The risks and rewards of meaningful freelance journalism

cirienGuest blogger: Cirien Saadeh

I recently made the decision to become a full-time freelance journalist after several years of working as a part-time community journalist. Despite having been lucky enough to work in newsrooms in the past, serve on the board of directors of other organizations, and assistant teach journalism classes on the college-level, I’ve always felt like an aspiring journalist. Journalism is something I grew up wanting to do, something I imagined as a young girl, and something I’m so very excited about now.

In May of this year, I was able to publish my first investigative piece, an in-depth look at the decisions being made to close Minneapolis’ last public housing complex, with the Twin Cities Daily Planet (TCDP). I do not think I have ever been so scared by an article I was working on before. The writing process really shook my confidence in my capacity to do this work and I remained nervous about the article for nearly two days after publishing it. I was worried that I missed something, having gone through hundreds of emails and meeting minutes and reports from the city government and local public housing unit. I was worried I misunderstood the residents’ struggle. I wanted to make sure that what I had written was accurate and factual, even as I tried to amplify the residents’ voices as a marginalized community. It was not until I started getting feedback on the article that I realized it was A) good journalism and B) important to the community members who felt their voices were being heard in the news for the first time.

It was an incredibly powerful experience to feel that the work I had done as a journalist was meaningful and helped to deepen the conversation about housing justice in the Twin Cities. That is not to say I now feel prepared for this freelance journey, but I feel like both the risks and the rewards are worth the fear, anxiety, and challenges I know I will face, if only just because of this experience.

As someone truly neurotic, I decided that even as I continued building my journalism portfolio and developing my networks, I wanted to also spend as much time as possible planning for a career as a freelance journalist and learning everything I need to know about this work. I’ve built freelancing into my Ph.D. studies at Arizona’s Prescott College and am trying to learn from so many of the journalists out there. That’s why I chose to join the Society of Professional Journalists — and I will gladly let you know how thrilled I was to be able to join, to be able to call myself a professional journalist.

And that’s not to say I’m as green as springtime grass. I’m not. I know the field is in flux, that the financial viability and sustainability of newsrooms is a challenge, that distrust of the news is at an all-time high and funding (particularly for nonprofit newsrooms) is a challenge. I know the field is changing in both expected and unexpected ways, but I’m still throwing my hat in the independent journalism ring. I’m excited to learn from all of you fellow freelance journalists.

I appreciate the independent and autonomy freelance journalism offers me, the ability to pursue stories I feel are being underreported, the ability to keep going deeper with my reporting, the ability to use this responsibility in the service of others and work for justice. I am looking forward to all the learning I have to do and all the reporting I get to do.

Cirien Saadeh is a freelance journalist as well as a student in Prescott College’s Sustainability Education program in Arizona. As a Ph.D. student, Saadeh develops community-based journalism curriculum, for low-income communities of color, and is also developing a cooperative journalism model based in those communities. Professionally and academically, her work focuses on the intersections between journalism and social movements. You can find her at and on Twitter at

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