How to make your chapter more freelancer-friendly

Guest blogger: Adina Solomon

When I started thinking about journalism as a high school student, I pictured a staff job. Who didn’t? Maybe I could write bold features for a magazine or report for a metro newspaper.

Based on my conversations with non-journalists, that’s still the picture a lot of people have when they think of a journalist. But we know the truth: More and more of us freelance, untethered from a publication (and company-provided health care).

So if your SPJ chapter doesn’t have programming with freelancers in mind, you’re missing out on a large segment of the journalist population.

I held editor positions at several trade magazines, but after those, I ended up in a corporate content job for the stable hours and pay. But journalism had seeped into my soul. While I worked at the corporate job, I started freelancing part-time, making the leap to full-time freelancing in March 2017. I now lead SPJ Georgia’s freelance committee, where we focus on creating value for (who else?) freelancers.

Besides helping your freelance members, having this type of targeted programming can help invigorate your chapter. Freelancers often don’t have coworkers to commiserate with, so they are more apt than staffers to attend social events. Freelancers also don’t have an employer or coworkers helping with continued learning, so they are interested in opportunities to gain new skills.

Here are some events that we’ve had at SPJ Georgia this year:

  • Freelance job fair: Inspired by a similar event from SPJ Florida, this is our biggest event of the year. Freelancers sit down one on one with Atlanta editors in 10-minute increments to meet each other, then talk and pitch, if they’d like. Simultaneously, we have learning sessions. This year, we invited experts to talk about freelance taxes, social media and business planning, which freelancers could attend while they waited for their editor appointments. We held our second annual job fair in August.
  • Best Case/Worst Case photography: Freelance photojournalist Kevin D. Liles spoke to an audience of mostly writers about two different cases that freelancers often face when it comes to photos for a story. One is the best-case scenario: A freelancer writes a story and the publication provides a photojournalist. How do you have a productive conversation with them in order to get the best possible visuals? Liles also talked about the worst-case scenario: A freelancer writes a story and must take photos themselves. Liles went over tips on how to take a basic portrait of someone. We held this event in January, and it turned out to be a thoughtful discussion. (By popular demand, Liles even repeated the event a few more times.)
  • Monthly lunches: Based on a similar event from the SPJ D.C. chapter, we have casual lunches for freelancers in a different Atlanta restaurant every month. There’s no programming or RSVPs. We just pick a day, time, and place and announce the event. It’s open to anyone who wants to attend, member or not, and people pay their own way for lunch. This is a casual setting to talk with fellow freelancers. It can get lonely out there, so these lunches give us a chance to socialize.

These events and gatherings have worked for our chapter. If you want to copy any of them, we’re happy to answer questions. I also encourage you to design your own programming. Talk with freelancers in your area to find out their needs and how you can address them.

Remember that not every freelancer is full-time. Many people who work a staff journalism job – or a job outside of journalism – freelance on the side. This opens another segment of SPJ members who can benefit from freelance-specific programming.

Many freelancers don’t have coworkers, so we must seek out opportunities to network, socialize, or just find someone who can read over a pitch email. We have a vested interest in making connections. So don’t overlook freelancers. Not only are their numbers growing, but they could be some of your most engaged membership.

Atlanta-based freelance journalist Adina Solomon is chair of the SPJ Georgia Freelance Committee. Her work has been published in outlets including The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, The Atlantic‘s CityLab, and The Bitter Southerner. You can see her work at adinasolomon.com.


Will Ebony settlement be ‘start of something big’ for freelancers?

Hazel Becker

Hazel Becker is resources coordinator for the SPJ Freelance Community.

The news that 45 freelance journalists will receive their fees for unpaid work published by Ebony magazine is more than welcome – it’s cheer-worthy! Hats off to the National Writers Union (NWU) and to the freelance writers, editors and designers who will receive 100 percent of their owed invoices to settle their claims against the publisher.

On Feb. 27, the Chicago Tribune broke news of the settlement, reporting that the agreement calls for the magazine’s owner, CVG Group, to guarantee payment even if financially strapped Ebony Media declares bankruptcy. The agreement settles a lawsuit the union filed in September 2017 on behalf of more than 50 freelancers, including six writers who settled for about $8,000 before the agreement was reached.

For these and other unpaid independent journalists, this settlement represents a start in addressing the problem we all face when we contract in good faith with publishers and broadcast outlets who, for whatever reason, don’t honor our invoices after using our work. The problem seems to have grown over the last few years as clients are cutting their freelance budgets and rates – effectively bringing the sustainability of freelance journalism further into doubt.

But is it, as the old Steve Allen song goes, the “start of something big” – a real change in how independent journalists are viewed and treated within the journalism world? That remains to be seen.

In a press release about the Ebony agreement, the NWU mentioned it is working on other cases. In fact, the union has settled a non-payment grievance filed against science magazine Nautilus. Also, the union is representing six writers who are owed more than $20,000 by Uptown magazine, which publishes city-specific editions in Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. The owner, Uptown Media Group LLC, based in New York, is under the jurisdiction of the Freelance Isn’t Free Act that came into effect last year.

Both of these grievances were initiated after the Ebony lawsuit was filed, when freelance journalists with unpaid invoices from the two publishers approached the NWU about their situations. Union president Larry Goldbetter told the Trib: “We consider it a pretty good outcome, even though it was totally senseless to have to go through all of this.”

Senseless, indeed. Freelance journalists agree in good faith to work for news and feature outlets with the expectation that they will keep up their end of the deal: pay our invoices on the schedule agreed.

Having to chase clients for our pay, let alone file a grievance or lawsuit, should not be expected of freelancers. So yes, the settlement is a first step. But until publishers and editors treat freelancers as partners in producing good journalism, it will be only a step. There’s still much work to be done.


Searching for a path out of the margins in 2018

At the end of a year serving as chair of the SPJ Freelance Community I’m excited to return to the role I filled previously: coordinating the Community’s efforts to provide resources to help independent reporters, editors and producers succeed in today’s journalism industry. I believe freelancers can play a bigger role in the industry in the future, but only if we find ways to succeed as business people and step out of journalism’s margins, into the center of the news and information publishing world.

To be sure, individual freelancers have made their way onto some journalism outlets’ “contributing” editor or writer lists and into six-figure careers as independent journalists. In my mind, however, there is no question that freelancers, as a group, operate in the margins of the news business.

The vast majority of us struggle to make our place in an industry that has eliminated thousands of jobs, laid us off and used our new status as independent, unaffiliated workers to pay less for the same work we did as employees. Editors, publishers and producers cannibalize our pitches and stories, make us chase after our money (sometimes even to the courtroom), subject us to sexual harassment just as they do staff writers, send us on hazardous assignments without offering protections they provide to staff workers and, all too often, ignore our emails and phone calls seeking answers to simple questions about our work for them.

Finding our way out of the margins won’t be easy. It will require recognition by major industry stakeholders that we serve an increasing share of publishers’ needs for the high-quality content they previously paid staff workers to produce – even though acknowledging this reality will mean they have to pay us higher fees.

I believe the SPJ Freelance Community has a role to play, as we continue to build a set of resources to help independent journalists thrive.

The Freelance Community’s reach has grown this year, with membership in our Facebook group nearing 900 and our Twitter feed @SPJFreelance topping 2,300 followers. We’ve redesigned our hub on SPJ.org, updated our Freelancer Directory to make it more current, offered training and networking sessions at Excellence in Journalism 2017 and online, and provided opportunities for freelance journalists to discuss the most important issues we face in our businesses.

I’m pleased to have been part of that effort and look forward to helping SPJ expand the tools and resources it offers freelance journalists in 2018. I hope you’ll join us in the new year.


Freelance Community Annual Elections!

Hello Freelancers … Got any ideas for how to make the Freelance Community better? Join our board!

Annual elections are coming up, and we’d love to get new folks involved. Anyone who is a member of SPJ and the Freelance Community is encouraged to run for any of the following positions. Nominations are due Tuesday, Nov. 21. 

POSITIONS

Chair – serves as liaison with SPJ Board, staff, committees and chapters as needed; responds to questions from freelancers; with other Board members, coordinates activities of the Community throughout the year

Vice-Chair – assists and stands in for the Chair as needed; other duties as assigned

Secretary – coordinates submissions to the Quill magazine and the Independent Journalist blog; keeps notes of the Community’s annual meeting and periodic board meetings

Membership chair – welcomes new members; plans membership campaigns and retention efforts; serves as liaison with the national SPJ Membership Committee

Events chair – coordinates and plans online events throughout the year; leads the Community’s suggestions for training sessions at EIJ

Resources chair – edits and updates On Your Own: A Guide to Freelance Journalism; works with SPJ staff to update and improve the Community’s hub on spj.org, including the Freelancer Directory; creates and maintains other freelancer resources

At-large directors (2) – monitors and maintains the Community’s social media platforms on Facebook and Twitter; other duties as agreed

If you want to run for one of these positions or if you’d like more information, please email the current chair, Hazel Becker, at hazel@hazelbecker.com so she can let the SPJ headquarters staff know of your interest. You must be an SPJ member and a Freelance Community member (no extra charge) in good standing in order to serve on the board or vote in the election.

NOTE: If you’re not sure whether you’re officially a member of the Freelance Community, don’t let that stop you from expressing your interest in running for the board. As long as you’re a current member of SPJ, we can get that rectified easily, and there’s no extra charge.

Nominations are due this Tuesday, Nov. 21, so don’t delay!

I have found that it feels really good to give back to the community where I found support and valuable resources as I started my freelance career three years ago. It’s also been a great way to connect on a deeper level with other freelancers and share the satisfaction of getting good work done in the world.

I hope you’ll consider chipping in, too!

– Hilary Niles, secretary 


Freelancers Unite: Sessions for Independent Journalists at #EIJ17

The annual Excellence in Journalism conference commences Thursday in Anaheim, and I’m thrilled to say there are six (6!) sessions of special interest to freelancers, described below. (You can also find these descriptions, as well as links to speaker/panelist bios, on the EIJ Programs page.)

Additionally, the SPJ Freelance Community will host a “Freelancers’ Corner” table in the main hall of the conference on Thursday and Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Please stop by to say hi, fill us in on what you’re up to, and learn more about (or give us new ideas!) how the Freelance Community can support you.

EIJ is a bilingual, multimedia conference for journalists in any medium, with many sessions to be presented in Spanish. The conference is a collaboration among SPJ, the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ).

THE SESSIONS

 

2 specifically for freelance journalists

 

Time Is Money: The Art Of Retelling And Reselling Stories

Friday, 10:30-11:30 a.m.

Do you want your hard work to pay off? Learn ways to make your research, interviewing and writing efforts do double duty. Independent journalists who know how to resell stories and reuse their research will show freelancers how to work more efficiently by finding new markets for published stories — to keep the pipeline full in slow times, and to boost earning power all year long.

Trainers: Stephenie Overman (@saoverman), independent journalist; Hazel Becker, independent journalist; Roberta Wax (@RobiWax), independent journalist

 
Yes, You Can: Investigative Reporting As A Freelancer

Saturday, 9-10 a.m.

Some say it can’t be done; this session proves them wrong. Others don’t know where to start; this session shows the way. We’ll dissect stories of experienced investigative journalists to reveal their techniques for gaining access, navigating legal complexities and funding investigative work without the level of newsroom support that comes with a staff position. We’ll give ample time for audience questions, which attendees are encouraged to send in advance to eij@nilesmedia.com. It will be relevant for new and experienced journalists and freelancers alike. You may pick up investigative techniques, but PLEASE NOTE: This is not a session about how to conduct investigative reporting. We’ll focus on how to do investigative reporting *as* a freelancer.

Trainers: Claire Martin (@clairecmartin), independent journalist and journalism professor; Debra Krol (@Debkrol) independent journalist on the Native American beat; and Jason Leopold (@JasonLeopold), former freelancer and now senior investigative reporter with BuzzFeed News investigations team

 

1 that’s super relevant for freelance journalists

 

Why You Need A Platform And How To Create One

Thursday, 1-2 p.m.

As the compensation model for working journalists continues to shift from salary and work made for hire agreements, to compensation that’s largely based on online metrics, so too must our approach to getting paid. Forget what you think you know about promoting yourself. It’s time to platform! The simple fact of the matter is more publishers are demanding that you become a brand unto yourself, and there’s no better way to be seen and heard than through the building and proper feeding of your own platform.

Trainers: Mikal Belicove (@belicove), author and journalist; Robyn Davis Sekula (@itsRobynwithay), consultant and writer

 

2 that feature freelance journalists

 

Covering Protests: Advocacy vs. Objectivity In Indian Country

Saturday, 10:30-11:30 a.m.

Join NAJA members for an interactive discussion on how to navigate coverage of protests in Indian Country, including what to do if you’re in a situation where law enforcement is less discerning in upholding First Amendment protections. Learn about your rights and the limitations you have as a journalist in covering Native communities through examples such as the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Speakers: Jenni Monet (@jennimonet), independent journalist; Tristan Ahtone (@tahtone), freelance journalist; Chiara Sottile (@CASottile), reporter, NBC News

 

Covering Violence Against Native Women And Children

Thursday, 2:30-3:30 p.m.

How does telling the story of violence against Native women and children help strengthen tribal sovereignty? What are the barriers to justice and safety for victim-survivors of abuse? Media play a critical role in telling the story of domestic violence and sexual assault in tribal communities. Journalists can help shed light on the devastating fact that millions of Native women, men and children in this country are directly experiencing physical, sexual, mental, emotional abuse and threats of violence in their intimate relationships. Learn about the importance of providing historical context in news stories, understanding the jurisdictional loopholes at the federal, state and tribal level, and get the latest data, tools and best practices for covering these sensitive topics. We’ll explore what resources exist for Native victim-survivors, including the StrongHearts Native Helpline, a new culturally-appropriate domestic violence and dating violence helpline for American Indians and Alaska Natives that launched in 2017.

Speakers: Princella RedCorn (@15Princella), communications officer, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center & Documentary Producer; Mallory Black (@mblack47), communications manager, StrongHearts Native Helpline & freelance writer; Mary Hudetz (@marymhudetz), criminal justice reporter, Associated Press

 

Plus 1, just in case it’s right for you

 

Career Transition: Moving From Newsroom To Classroom

Friday, 9-10 a.m.

The switch from full-time staff or freelance journalist to teaching can be a tough one especially for those without a deep background in journalism education. We’ll help you understand how community colleges, state schools and private universities hire adjuncts and full time professors. We’ll also set out the skills you need to be a successful educator as you create syllabi and rubrics, navigate contracts and manage students.

Speakers: Laura Castañeda (@lauracastaneda), professor of professional practice, USC Annenberg; Brooke Van Dam (@brookevandam), associate professor and faculty director of the MPS in Journalism, Georgetown; Allissa Richardson (@DrAlliRich), assistant professor, USC Annenberg; Henry Fuhrmann (@hfuhrmann), adjunct nstructor, USC Annenberg; Tim Posada (@timposada), journalism chair, Saddleback College

 

And it’s not too early …

 

… to think about next year’s conference. What freelance sessions would you like to see — or produce, or contribute to as a panelist or speaker? The deadline for proposing sessions is mid-January, so it helps to get a jump on the brainstorming now.

Last year, the Freelance Community started by crowd-sourcing ideas for sessions, then consolidating those into a handful potential sessions. Based on an informal poll of the community, we found volunteers to take the lead on a few of the higher-ranking session ideas, and of those proposals, two were accepted.

Maybe next year, one of them will be yours!

Please contact Freelance Community Chair Hazel Becker or Secretary Hilary Niles with your thoughts. And be sure to connect with @spjfreelance on Twitter, where you can also follow the conference through the hashtag #EIJ17

 


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.


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.


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.


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.


Georgia SPJ’s freelance board on the rise with new chair

2016-08-03_18.30.29Guest blogger: Rebekah Fuchko

As all freelance journalists know, there is something they need in spades in order to be successful: a strong passion for what they do. Freelance journalism has its challenges, so you have got to be able to stick it out. That being said, the rewards can be great, and the freedom it gives you is appealing to many. Mark Woolsey, the new chair for the Society of Professional Journalists Georgia chapter freelance committee, has a lot of experience in this area.

Mark started out in radio after graduating in 1976 with a degree in radio-television from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. A few years later, he received a writing opportunity from a new, local magazine. Mark loves working in radio, but after seeing a hard copy of his work, complete with a byline, he was hooked. Since then, he has been an avid freelancer, but mostly as a sidebar to his main job as an anchor/reporter for iHeartMedia in Atlanta. Like many, Mark enjoys freelancing because he is not beholden to one employer, and he is able to keep his style fresh by writing many different kinds of pieces. In addition, he can work from home in his bathrobe! However, we all know freelancing is not easy. You have to worry about setting aside time to prospect other freelancing opportunities, and as a contract employee, you don’t have benefits. Needless to say, it can be a tough road for freelancers. That’s why Mark, as the new chair for Georgia SPJ’s freelance committee, is working hard to broaden the opportunities for all freelance journalists.

Mark

Mark has been involved with SPJ for a while now. He even served on the board for the Fort Worth pro chapter back in the 1990s. As a member of SPJ, Mark has reaped many benefits. Some of these benefits include networking with fellow freelancers, as well as the opportunity to hone his organization and planning skills. Mark said he really learned the ins-and-outs of doing meeting planning, and is able to continually make great connections. Two lasting connections he has made, through SPJ, include a freelancer for the the AJC, as well as a former CNN staffer who freelances on various television projects.

Mark is new to his position as chair for the Georgia SPJ freelance committee, but so far he’s worked hard to put together panels, worked on blog posts for the group, and contributed to the SPJ freelancers Facebook page. Mark plans to act as a guide, and a resource to, both old and new, SPJ members who are involved with freelancing. Georgia SPJ’s freelance committee offers a multitude of networking opportunities with fellow freelancers, as well as tips on upcoming jobs and projects. With Mark’s help, the chapter’s freelance committee is working on developing programming and resources to help freelancers become more successful. Mark hopes to help the chapter freelance committee become a “clearinghouse,” of sorts, for as many freelance journalists as possible. Becoming a member of SPJ opens you up to a multitude of networking and learning opportunities, as well as informative panels, which can go a long way in helping you to polish your skills.

With Mark at the lead, the Georgia SPJ freelance committee is working hard to become the number one go-to option for freelancers in search of support. You have much to gain, and nothing to lose, as a member of SPJ, and freelancers need all the opportunities they can get. So, if you are not a member of SPJ already, you should strongly consider becoming one, and checking out the freelance committee, because the opportunities it will open up for you can be plentiful.

Rebekah Fuchko is a senior journalism major at Kennesaw State University with plans to graduate in December 2017. She is an active member of the Society of Professional Journalists as president for the Kennesaw State University chapter, and as a student board member for the Georgia chapter. Rebekah has always had a passion for reading, which led to a profound respect for the written word. Now, she loves to write, and it is through writing that she discovered her truest passion, in editing. Her Twitter handle is @Rfuchko.


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