By Holly Edgell | March 28th, 2012
Editor’s Note: Recently I’ve gotten quite a few questions from freelance journalists about the benefits of joining SPJ. I asked the Freelance Committee for a volunteer to provide some insights into how SPJ membership can benefit independent journalists, and Jeff Cutler stepped up with this great guest post!
Jeff is a social media journalist and content specialist based in Boston. He is an active member of the Society of Professional Journalists Freelance Committee. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jeffcutler. Check out his SPJ Freelance Directory listing!
You’re a freelance journalist. Your last meeting at the office was with the cat and you discussed the merits of her constant meowing while you were on the phone conducting interviews. The discussion was one-sided, but that’s frequently the case when your entire operation consists of a single writer taking on the world.
But there are ways to alleviate the solo nature of freelancing so you get all the perks of a larger enterprise without the infighting, politics, stolen lunches and soul-sucking meetings. Join an organization.
That’s right, join a group that supports your objectives and gives you resources that further your career connections and professional skillset. This isn’t supposed to be a poster telling you to “join the Army to see fun, faraway places.” It is a brief recount of how being an SPJ member has helped me – a career freelancer with 21 years pitching articles and columns to outlets all over the world.
There are the three things I get from my SPJ involvement. You will probably get more, but I believe even one of these factors gives you an upside for your annual $75 investment.
1. Sanity (or as sane people would say, a conduit to humanity)
That’s right. Talking to the cat really hasn’t provided me with more than a few article ideas. She’s reticent to contribute and seems to be more concerned with squirrels than she is with consumer affairs, the Tour de France or social media tools.
The connections SPJ provides online and in real life (conferences and regional/local meetings) allow me to understand that I’m not just writing from a lousy couch that’s adrift in the morass of rejected queries and occasional acceptance letters. These connections have become friends and colleagues – so I now have a network of folks in Louisville, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Austin, Florida, DC, Chicago and New York.
And this network is my new office. I bounce ideas off them, I share my experiences, I even plan to connect with them during my regular trips around the country. One of the best things about this network is that it includes staffers and freelancers, so I get a very real and balanced perspective about the state of the industry.
So, that’s the first of three things – Sanity – by way of real people.
2. Next, from SPJ membership I get money.
“Did he say money?”
“Does he mean real money? Was he lying about his sanity?”
Yes, MONEY. Let me tell you a story about the day I was sitting on the toilet and my phone rang. Seriously. On the other end of the line (of course I answered it) was a reporter from the New York Post.
We had a nice little chat and came to the conclusion that it was cost-effective and time-efficient for her to hire me to dash into Cambridge, MA to chase down a story on Eliot Spitzer.
The story was fantastic…I got to interview students at Harvard…I got a byline in the New York Post, yada yada yada. But none of this would have occurred if I hadn’t been an SPJ member…really.
The reporter from the post had gotten my name from the freelancer listings on the SPJ site and narrowed the list of potential journalists by proximity to Harvard University where Spitzer was scheduled to speak. She then made a few phone calls and decided on me because I had the flexibility and skill to do the story for her. That’s it.
Two lessons for you here… SPJ freelance listings get you money. Sometimes taking the phone to the bathroom pays off.
3. The third facet SPJ membership delivers to my quiver of tools is legitimacy.
That’s right. Imagine trying to get credentials for an event in an industry on which you’ve never reported. Think about gaining access to individuals without being able to drop names like the New York Times, NPR, and the Bloomington Herald. Ponder the thought of being allowed inside the police tape at an accident or crime scene.
None of that happens without legitimacy as a journalist. While I have worked 21 years to get some really good names on my list of publications, my connection to SPJ still helps me. Because at the end of the day, when you don’t have an assignment in hand from an editor, you’re just another person in the sea of other people who want to report on a story.
The lines of defense see you as a citizen reporter. They see you as a wannabe journalist. Until you show them your credentials. And without an on-staff gig at an outlet, the next best thing is an affiliation with the most prominent journalism organization in the known universe – SPJ.
Show your card, share your past coverage, explain your goals…then you’re inside the tape, in the green room, speaking face-to-face with celebrities, local officials, victims. SPJ has your back – and as a freelancer, that’s one of the most valuable things you can have when looking for immediate access to a story.
SPJ levels the playing field so both you and the staff reporter start at the same spot, with the same access. The rest is up to you.
Ultimately, if you’re a freelancer working remotely, you’re spending more on heat and A/C letting the cat in and out of your house repeatedly through the workday. Take $75 and look at membership in SPJ.
I wouldn’t trade being a freelancer for anything in the world. But when there are rough spots, my membership in SPJ helps smooth things out and makes me feel like I belong in this crazy world where we’ve chosen to work.
More SPJ info and resources:
- The Freelance Committee. Contact Chair Dana Neuts: email@example.com
- Training and regional spring conferences
- The Independent Journalist blog
- The Job Bank
- Excellence in Journalism national conference (EIJ 2012)
Questions about membership? Drop me a line! firstname.lastname@example.org