days like everyone else though, where I just can’t get going. I move beyond those by going through the motions. I get up, get dressed, brush my teeth, have breakfast and sit down at my desk to peruse the latest news. Then I log in to Facebook and go through my friends’ news feeds. Because many of my friends are freelancers or fellow journalists, I see clips of their latest stories. This often inspires me. If that doesn’t work, I log into my @spjdana Twitter account where I follow a number of well-respected journalists. Their work nearly always sparks me to work on my own projects.

And some days I just don’t have it. Unless I’m on deadline, I treat myself to a few hours off to take a walk, go the gym, play with Jelly Bean, or, yep, you guessed it – take a nap! At some point, my motivation kicks in.

These tips might not work for you, but this article offers several dozen ways to get motivated:  Motivation, Inspiration and Encouragement for Writers. Find one, or ten, that work for you. You’re portfolio (and paycheck) will thank you!

Freelancer Dana Neuts share tips to keep writers motivated.

Dana Neuts, Freelance Journalist
National SPJ Secretary/Treasurer
2013 Candidate for President-Elect

 

Based in the Seattle area, Dana Neuts is a freelance writer, editor and marketing pro. She is also the publisher of iLoveKent.net, an award-winning hyperlocal blog highlighting news, events and more in the Kent, Washington community. Most recently, her work has appeared in The Seattle Times, 425 magazine, South Sound magazine, Grow Northwest and Seattle Woman magazine. For more information, or to contact Dana, visit her website, VirtuallyYourz.com.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

In social media, patience is spelled with five W’s

In a perfect world, our words shine like jewels the first time we write or say them.

The reality is, they demand special consideration before displaying them in public. For one thing, so many terms in English have multiple meanings; for another, so many readers own distinct perspectives and biases. Ask 10 people to read the same sentence, and they’re likely to offer 10 slightly different interpretations.

That’s why, in our electron-fast, social media age, extra seconds spent pondering our pedantry before tapping the Send button can prevent embarrassment and thus preserve credibility.

So, at a time we’re still weighing New Year’s resolutions, or wondering whether to uphold the ones we’ve made, consider putting patience high on the list. Armed with it, writers and editors more easily catch spelling errors, check or recheck facts, change tone, even adjust attitudes — particularly their own.

The trick, of course, is finding patience where none existed. Hours spent banging out social media posts as fast as they come to mind can cultivate writing that’s reflexive, not reflective.

It may help then to install social media speed bumps of a sort — a set of objectives that forces introspection. For this, we could adapt journalism’s famous five W’s:

Who — Think first, “Who am I trying to reach?” Though social media networks permit users to group their followers, most users don’t, and their networks are a mishmash of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. The result: just one post intended for a small group of followers could send others packing. Craft posts with the broadest possible appeal, frame edgier posts with self-effacing humor or courtesy, and restrict the hardest commentary to direct messages.

What — Make sure the point of a post is clear and consistent with the facts. Go back through other people’s posts, check associated Web links and references to see whether those people are interpreting the information correctly, and whether you’re doing the same and not relying on conjecture. Only then can you safely answer the question, “What am I trying to say?”

When — Speed is a drug in social media; we assume the faster we post, the more certain we are to ride the leading edge of news. Blame this behavior in part on traditional media, which instilled the belief that “scoops” or “beats” on breaking news were just as important as the information itself. In truth, no newspaper shut down and no TV station went dark from not having enough scoops. Today, the Web is rife with humor and shame over errors by news organizations that moved too fast to gather facts. Thus, the answer to “When should I post?” ought to be, “After I have all the facts.”

Where — The term “social media” is as broad as the horizon. It encompasses numerous networks, each having its own best practices and tolerances. Still, we consider Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others to possess the same reach and intent. But there’s a saying: Facebook is for people you already know, Twitter is for people you want to know, and LinkedIn is for people you need to know. Learn the point and purpose of each social network, then you’ll be able to answer “Where should I post?”

Why — I’d like to think everything I say via social media is important. We all do. Nevertheless, each of us encounters users who think otherwise. That constituency dwindles though with solid answers to “Why should I post?” Whereas flippant or rhetorical commentary only attracts more of the same, social engagement founded on research and reportage is shared and re-shared more widely.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Make a resolution to do better on social media

The Christmas decorations are coming down and the New Year’s fireworks are going up. Also around this time, long lists of New Year’s resolutions go up, too.

Diet and exercise top most lists, as do stronger finances and better personal relationships. One thing also worth reviewing among freelancers and maybe revising for 2013 is the way they present themselves through social media.

Numbers are why. As 2012 wound down, Twitter users churned out 175 million tweets daily. An estimated 625,000 new users joined Google+ daily. Facebook garnered about 850 million active users monthly. And LinkedIn added 50 million members in one year; it needed six years to get its first 50 million.

In other words, social media has skipped well past the point of novelty and entered the realm of necessity, especially for freelancers intent on attracting attention. So then, it pays for freelancers to paint a clean, clear portrait of themselves online, if they haven’t already, to keep that attention coming.

A few crisp strokes can do that. These should encompass:

Profile photos — There’s a reason it’s called “social” media. Nevertheless, a lot of serious people trying to do serious business still hide behind the faceless default icon all social media platforms employ, the result being they don’t gain digital friends or, more importantly, win jobs, says Nicholas Salter, a professor of psychology at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He led a recent study that found those people on LinkedIn with profile pictures are more likely to get hired than those without.

Susan Gunelius, a marketing communications executive who is the author of “Google Blogger for Dummies,” underscores the value. “It’s better to have 1,000 online connections who read, share and talk about your content with their own audiences than 10,000 connections who disappear after connecting with you for the first time.”

Headlines — In a newspaper or news website, headlines are concise declarations of pertinent information intended to announce, inform and attract. In a freelancing proposal, job application or social media campaign, writing with the crisp prose of headlines brings focus and adds clarity to one’s message. Studying the way headlines are written and following their form can do wonders at putting that message ahead of others.

Keywords — And speaking of headlines, keywords give those headlines punch. These keywords are the distinguishing terms lacing online business reports, blogs, and especially job postings, that search engines pluck out for categorization. Special attention paid to keywords helps turn heads and boost Web and social traffic. But keep them relevant; don’t trot out trendy terms just because everyone else has.

Research — Like the way a drip, drip, drip from a leaky faucet can be distracting, so too can social content designed to make more noise than sense. The best, most memorable content reflects an understanding of the intended audience and an appreciation for what that audience finds interesting. Invest time online in 2013 researching audience behavior and trends. Start by getting to know Google Analytics and Google Trends, and reading reports from Gartner, the Pew Research Center, and Poynter.

David Sheets, SPJ's Region 7 directorDavid Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dksheets@gmail.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

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.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

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.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

Are You Ready to Start Freelancing Full-Time?

Are you thinking about making the leap into freelancing … but you’re not sure if you’re ready to leave the security of a full-time job?

Here’s a true story of a woman who transitioned from her 9-to-5 into a freelance life at the same time that she became pregnant and her husband lost his job. Perhaps her story will help you decide whether or not you’re ready.

Juliana Builds a Nest Egg

Juliana Weiss-Roessler started writing freelance stories because she was “bored” at her day job.

“I had a lot of down time on my hands,” she said.

She didn’t expect it to become a significant source of income, so she felt surprised when she saw how much money she was beginning to make.

“I was sometimes earning more (freelancing) … than I was in my full-time position,” she said.

Before long, she began to wonder: could she do this full-time?

Before Weiss-Roessler felt ready to take the leap, though, she wanted some security. So she started shoveling money into a savings account.

Saving felt easy: since the freelance income she was making on the side wasn’t money that she ever “counted” on having, she simply directed it into savings. Within months, she had a large enough nest egg to support herself and her husband for six months.

She didn’t realize how quickly she’d have to tap that nest egg. Shortly after she quit her 9-to-5, her husband learned he was laid off. To complicate matters, she also discovered that she was pregnant.

Fortunately, they had six months of savings to rely on. The couple also realized that if they trimmed some of the “extras” out of their life, they could stretch that money into seven or eight months.

Weiss-Roessler doubled her dedication to freelance writing, hunting for opportunities and sending well-crafted pitches. Her efforts paid off.

“Within a few months, business was booming,” she said.

Her advice to people who are considering making the freelance switch? “Do the math,” she said. “(Build) your safety net.”

But don’t over-think it, she said.

“You just have to … take the leap,” she said.

Read more about Juliana’s story here.

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Reddit


Newest Posts

Cuba opens its door to U.S. journalists, but be careful December 17, 2014, 7:35 pm
Congratulations to Julie Asher, December Volunteer of the Month December 17, 2014, 2:51 pm
Adding Study Abroad to a Journalism Curriculum December 14, 2014, 6:43 pm
NorCal SPJ chapter fights for sunshine in San Francisco December 12, 2014, 2:21 am
Stop ignoring Instagram December 11, 2014, 10:38 pm
Help us improve and protect journalism abroad December 10, 2014, 5:40 pm
The Other Side: Rolling Stone’s Note December 6, 2014, 12:44 am

Copyright © 2007-2014 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ