Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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 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.

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

Seven Ways to Fight the Freelance Funk

Fall portrait. - Version 3

Guest blogger: Susan Valot 

Every once in a while, you may find yourself in a freelance funk.

Maybe your personal life just imploded and work seems secondary.

Maybe you just lost a regular client and you’re not sure what to do, so you cool your heels for a bit.

Maybe you have too many looming deadlines, which sends you into a deer-in-the-headlights procrastination mode, where you end up cleaning your bathroom and your kitchen and your neighbor’s yard — anything but working on what needs to be done.

So what can you do to pull yourself out of the freelance funk?  Here are seven possibilities:

1) Use the kitchen timer method. Set a timer for 45 minutes and use that time to work on what you need to get done.  No Facebook.  No Twitter.  No house-cleaning distractions.  Simply put your head down and work.  When the 45 minutes is up, set the timer for 15 minutes and do whatever you want.  Then back to 45 minutes of working.

2) If procrastination is your fiend, then try stepping away from your house. Go work someplace else.  Try a coffee shop or even a local park.  Sometimes changing locations can help you focus.

3) If you’ve lost a client, set aside time each day to pitch new clients. Come up with ideas and then focus on finding new outlets that you can work for.  The Writer’s Market has always been a great resource for looking up outlets, what they take freelance-wise and whom to contact.  A Google search can also turn up potential outlets.  But the key is setting aside the time and actually doing the pitching.

4) Diversification has always been the key to being a successful freelancer. If you’re looking to build your freelance business, do some research and find some outlets you’d like to work for.  Look at what kinds of stories they publish.  Try to find out how much they pay.  Then narrow in your pitches on stories they might like.

5) If you are REALLY in a freelance funk and you don’t have regular gigs, then make sure you set work times. Maybe you like an 8am to 5pm schedule.  Maybe you’re a night owl and 12pm to 8pm is a better fit.  Whatever you choose, try to stick to a schedule.  If you want to go for a run or finish some errands in the afternoon, schedule it into your day but add on the time at the end of your work day so you can somewhat keep your schedule, in a freelancer kind of way.

6) Find freelance support. You can find the SPJ Freelance community on Facebook, where you can online “mingle” with other freelancers, asking questions and getting involved in conversations.  There are other freelance groups around, as well.  Maybe your local SPJ chapter is having a meet-up.  Go mingle and find other freelance folks.  We can help each other to stay on track.  If you are looking for more tips on freelancing, follow the @SPJFreelance on Twitter for a curated feed.

7) Remember that freelancing has ups and downs. As freelancers, we all experience times when we say, “This is great!  I love my life!” and then other times when we say, “There is no way you can live and survive as a freelancer.”  Remember why you came to freelancing.  It gives you the freedom to be your own boss.  It gives you the freedom to schedule your work around your life.  It gives you the freedom to play every single position on a journalism team.  When times are tough, remember it’s only temporary and with a little bit of determination, you can make it through.

Susan Valot is a public radio reporter and an adjunct professor in the Los Angeles area.  Valot has been freelancing full-time for the past five years.  She regularly contributes to KQED’s “The California Report,” NPR’s “Only A Game” and other outlets.  You can reach her via Twitter @susanvalot.

Paralyzed at that networking mixer? You’re not alone

Michelle_Donahue (1)Guest blogger: Michelle Z. Donahue

As a freelancer, I’m pretty much the epitome of the reclusive gnome: I occasionally emerge from my home office, blinking in the light, to sample the fresh air outside and exchange actual spoken words with people instead of e-mailing them. Recently, this has even included going to several networking mixers for associations I’ve joined, which involved putting on reasonably nice clothes and a healthy cloak of courage.

It’s not that I don’t like people — I love having a great conversation. I mean, I’m a journalist, and I’m always down for a juicy story. But put me in a room full of people with nametags and an expectation to schmooze, and I seize up.

What I imagine will happen: link up with an editor I really admire and learn what they’re looking for in a pitch. What actually happens: Room-cruising sharks end up glomming onto me, a very hit-or-miss approach for having a good time.

So how do you make the best of one of these networking events when you don’t get out much to begin with, let alone put your best foot forward?

For starters, definitely don’t avoid the mixers. I doubt any freelancer would debate the importance of a healthy network, especially given the outsized role that online social networks now play in modern life. Those in-person connections are more valuable now than ever. Fortunately, there are people happy to advise hapless hacks like me, and I tracked one down at Poynter, a place where folks are in the habit of helping journalists do their jobs better.

Described by his colleagues as one of the most socially capable people around the office, Ren LaForme not only helps organize events, but formed a group that meets monthly in Tampa Bay with the express purpose of connecting journalists with digital designers and developers. During work hours, he builds Poynter’s online education courses.

“Meeting a person face-to-face is still the best way to accomplish anything,” LaForme says. “And I say that as a person who does e-learning for a living.”

Here are a few other tips LaForme offered that might help you have a great conversation at your next mixer, even as you ponder rapidly draining your wine glass in panic.

Set small goals. Before you even show up, decide what you want to get out of the event. Make a goal to talk to a set number of people—say, three or four—and then you can leave, or just hang out by the bar and see what happens. “But try not to attach yourself to the hors d’oeuvres for too long,” LaForme says.

Icebreakers work. When LaForme walked into his 10-year high school reunion, he found everyone converged at the bar near the door, glued to a spouse or friend. Finishing his drink, he approached a classmate and dropped a line he ended up repeating all night: “This whole thing is awkward and super weird, right?” Tapping into an unspoken observation can help defuse the tension of the setting, and allow for more natural conversation to flow. “Don’t be afraid to milk it for what it’s worth,” LaForme says.

Practice some boilerplate. I try to head off talking about myself by asking tons of questions, but also because I tend to be genuinely interested in other people’s success. But the inevitable question comes: so what do you do? “Be ready to answer with a story about an article you enjoyed writing, an interview you really enjoyed or a particularly great time you had working with an editor,” LaForme advises. “It’s less about trying to fit what you do into what they do, but showing what you’re into.”

The audience is rooting for you. We can’t all be Robert Downey, Jr.-smooth, but sometimes there’s no way to slide into a conversation than to gently butt in, possibly by asking a question or contributing a point under discussion. “The secret is that those people who are all talking together are really happy to have someone to talk to, and don’t have to butt in,” LaForme says. “But they want you to succeed. Come in with confidence, and contribute as fast as possible.”

Don’t curb your enthusiasm. If you really want to wow that editor, show them you care about what you do and be ready to draw upon subjects that excite you. “Editors are looking less for topics, and more for passion,” LaForme says. Asking lots of questions never hurts, either—it demonstrates that you’re an expert listener.

Everyone is on edge. That’s the big secret: most people at networking events are probably queasy, too. It just goes against instinct to shoehorn a connection, and Wi-Fi just isn’t reliable enough to Google-stalk everyone you’re about to talk to. “I’m uncomfortable every time I go,” LaForme says. “But it’s provided me with so many great career tips and moves that I just try to push that aside and have a good time.”

Michelle Z. Donahue is a Maryland-based science and technology freelancer who thinks that writing third-person bios is almost as tough as jumping into a conversation already in progress. She has written about robotic scooters for babies, dogs that hunt for whale poop, and coffee brewing in space for outlets including Smithsonian and Popular Science. Follow her on Twitter at @MZDonahue. 

7 Things Every Freelance Journalist Should Know

DSC_0308Guest blogger: Sara Suleiman, Esq. 

1. DO Understand the Core Concepts of Copyright Law 

The legal definition of a copyright is a form of protection for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Simply put, copyrights deal with movies, music, books, and…articles! Although there are certain legal benefits to officially registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, registration is by no means required. In fact, copyright protection automatically begins from the moment your work is even created, for both published and unpublished work.

It is particularly important for journalists to understand that copyright protection does not extend to ideas. This means that the specific expression of your idea is copyrightable (the pitch letter or the article itself), but the ideas and concepts within those expressions are not.

2. DON’T Pitch Specifics 

The crux of the matter then becomes how freelancers can pitch a story with enough substance for an editor to recognize as a potential article, while also not revealing so much information that the editor or publisher will just write the article on its own. As a starting point, try placing more emphasis on explaining the angle, timeliness, and relevance of the story, instead of explaining the details of the article itself. Or describe the type of sources you propose to use, instead of providing their actual names. Include just enough for the editor to be intrigued; or, if it is a really hot story, promise to disclose the remaining details once a deal is in place.

3. DO Consider a Non-Disclosure Agreement 

Use your judgment here, but if your pitch or idea is valuable enough to you, consider asking the publisher to sign a non-disclosure agreement. In short, a non-disclosure agreement (also known as an NDA) is simply a binding agreement between two parties in which one or both parties agree not to disclose certain confidential information. Companies often use NDAs during the preliminary stages of a potential business relationship, which could involve the exchange of sensitive company information like trade secrets. Along similar lines, journalists can use NDAs to their advantage to protect their pitches during their preliminary discussions with the publisher.

Note that parties are often reluctant to sign NDAs, especially when the agreements contain many complicated provisions. As a freelancer, insisting on the signing of an NDA could mean that the publisher will refuse to work with you. Oftentimes, large publishing companies have legal departments that would need to review the NDA and so editors would rather move on to the next freelancer on their list rather than deal with another legal document. The disparity in bargaining power is an unfortunate reality, but it is up to the journalist to decide how far he or she is willing to go to protect the pitch.

4. DO Have a Contract in Place

Other than an NDA, it is extremely rare to have a written contract in place at the time of the pitch. However, after the publisher accepts your pitch, but before you begin work on the article, it is important for both parties to be on the same page early on regarding what exactly has been agreed on.

Sometimes, the extent of the “contract” is simply an e-mail agreement confirming that the freelancer is doing a certain amount of work, completed by a certain date, for a particular price. Other times, publishers will give freelancers onerous boilerplate contracts that contain so many provisions that the freelancer may be tempted to not even read it. READ THE CONTRACT! These contracts are typically one-sided, drafted to suit the needs of the publisher and rarely the needs of the freelancer. Where possible, mark-up the contract with your proposed changes. Odds are that the publisher will push back on many of the changes, but as a journalist bringing something to the table, you should at least try to defend your protectable interests.

5. DO Retain Copyright in the Article

If you are not sure what to look for in the contract, I’d recommend consulting with an attorney. After all, despite the vast difference in bargaining power between a freelance journalist and a large media conglomerate, journalists are nevertheless educated, competent professionals who have the ability to read and comprehend a contract. Even if the contract contained arguably unfair provisions, a court could find that the journalist knowingly entered into the agreement and that it is an enforceable contract.

That said, if you are confident in your contract negotiating abilities, I’ll point out a few important provisions to be aware of.

Pay particular attention to who would own the copyright in the article. As a freelancer, you should ideally try to retain the copyright in the article.  Instead, just grant the publisher limited rights to use your copyrighted work. This way you can re-publish the article as your own, and you can have control over whether the article is used in other media or derivative works in the future.

Copyrights are typically owned by the individual who created the work of expression, or in this case, the freelancer who wrote the article. However, if it was a “work-for-hire”, then the copyright would vest in the entity for which the article was written, effectively stripping the freelancer of its control. In other words, the publisher would own the copyright. If there is a “work-for-hire” clause in your agreement, ask yourself whether this is acceptable to you.

6. DON’T Accept Indemnity Clauses

An indemnity clause more-or-less states:

“You herby agree to fully indemnify the publisher from any and all claims, demands, and liabilities (including attorneys fees) resulting from your article.”

Understand the implications of a freelancer agreeing to such a clause. This essentially means that if you have unintentionally included, for example, a defamatory statement or inaccurate facts, in your article, and a lawsuit is then filed against the publisher, you are promising to bear all the blame and costs associated with such lawsuit. This, if agreed to, has the potential to cripple the freelancer.

In actuality, if a sub-editor is altering or removing certain material, context or attribution from the article that the freelancer has prepared, it is the freelancer who should insist on the opposite – that the publisher will indemnify the freelancer from all related claims, etc. If the publisher agrees to this request, make sure that you have confirmed the agreement in writing.

Another option to help protect freelancers from indemnification clauses is to set up a business entity. This way, it is the business entity that is entering into the contract with the publisher, as opposed to the freelancer in its individual capacity. Establishing a business structure like a limited liability corporation (LLC), for example, can help absorb the business debts and liability into the corporation so that the freelancer is not held personally responsible for related costs.

7. DO Include the Copyright Symbol

Although a copyright symbol isn’t legally required to protect your work, place the © symbol in the footer of your article for emphasis, so as to clearly put others on notice that the article is in fact copyrighted. You can further expand on your copyright notice by including additional information next to the copyright symbol, such as the year the work was created and the name of the copyright owner.

© 2016 Sara Suleiman

The information in this post is for general information purposes only. Nothing in this post should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

Sara Suleiman is an intellectual property attorney and freelance journalist based in Chicago, Illinois. She studied journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and has published articles in Chicago Lawyer Magazine, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, and other trade publications.

MacGyver your own Freelance Community

anna-pratt-headshot-My column for the latest issue of Quill:

I started freelancing nearly a decade ago, before the recession had taken hold. I’d worked at a community newspaper for several years, covering education, neighborhood news and the arts, and I wanted to explore new ground. At the time, it may have sounded risky to trade the downtown office for my sunroom, but the housing market hadn’t yet collapsed. Freelancing wasn’t exactly a get-rich-quick-scheme, but it afforded plenty of non-material benefits: independence, adventure and growth. Right away, I began writing pieces for other local outlets, which was a great way to develop new beats, meet new people and hone new skills.

However, it wasn’t long before the economy tanked, and some of the publications I’d written for went out of business. Still others could no longer afford to pay for stories. I was playing bill collector for myself, researching and pitching ideas to editors, and cranking out articles on tight deadlines for dwindling pay. I also juggled a part-time job that had an erratic schedule. Thankfully, I eventually landed temporary gigs and contracts that helped to tide me over. Even so, freelancing always seems so fragile.

In many ways, SPJ has buoyed me along the way. Some years ago, I joined the Minnesota chapter’s board, and then after attending the national Excellence in Journalism conference, I got involved with SPJ’s then Freelance Committee. Over the past couple of years, the Freelance Committee has morphed into the Freelance Community. The broader, more all-encompassing Community is about nurturing SPJ’s diverse freelance membership, which continues to grow by leaps and bounds. You can find the Community on the SPJ website:

Our page includes a message board/forums, a resource guide, freelancer directory, jobs listings, calendar, chatroom and more. And the Community’s new crop of volunteers on the executive committee — who were elected in November — are planning events, both “live” and virtual. We’re brainstorming ways to connect with freelancers all over the place, respond to freelancer questions and needs, and support one another in our respective endeavors. We welcome your participation, as well. There are all kinds of ways to get involved. If you’re a freelancer or just interested in hearing more about it, we hope you’ll sign up for the Freelance Community in 2016. (Feel free to do so on the SPJ website or drop us a line.) Join in a future chat or just email us to say hi! In the meantime, here are some of the things I’ve gotten out of belonging to the Community, thus far:

CONNECTION There’s no denying that working from home can be a bit isolating. I joke that I’m a little too aware of the goings-on on the street outside my window. (My desk faces outdoors.) As freelancers, we must MacGyver so many things. I feel like I’ve got duct tape, scissors, shoes with holes in them, random wires, old phones, gum, coffee and more, holding things together — pitches, invoices, equipment (sometimes this is literally true). Oh, and the things I’ve done for free wifi! Similarly, as freelancers, we have to gin up our own “co-workers.” Thanks to the Community, I’ve met other freelancers across the country who’ve provided support, offered feedback and occasionally even helped revising a story or crafting a pitch. Also, it’s inspiring to hear what other freelancers are up to. I’ve talked to freelancers who’ve taken their careers overseas, others for whom journalism is a second career, stringers for national or international news outlets, and freelancers who specialize in the environment, radio and music. It’s always fun mingling with fellow freelancers into the wee morning hours at EIJ and taking a “lunch break” or “happy hour” to chat online with others spread across the country.

ASSIGNMENTS/GIGS Occasionally, my colleagues have introduced me to editors or sent assignment/gig listings my way. Or vice versa. Some editors have even reached out to me, and/or I’ve been able to steer them to other freelancers. Sometimes it’s helpful to brainstorm with people about what to do when I’m stuck in a story or where to send a pitch. It helps me to get out of a rut.

PROFESSIONAL TRAINING Professional development is yet another DIY area for independent workers. In my time with the Freelance Community, I’ve learned about negotiating rates, invoicing and targeting national publications, as just a few examples. But training is an ongoing thing. It happens through formal conference programs or Google Hangouts, but also just by being surrounded by a knowledgeable bunch whose experiences, perspectives and beats run the gamut. When I’m scratching my head, trying to figure out, “What’s next?” Community members spur me to keep going. I encourage you to MacGyver your freelance career, as well. You’ll find a lot of the raw materials at SPJ’s Freelance Community ( We look forward to hearing from you.

As a staff-reporter-turnedfreelance-journalist, Anna Pratt, who lives in Minneapolis, has ventured into garbage houses, spent the night in a homeless shelter and witnessed a fist-fight in a church basement, all for various stories. Pratt also chairs SPJ’s Freelance Community. Drop her a line at annaprattjournalist or on Twitter: @annapratt. 

The writing life (part two): Be part of the solution, not the problem

keith campbell

Guest blogger: Keith Campbell 

See part one of this series here.

What does it mean to be part of the solution and not part of the problem? I firmly believe that taking no action is being part of the problem. Now is not the time for keeping your head down and sticking to yourself. Stand up for yourself and what is right. Stand up for your fellow struggling writer because, if you’re not struggling now, chances are you were at one time. Supporting your fellow writers is being part of the solution.

There wouldn’t be anyone posting ads that pay five dollars per article if no one was willing to write those articles for five dollars. There is a market for that kind of thing only because we allow it to happen and have become part of the problem. Writers must value their craft. No one else will. If you take on work that ultimately pays below minimum wage, that’s no one else’s fault but your own.

Writing is a skill that not everyone possesses. Maybe you’ve gone to college or maybe you’re self taught like myself. Either way, you have to place a value on what you do so that others value your skills.

You don’t spend four plus years going to college to make what the fry cook at Burger King makes so why would you make the exception when it comes to getting paid for writing? It’s a job, and a job should always pay at least minimum wage. If you’re experienced, college educated or not, you should not be making less than that. There are thousands of uneducated people working at jobs that require no specific skill set and they’re making more than you do writing.

In the United States, the average wage for an unskilled laborer is $29,703., which equates to around twenty dollars an hour. Craigslist is filled with people trying to get you to work for less than half that amount. Still a great many more uneducated, unskilled people are making upwards of thirty an hour, while writers are struggling to make up to ten.

Value your craft!

Having said that, how can I fault the guy who just needs the work? The guy who has a family to feed and is out of work. Should we blame him for taking a gig that pays five dollars an hour? There’s a solution here somewhere, I know it. We just have to put our heads together to find it.

I was asked recently if I thought I could actually make a difference in pressuring Craigslist to kick out the scammers and clean up their act. In truth, I don’t know. But here’s what I believe.

We can make a difference for each other; emphasis on WE. If we do nothing, by our complacency, we’re part of the problem. Let’s be part of the solution instead.

Not long ago, a company was advertising its ghostwriting services on Craigslist Writing Gigs section. They were looking to add ghostwriters to their very qualified team of writers. So I went to their website and checked them out. They professed to have New York Times bestselling authors ghostwriting for them. A bold claim I thought, so I looked further.

A giant red flag popped up when I saw what they were charging clients to get their stories written.

Less than a penny a word.

That got me thinking. If they’re only charging their clients less than one cent a word, how much can they be paying their ghostwriters without taking a loss?

The answer: a penny a word.

They had New York Times bestselling authors writing novels for their clients and they were paying those writers a penny a word for novels up to one hundred thousand words long. Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine a bestselling author of any caliber working for a penny a word. If they really had that skilled of writers on the payroll, I figured I would order ten novels, shop them to different publishers, and live the rest of my days opening royalty checks.

In the interest of due diligence, I went through a number of samples posted by their ghostwriters. I saw nothing there that indicated any real creativity or skill. Just a lot of canned garbage that anyone could write, fresh out of high school. Exactly what you would expect from someone writing a fifty-thousand word novel for five hundred dollars. There was nothing there that would come close to suggesting that the author was a bestselling caliber wordsmith.

So I took to Craigslist Writing Gigs section and began posting ads calling them out. I included their website address so people could see for themselves. That website is the very reason I sometimes have a difficult time convincing prospective clients to actually pay what I am worth for my services. People see sites like those and they think they’re legitimate. Or that the fees there are the norm and they don’t bother to look any further.

However, there’s a happy ending coming!

Several weeks later after complaining to a friend about the site, I decided to have another look. To my amazement they closed it down, then reopened under new ownership. They now pay ten times what the former owners were paying and they no longer claim to have New York Times bestselling authors on staff writing for them. Sure, they’re still paying a ridiculously low amount but it’s a far cry from a penny a word!

So to answer the question–do I think I can get Craigslist to clean up their site? Maybe not, but I do believe WE can make a difference, but only if we work together and have each other’s backs. I believe we have a responsibility to one another to warn each other of scams or disreputable employers. At the same time, we need to reach out to our fellow writers and tell them about the good jobs out there. Speak up for one another and help your fellow writer get that next good gig.

In that way, we stop being part of the problem and we become part of the solution. For those interested in supporting your fellow writer please follow the link below and sign it. It’s time to stand together and make your voice count. Write well, live well, and change the world around you.

Keith Campbell is a prolific, self-taught writer and artist with a diverse background in finance and investing, martial arts, firefighting, and emergency medicine. All of which he has been known to use as fodder for writing. 

Keith is a founding member of the online writing community and has authored eighteen novels and hundreds of articles for clients on such diverse subjects as finance and investing, self-defense and handgun safety, to real estate, motorcycles, and healthcare. Keith has written monologues for comedians, TV commercials and web series, as well as ghostwriting novels for clients. Taking a page from the life of his favorite artist, Pablo Picasso, Keith sleeps little and writes obsessively. 

Today Keith continues to ghostwrite for various clients while working on his latest darkly comedic love story about a non-traditional family unit with two gender switching parents and a teenage daughter who hates them both. 

Keith lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his two boys and his cat.

The writing life: The problem with the Craigslist Writing Gigs section

keith campbell

Guest blogger: Keith Campbell

See part two in this series here

It’s not easy being a writer, and if your name isn’t John Greene, Suzanne Collins, or George R.R. Martin, you’re going to need all the help you can get. Being part of an online writer’s community helps, but we can’t give each other jobs so we need to look to outside sources.

Like Craigslist.

I discovered the Writing Gigs section quite by accident around 2006 and I was amazed at how many offerings there were for temporary and, often permanent, jobs. Over the years, I wrote numerous articles for different clients’ websites on topics like finance and investing, real estate, martial arts, healthcare, plastic surgery, dentistry, travel; you name it, I wrote it. I found my first legitimate publisher on Craigslist. I got an amazing job with a TV ad agency in New York and had the pleasure of seeing some of my scripts come to life on TV. I wrote monologues for comedians, scripts for several web series, made it on the short list for a spot on a writer’s stable for a network sitcom.

It was all good. Until it wasn’t anymore.

Back in the day, I would spend about three hours a day just combing through ads in just about every major city in the US and applied to job after job, focusing on those that played to my strengths as a writer. I almost NEVER got scammed!

But like that old book by S.E. Hinton, THAT WAS, THIS IS NOW, everything has changed. The number of legitimate jobs or gigs began dropping as the number of scams, non-paying gigs, jobs paying less than minimum wage, and ads for jobs that had nothing to do with writing, began to dominate the Writing Gigs section. The pay being offered also dropped dramatically. Ten years ago, it wasn’t difficult to find a steady gig that paid $15.00 to $20.00 per five hundred to six hundred word article. For specialized gigs that required a professional background such as in the medical field or finance, you could easily get steady work for double the pay. Today $5.00 seems to be the standard for just about any article of any length on any topic.

As much as I hate to admit it, the blame partly falls on the writers. We have, to a certain degree allowed, and even been party to the problem. I mean, let’s face it. If no one was willing to write an article for $5.00, nobody would post ads looking for people to write their articles for $5.00. So yes, we have let the fox into the hen house. The question here is, how do we get it out and what are we willing to do to expel that sly old fox.

If you’re unsure the scope of the problem here, just take a look at the issue by the numbers on one particular day.

Out of one hundred ninety-six postings in CL Writing gigs in the SF bay area, forty-nine had nothing to do with writing. That means, right off the bat, twenty-five percent of the total ads are garbage. Of the one hundred forty-seven gigs that are for writing jobs, forty-one of those are non paying jobs. So, of the one hundred ninety-six postings, only one hundred six will actually generate an income. That means fifty-four percent of the postings are a waste of time. That doesn’t even include the gigs that are actually scams, or gigs that pay under minimum wage. Then there are the gigs that fall under the paid gig category but aren’t really a paid job. These are the ones where you are expected to write your article, story, or whatever they need, then if yours is selected you get paid. If that sounds shady, it can be, but isn’t necessarily a scam. For example, if someone is compiling an anthology they will naturally select the best ones that fit what they’re looking for, and pay those. Some will argue that all entrants should be paid, but I’m not going to argue that point. What I will say is, there are far too many paid gigs that use this method to get whatever article they need written, and get it for free. It’s a common and difficult to prove scam that I’ll explain in a later posting.

As you can see, our one hundred six paying gigs are getting whittled down slowly. Then you have the paid gigs that all-out refuse to tell you what the pay is. They use terms like TBD, negotiable, DOE, or will discuss with the right person. It all comes back to writers having to do everything involved in applying for a job before they have a clue what that job pays, if it even pays anything at all. That accounts for another twenty-two postings.

Finally, we’re down to eighty-four job possibilities out of one hundred ninety-six postings that day. If we’re being conservative, take another ten off that number to account for scams and that leaves you with seventy-four gigs to apply for, assuming you are qualified to write for every posting listed. In the end, that makes one hundred twenty-two time wasting postings out of the original one hundred ninety-six ads. That’s the reason I would have to spend three plus hours a day, just looking for a legitimate gig.

For those interested in helping expel the foxes from the hen house, here is a petition. Please follow the link and feel free to leave a comment as well:

I am also collecting personal stories from writers who have either been scammed, or just want to add their voice to the petition. I think these stories will carry as much weight as the signatures.

In short, we are in part allowing the problem to exist through our non-action, so let’s change that today and make our voices heard. Let’s take Craigslist Writing Gigs away from the scammers and all those looking to take advantage of us. Writers, band together and be heard!

Keith Campbell is a prolific, self-taught writer and artist with a diverse background in finance and investing, martial arts, firefighting, and emergency medicine. All of which he has been known to use as fodder for writing. 

Keith is a founding member of the online writing community and has authored eighteen novels and hundreds of articles for clients on such diverse subjects as finance and investing, self-defense and handgun safety, to real estate, motorcycles, and healthcare. Keith has written monologues for comedians, TV commercials and web series, as well as ghostwriting novels for clients. Taking a page from the life of his favorite artist, Pablo Picasso, Keith sleeps little and writes obsessively. 

Today Keith continues to ghostwrite for various clients while working on his latest darkly comedic love story about a non-traditional family unit with two gender switching parents and a teenage daughter who hates them both. 

Keith lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his two boys and his cat.

Network and support for freelancers

1268046_10102069884870981_1769739499_oGuest blogger: Elle Toussi

Nearly one in three working Americans is an independent worker. Wow! That statistic from the Freelancers Union website can make you stop in your tracks and take a moment to reflect.  Looking at just the United States, that is an extensive number of people who are deciding to be independent and they come from all walks of life and industries.

Making the decision to go freelance can be a daunting and scary decision to make. Will I have stability? What about healthcare? What happens with my retirement? My 401k? There are lots of questions to address. For those here in the Freelance Community at SPJ you already know the importance of one very important element in the world of freelance: network.

Being a freelancer can be a very lonely process, so making sure to be a member of organizations that create a community within your industry or craft is important. These groups help foster support. I have found that to be key.

One group that has helped is the Freelancers Union. I’ve taken on the task to be a co-leader for their monthly Spark events in Los Angeles. This is where they host a monthly gathering of freelancers and as they say, “Learn stuff. Find your spark.” On the first Wednesday of every month there is a new topic to be explored and Spark events take place in over 18 cities nationwide.

It’s always important to weigh the benefits of joining another organization or group, but let’s see if I can break it down for you.

It’s Free. Yes, you heard that right. To be a member of the Freelancers Union comes with no cost. No annual payment. Just simply join the network and like every organization or group… you get what you give. So really be active and participate in all the organization has to offer.

Benefits. Trying to navigate through health, dental, disability, life and liability insurance can be overwhelming. The Union has figured a way to make sure no independent worker is left behind when it comes to these important benefits. You too can figure out a way to save for retirement and you can get help with the process.

Network. Take a moment once a month to gather with fellow freelancers at a local Spark Workshop event where you can network and learn. You never know when you will connect with someone that will create a lasting friendship or a possible work collaboration. There is nothing more important than your network, especially as a freelancer.

Discounts. Independent workers with the Freelancers Union can take part in special discounts from companies, products, co-working places and much more.

Resources. You need help creating a contract? That’s great, you can create a custom contract with the Union here. You need help with taxes? That is definitely something to take into consideration when going freelance and the step-by-steps are available on the website. For example these tax-saving tips here. The blog is also a great place to look up different topics and tips & tricks. Chances are there is something you need help with and there is something already posted that can help you.

Don’t just take my word for it. October 7th is the next Spark Event covering, “Make Your Contract Your Best Business Ally.” Sign up to an event near you and check out to see what all the fuss is about. You might find yourself inspired and going every month.

Elle Toussi is an innovative cross-platform journalist, with more than four years of experience reporting on the film industry, the Middle East and all matters pertaining to Southern California. She has trained under the guidance and mentorship of award-winning journalists at CNN, NBC Los Angeles, KTLA, Screen International and USA Today. She has also freelanced for National Geographic Channels.

Currently bi-coastal, she plans to continue her coverage of Middle Eastern affairs after her time in Jordan where she was immersed in the Syrian refugee situation in 2014. It even inspired the creation of her non-profit, In One Minute, where she plans to use the power of mobile technology and philanthropy to meet specific needs of women around the world. The non-profit organization provides stories of women by giving them a platform to tell their story. Helping one woman at a time, one minute at a time. 

Toussi is an Iranian-American born and raised in Southern California. Her passion for covering Middle Eastern matters and the role of immigrants in the Southern California region is inspired and largely due to her upbringing by her hardworking immigrant parents that relocated to California many years ago. She currently contributes to CBS Local, AXS online and has contributed to Screen International and Examiner. Stay tuned for her latest work on


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