Posts Tagged ‘editors’

Editors are not the enemy

Believe it or not, editors are not the red-pen-wielding ogres we imagine them to be. In fact, many of them are just like us. They have a penchant for writing and editing, they believe in reporting the truth, and they want to do it as succinctly as possible. They want readers and viewers, just like we do.

I’ll go one step further and say that editors can be our best allies when trying to make our stories the very best they can be. They see the heart of the story that we can’t see, and they show us how to polish it up and make it shine. They check our facts and fix our mistakes, without credit or even a byline. They are the silent, steadfast professionals that push us harder.

Sure, there are a few I’d prefer not to work with again (and vice versa), but I encourage you to make peace with your editors and accept their revisions and advice graciously. For those who need more tangible reasons to peacefully co-exist with editors, consider these:

1.  They control the editorial calendar, assignments and budget.

2.  It’s a small world. Editors sometimes move around a lot, and they talk to each other, just like we do. If you have a good relationship, their future jobs could benefit you. If not, you may miss some opportunities.

3.  We can learn from the advice and experience of our editors.

4.  We can depend on them to be our internal advocate when we want to try a different type of story, have not been paid on time or need an introduction to a fellow editor.

5.  They can be the voice of reason when it is too painful to “kill our darlings.”

[This blog is dedicated to a few of my favorite editors:  Becca, Bill, Chris, Randy and Lisa. My writing and reporting is better because of you.]


Dana E. Neuts is a full-time freelance writer and editor and is the publisher of and An avid SPJ volunteer, she is the regional director for SPJ’s region 10, serves on the membership committee, and is the chair for the freelance committee. She is also a candidate for the office of national SPJ Secretary/Treasurer. Followe her on Twitter (@SPJDana, @SPJFreelance, @VirtuallyYourz).



Conference attendance brings many benefits for freelancers

The end of the year is approaching, which means it’s time to start thinking about planning for the new one—including whether to attend conferences of SPJ and other organizations that can help our freelancing efforts, so we can budget for the time and money to participate in such events.

That raises the obvious question of why – why go to an SPJ regional or national conference? Why go to the conferences of other organizations?

That’s easy: Because it’s good business for a freelancer. It’s a smart use of your time and money.

As freelancers, we can often feel isolated and cut off from our colleagues. One way to reduce that lonely feeling is to get out of the house and … go to a conference. Attending a conference is a great way to get reconnected to colleagues.

Conferences are learning experiences almost by definition. They offer a consolidated, in-depth and often intense opportunity to plug into the current trends of our profession (or the professions and industries of the people we write about) and to pick up on tools, techniques and other topics important to those of us who practice and care about journalism, no matter what role we play in the profession. You never know what you might learn by attending a conference.

The SPJ’s national conference will include a number of sessions specifically for freelancers, as well as plenty of opportunities. Regional meetings are likely to include freelance topics as well. (If not – be the one to offer something about freelancing at your regional meeting!) Whether you’re thinking about freelancing, starting out or have been doing freelance journalism for years, you can always learn more from colleagues and presenters.

Conference attendance is also a great way to meet colleagues in person and interact on levels well beyond the impersonal one of e-mail. Why do that? Well, it’s always nice to make new friends, but it also helps to remember that we’re more likely to want to work with people we know. Meeting in person enhances your network of people who might refer or recommend you for projects or even hire/subcontract with you. You become more than an e-mail address; you become a real person, and that makes you stand out from all those other e-mail messages in someone’s inbox, especially when that someone needs to hand off work they don’t usually do or are too swamped to take on.

Conferences bring us together not just with our peers, but with people who might hire us. That’s an opportunity we shouldn’t miss. Again, meeting prospective clients in person makes us stand out from the throng when there’s a reason to get in touch later on.

Yes, conferences cost money, and freelancers don’t have the luxury of being sponsored or reimbursed by their employers to attend professional meetings. However, those expenses are tax-deductible – not just registration, but travel, accommodations, meals, supplies, resources, etc. If you put some money aside starting in January, you can build up a sizable conference budget for the year.

You can even make money from attending conferences. SPJ may not pay most of its conference speakers, but some organizations either pay honoraria or cover the costs of travel and accommodations for their speakers, along with giving speakers free conference registration. Think about what you might have to offer to colleagues or clients, and start looking for opportunities to be a speaker somewhere in the new year!

Even attending a conference can be a freelance assignment. I have clients that pay my travel, accommodation and meal expenses, plus a daily fee, for me to attend their annual conferences and write up daily events for an onsite newsletter or post-conference report. Being there also lets me mingle with other attendees whom I wouldn’t meet otherwise and who might have a use for my freelance services, or might be good story subjects for the future.

As I said in a recent assignment (for an organization that has nothing to do with journalism), conferences are for us – designed with our professional and personal needs in mind, and intended to serve those needs by giving us what we need to stay up to date in our profession, make our work better, and enhance the skills and service that we provide to our clients.

When you go to an SPJ conference, a conference for freelancers or one for members of an industry that you cover, you’re not just among colleagues; you’re among friends. So sit down with a calendar and your budget for the new year, and plan now to plug yourself into the adventure of at least an SPJ conference. See you there!

Long-time freelancer Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is a veteran of “too many conferences to count” in various aspects of communications, as well as on behalf of clients in several professions and industries. She is the owner of Communication Central (, which presents an annual fall conference for freelance writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, etc.

Tips on freelancing for newspapers

Thanks to the economy — or maybe no thanks to it — the market for freelance writers has grown exponentially this past year. America spent much of 2010 pulling itself out of recession, and though that offered hope for a broad rebound entering 2011 publications and corporations that once had large writing staffs still opted to downsize and turn to contract work to save money.

What many freelancers may not realize is that newspapers are among the top enterprises making this turn. Newspapers, of course, suffered through substantial layoffs in 2010 and may yet in the new year. Still, they have print and electronic pages to fill and the pressure is great on the few people remaining in the industry to continue doing that job. What’s more, veteran print journalists are under other pressure from non-profit and “hyper local” journalism models to remain relevant, vibrant and competitive despite diminishing resources.

So, while looking around for new markets, consider calling the local newspaper to ask if it’s willing to farm out one or two or more writing assignments. But before calling or writing an editor, do a few things:

Expect to start small — Any aspirations of uncovering another Watergate-size scandal should stay in a drawer; rarely do first-time newspaper contributors receive a big investigative project to start, regardless of experience. The early assignments will be small — low-level government meetings, high school sporting events, etc. — to help editors determine a freelancer’s dependability, writing skill and ability to accept criticism. Believe me, not even seasoned journalists shine in all of these areas, but being amenable is key to getting more assignments.

Expect the pay to be small, if at all
— Typical pay ranges between $25 and $50 per story, with three-digit sums possible for feature pieces after a freelancer has a body of work under the newspaper’s masthead. Sometimes, however, newspapers will propose first-time assignments without compensation but dangle a contract if they are impressed with the results. Keep in mind that assignments may not be frequent or fulsome enough to constitute steady income.

Know the value of deadlines — Newspaper and online journalism are a fast-paced, get-it-done-now businesses that do not suffer people who miss deadlines. If an editor says a story has to be completed and on his desk or in his e-mail inbox by a certain time, get it in well before that time if possible. And if that’s not possible, stay in touch with the editor to explain the situation and ask for guidance; they can be understanding when the situation calls for it. But missing a deadline — just one, even — can undermine a writer’s credibility and make it that much harder to receive additional assignments.

Read the newspaper — This may sound like a no-brainer, but in fact newspapers often hear from hopeful writers pitching ideas that lack a local story peg, ideas that already were printed in some form, or ideas that amount to writers talking about themselves instead of talking to other people. Take time to carefully read either the print or online version of the newspaper (preferably both) and study several editions. Newspapers, like magazines, have writing styles and subjects of particular interest to their audiences; know what these are to have intelligent conversations with assignment editors.

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


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