Archive for the ‘Potential Work Sources’ Category


7 steps to a better résumé

Resume adviceWhether pitching for a full-time job or a single project, writers and editors use an assortment of tools and tactics to connect with potential clients. Social media, word-of-mouth advertising, personal correspondence and networking events are great for this; they help sell your personality.

When it comes to selling one’s skills, however, the best tool remains a clear, crisp résumé.

Résumés date back more than 500 years to Leonardo da Vinci, who is believed to have written the first one, but they were informal in style and substance until the 1950s. Today, there are three basic types: the functional résumé, listing work experience or skills categorized by skill area or job function; the reverse chronological résumé, listing work experience by date, starting with the most recent, and going back 10 to 15 years; and the hybrid résumé, which mixes the two types.

The typical résumé is short — two 8½-by-11 sheets of paper in length, at most — and direct, highlighting active verbs and essential keywords related to the job sought. Even video résumés are succinct, lasting no more than 60 seconds.

That’s because brevity is a courtesy in the current job market, as employers and potential freelance clients may receive dozens if not hundreds of applications for one position or task. Given this flood of applications, nothing guarantees that those résumés are read carefully.

But there are a few things résumé writers can do to boost their chances:

Have a clear focus —Résumés are supposed to land an interview, not land a job. Think of writing one as tapping an employer on the shoulder for a quick introduction. Using that approach, the résumé will likely sound more precise than plodding.

For video résumés, have a prepared script and memorize it. Reading from a prepared script or cue cards makes the performer’s eyes shift, giving the impression that the job applicant is distracted or untrustworthy.

Use clean typography — Certain styles of type read better in print than online, and vice versa. Because employers often ask that résumés be emailed, then print out a hard copy for use in a face-to-face interview, it makes sense to employ a type style that works well in both formats. Ariel, Times and Verdana best fit this purpose. And don’t cram information onto the page; leave room for white space to assure a fresh, inviting look.

When making a video résumé, dress as you would for the interview and use a background that lends itself to the theme of the position sought. For example, regarding writing and editing jobs, backgrounds that include books, magazines or other scholarly items add a formal, cerebral touch. Avoid using a plain white or monochrome background, as this can flatten a person’s appearance on camera.

Use clear language, avoid pronouns — Precise, polite English conveys professionalism; jargon and slang do not. Keep a dictionary and grammar guide close by. Steer clear of writing “I” or “me” because they are redundant in a document lacking any other characters. Use “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or any preferred title, if it is known. Include this courtesy in cover letters and contract bids.

An applicant’s demeanor matters, too, almost as much as proper language. A résumé that’s negative in tone or critical of former employers leaves the reader with a negative feeling about the applicant.

Use descriptive titles — Simply saying “writer,” or “editor,” or “manager” to describe yourself is not enough, as these terms mean different things to different people. A detailed title — end-user documentation writer, acquisitions editor, product development manager — suggests what tasks were involved in the role and paints an image in the employer’s mind.

Use bullet points — Long, gray blocks of type are boring and hard to read. Breaking out main tasks and talents in bulleted lists provides something for the eye to latch on to without searching.

Include specifics — As with titles, specifics are important when describing work history and personal goals related to the job sought. Emphasize achievements for each past position, expectations and aspirations for the new one. Tell an employer what you hope to bring to the job and how you may be able to solve problems related to it. If there are statistics that suit this purpose, include them.

Of course, effective use of detail requires research. Investigate the history of the employer or client before starting to write, and find out more about the job itself through a Google search, and previous or current employees if possible.

Edit with care — Nothing devalues résumés faster than poor spelling and poor grammar. Incorrect names and titles can land résumés into the trash, too. So, read through every word, every sentence, at least two or three times and check all facts, then find someone else to read over your work. Inaccuracies cut deep enough through an applicant’s professionalism to also mar one’s personal integrity. Leave prospective employers and clients thinking you’re invaluable, instead of indifferent.

David 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.

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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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Assignmint promises to change freelancing

There’s a new player in the marketplace promising to change the way freelance journalists do their jobs, and the results are supposed to be spectacular.

But so far, it’s only a promise.

Assignmint.com is the Web address for this ambitious operation and Jeff Koyen, a former New York Post writer, is the person said to be in charge of it. According to the early media buzz, Assignmint intends to consolidate all aspects of freelancing — from pitches to payment — in a cloud-sharing model designed to streamline the business in such a way that freelancers have more freedom to be productive.

The site and Koyen’s plan gained attention last week in articles by Fast Company and Mediabistro’s FishbowlLA. However, for now, the site itself only asks visitors to submit their email addresses if they want to be included in the limited beta release in June. Assignmint tentatively launches in a broader format later this year, and at least the basic memberships will be free, Koyen says.

Ideally, once registered with Assignmint, member freelancers can “filter and manage incoming pitches, issue assignments and then handle all related fulfillment (e.g. contracts and invoices) right from their dashboard,” Koyen explained in FishbowlLA. Assignmint is even expected to have features for matching freelancers with prospective clients.

Premium accounts meanwhile will have a broader selection of workflow and sharing tools, as well as advice on 1099 tax filing.

Assignmint is targeting writers and editors first, other media later. And if that relationship works as intended, the site will expand to include academia, and financial and IT services, among others, Koyen says.

Surely though the most interesting part about Assignmint will be its attempt to minimize hassle from payment collection. Assignmint proposes to act in the freelancer’s interest in exchange for a yet-to-be-determined service fee, sort of the way sites such as eBay and PayPal handle e-payments.

At least that’s the general idea. For now, however, Assigmint is like a story pitch that’s a long ways away from payout.

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

 

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Is there such a thing as ‘idea theft’?

Picture yourself in this situation, if you haven’t already: You’ve pitched a story idea to a newspaper, magazine or online editor, received a nod of acknowledgement either in person or by correspondence and words of praise but not commitment, was thanked for your input and then left with the impression the editor would get back to you for follow-up. Days, weeks, maybe months pass without that follow-up.

Then, forewarning aside, the same story idea turns up, in almost the identical context as your pitch, in the editor’s publication.

The first natural thought is, “That (insert your favorite insult here) stole my idea!” A grand display of teeth-gnashing, fist-clenching and floor-pacing follows, and soon after arises the notion to give that editor a piece of your mind.

But before you do, consider two things. First, if you intend to give someone a piece of your mind, remember to leave enough for yourself. And second, the likelihood that the editor “stole” your idea is indefensible and improbable.

The truth is, nobody “owns” a story idea. Those thoughts swirling around in our heads afford no collateral by themselves. We like to think they do because of the inspiration they give us and the biased belief that nobody else had them. But unless an idea is written down, it doesn’t technically exist. And even then, it must be copyrighted before the owner can pursue and expect compensation for theft.

When an “original” story idea winds up flowing from someone else’s pen or keyboard, a few factors probably came into play:

It wasn’t original — Across decades and thousands of publications, assorted story themes have been hashed and rehashed, with tweaks made here and color added there as freshener. Arguably, the idea you’re pitching took root the same way it did for another writer, and another writer before that. Inspiration takes many forms, one being the unanticipated reflection of another person’s inspiration.

Bad timing — Chances are, too, the publication had an idea much like yours on its calendar. Publications of all sorts stockpile ideas and schedule them well in advance to keep their production on track; your idea might have been on the docket or in process long before it became “your” idea.

Editor’s prerogative — Part of what editors do daily is determine the optimum bang for a publication’s buck, and that includes finding the best writers and reporters for particular story ideas. Experience, talent, resourcefulness, enterprise — these all factor highly when editors assign a story to one person instead of another. Bear in mind though, this does not imply greater general competence; rather, it points to specific competencies certain stories need to shine.

Lack of expertise — Along that line, for freelancers, this suggests they develop and hone special skills and have a “niche” they can call their own. An editor shopping a story idea on mutual funds or needlepoint, or seeking and editor who can easily clarify either story, will choose talent they know has better-than-average knowledge of those topics before tossing it up to the crowd. When making a pitch, prove not only the story idea’s value but yours as well.

Of course, not every editor or publication possesses sterling intent and unassailable character. Because ideas lack easy protection, it’s possible for editors to plumb for ideas after their dependable reserves of material dry up, or their motives are unmasked, but this is bound to bring them detrimental long-term results. The various publishing industries, whether print or electronic, are close-knit environments made tighter through the nation’s economic tumult over the past four years. That and the rise of social media have forged both direct and relational connections between writers and editors that were once unimaginable.

So basically, editors who lift others’ ideas too often risk their reputations and their jobs, an unwise tactic to take in a shrinking marketplace.

But to be sure, writers can employ tactics of their own against the concept of “idea theft”:

Research — Look into a publication’s background regarding freelance work. Learn the publication’s policies and practices, and try talking with other freelancers to see how they were treated. Above all, read through as many back issues as you can find, to see what ideas have been done and how they were presented.

Confidentiality — Ask editors to keep ideas confidential and extend the courtesy of a reply once they know whether to go with the story. No editor is obligated to do this, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. And if the pitch is submitted in print, clarify the confidentiality concern with a line or two making the same request. Furthermore, keep story sources out of written proposals where possible, if for no other reason than to protect their confidentiality as well.

Contact — Stay in touch with editors, but don’t hound them. A call, email or note after a couple of weeks to remind them you’re eager to get to work is OK. Maybe mention, too, that other editors have expressed interest in the story, but say this only in honesty. Don’t make allegations or claims that editors can verify but you can’t.

Patience — Most editors, no matter the publication, are swamped with offers and ideas amid their other work. Weeks may pass before they’re able to give a response. So, scrutinize the calendar and plan to give pitches well ahead of the events they address. Harried editors will appreciate it.

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

 

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Back to the Future: Advice for Those Who Hate the Whole Personal Branding Thing

By Carol Cole-Frowe

There’s so much advice out there these days about personal branding, also known as “Keeping Your Name Out There.”

You know what I’m talking about. You need to Facebook, Linked In, Google Plus, Pinterest, ad nauseum. Who has time for all that? I’m lucky if I can keep up with Facebook and play the occasional Words With Friends game with Alec Baldwin. Maybe update my website every other month if I’m lucky.

I get exhausted thinking about keeping up with all the social media sites, especially if you’re working crazy freelance hours and trying to have a decent family life. And when you’re freelancing –  trying to humor a few beloved pro bonos who think you can write their newsletter in no time flat? Every freelancer I know gets pitched at least once a month for pro bono. I don’t know about you, but I like to get paid when I write — except for when I don’t — and I prefer to choose those things, not have them choose me.

My advice is if you want to put yourself out there with the least amount of effort, I’d advise that you do these few things. First, I know what you’re saying. Gosh, Carol, I’ve never heard “get a website” before. But humor me for a minute. Here’s a couple of reasons you need these tools, and I’m just betting you don’t have one or you wouldn’t be reading this. In order of importance:

-       A Website is like leaving around a brochure about your wonderful self. It’s static, just sitting there working for you, and waiting for some lovely editor who’s interesting in reading your work. And then if it’s good, it will sell you while you’re napping. You can make one easily with GoDaddy.com,   FatCow.com or several other good hosting sites. I’m reasonably technologically challenged and I used FatCow and Drag and Drop Builder to build my website-work-in-progress at carolcolefrowe.com. And tracking my stats, I know a bunch of folks check it out. Categories to consider: About Me or Bio, Portfolio, Photography, Buzz, Blog, Contact Me. If I can do it, you can do it. Bare minimum — get a website.

-       List Yourself in the SPJ Freelancer Directory. It works.  In fact, I got a stringing job for the New York Daily News only yesterday from the Freelancer Directory that will pay my Society of Professional Journalists memberships for several years to come. List your new website on it.

-       Get Professional Business Cards. There are several sites on the web where you can get inexpensive business cards, like VistaPrint. Even better, see if you can trade out your favorite graphic designer some writing for their website for their talents on your’s. Or save up and get a really special individualized card. Make sure you note that you’re a SPJ member and your brand-spankin’-new website, mobile and fax if you have one.

-       Blog. I hear the collective groan from here. You don’t have to blog about stuff about your  job (unless your boss makes you.) Write about what you love, like hiking or recycling or gardening. Make it a habit to post at least once a week, then post the link on Facebook and Twitter (see below.) When I started seriously blogging at the first of this year about my gastric sleeve surgery and offering compatible recipes, I thought I was writing to myself for awhile, especially since I’m a newbie and still learning. Then all of a sudden I have thousands of visitors who’ve found me from several dozen countries including Russia, Brazil, India, Germany and Australia, and I was the most shocked person out there blogging. Then I monetized it and I’m actually making money writing a blog. Building it is easy and self-explanatory on WordPress or Blogger. Once again, pictures or graphics are key to keeping interest.

-       Suck It Up and Get on Facebook, minimum, even if you just use it to occasionally promote something your particularly interested in or your latest freelance article, book or blog. I’ve gotten freelancing jobs from people who wanted to find me and couldn’t figure out any other way than messaging me on Facebook. 160 million users? Not a bad potential audience. I recommend posting pictures, they’re the best point-of-entry into any article and that hasn’t changed. Folks love to look at pictures.

-       Twitter. I used to hate Twitter until I got the hang of it. It’s all in the hashtags, which is putting a number sign aka “#” in front of your key word, and you can find anything, complain about anything, reach out for any info, all in 140 characters. When I recently complained about an airline on Twitter, I got a personal letter apologizing for their “glitch.” Do I need to tell you to post pictures?

That’s the bare minimum for “Those Who Hate the Whole Personal Branding Thing.” Now go out and do it. In order.

What are your ideas for personal branding and marketing without sitting all day in front of your laptop?

Carol Cole-Frowe is a full-time independent journalist, based in Oklahoma and North Texas, and vice president of the Oklahoma Pro Chapter of SPJ. Her website is carolcolefrowe.com. Reach her on Twitter at @carolcolefrowe.

 

 

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Business Freelancers: Are You Using the Reynolds Center?

If you’re a business freelancer, then you’ll want to be sure to check out the Reynolds Center. It offers some great online resources as well as classes, some paid and some free. In addition, the Reynolds Center offers grants to apply for some its other programs. Here are a few items I found interesting during a recent visit:

Tumbler:  One of the Best Journalist Tools You’re NOT Using

Fellowship Opportunity:  Strictly Financials, Jan. 2 – 5, 2012

Journalism Job Listings

Self-Guided Training

 

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Freelance Opportunity: Assignment Work for AARP

Sylvia Smith, Features Editor for State News, AARP Bulletin is seeking freelancers to work on assignment in a number of states including AZ, CA, OR, WA, FL, GA, SC, TN, CO, TX, CT, MA, NY, MD, NC, NJ, PA, VA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, OH and WI.

AARP is not looking for story pitches, but rather writers who can work on assignment on pieces that are approximately 600 words. If you are located in one of the states noted, please send your resume and a couple of clips to Sylvia Smith via email.

 

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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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