Discover what is freelance journalism in our guide and how to get into this profession.
Freelance journalism is the profession of self-employed writers who complete ad-hoc or scheduled, contracted assignments for news organizations.
Depending on the agreement with the media outlet, a freelance journalist can be paid by the hour, the word, or the assignment itself. Freelancers are working in every area of journalism, including sports journalism, current affairs, and entertainment.
Freelance journalism is required to meet the same standards as all other types of reporting, with those working in this area expected to carry out the same checks as fully employed members of the media. The best journalism tools can help, but it’s important to understand the role’s requirements too.
What Does a Freelance Reporter Do?
A freelance reporter is a self-employed journalist who provides stories to a news organization with which they are not permanently employed. The reporter may have to pitch stories to a commissioning editor in this case. From there, they agree on a rate and the reporter proceeds to complete the story.
Alternatively, a freelance reporter can complete the story and pitch the existing story to editors of several news outlets. In that instance, the writer would often only give an overview of their story, as the outlet they are pitching to hasn’t yet agreed to pay them.
In some rare cases, there may even be competing bids for an exclusive story, with freelancers free to choose which media outlet they sell their work to.
Freelance reporters are self-employed people who take on writing assignments for news organizations and get paid directly for those assignments. You can think of a freelance reporter as a service provider who gets paid for providing that service in the same way a plumber or electrician would.
However, instead of the news organization paying for their faucet to be fixed, or their wiring to be adjusted, they are paying the reporter to complete stories or written assignments. There are many types of freelance reporters, including news journalists, researchers, editors, and more. Basically, you can pick an area or skillset and specalize once you have a steady stream of work and credibility in the space.
Working As A Freelancer Reporter
Getting your first few by-lines is critical if you want to become a freelance reporter. This is where your name is at the top of the story to show you are the author. Once you have a few bylines, you will be able to create a portfolio, or website, to demonstrate your previous work to potential employers. They build credibility.
Freelancers can be just as successful as those in full-time employment with a news organization. In fact, there are plenty of freelance journalists whose work is in high demand.
Illustrating this fact, there are several freelance reporters who have won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. For instance, Canadian writer, Nadja Drost, won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for her story on migrants from around the world who traverse the Darien Gap. The story featured in The California Sunday Magazine and at the time Drost was working as a freelance journalist.
Other freelance journalists who have won the Pulitzer Prize include Mitchell S. Jackson, Emily Green, and Rachel Kaadzi. This is proof that working as a freelancer shouldn’t decrease your journalistic ambition or the scope of the stories you follow up on.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of Working As A Freelance Reporter
Working in this way, you can choose who you write for, what you write about and how often you work. Providing you can find interesting and engaging stories that the news organization is interested in, freelancing is a role you can do from anywhere. However, there are some disadvantages. For instance, being a permanent member of staff offers you more employment rights than the average freelancer.
Your paycheque is also directly linked to your performance. Thus, commissioning editors will decide whether or not they are interested in the stories you are sending, and if they are not, then you don’t get paid.
There can also be an added cost, as it can be difficult to get an organization to pay for expenses associated with a story when you are working as a freelancer. However, for example, if you have to travel for a story as an employee, it is likely that your organization will pay for this expense. However, it’s not all bad news when it comes to your costs. That’s because freelancers do benefit from many of their costs being tax-deductible.
What Are The Qualities Of A Freelance Journalist?
First and foremost, a good freelance journalist is self-motivated. This quality is essential simply because if a freelancer is unwilling to do the work, they don’t get paid. Every other skill is linked to a motivation to work hard and put the hours in.
For instance, a freelance reporter is also an excellent communicator. However, they have to be motivated to network and use this skill. They also have to be organized. It’s easy to see why; freelancers have to deal with a number of different shareholders when conducting business.
They may have first to contact the commissioning editor, then work with their sources to write the article, and also ensure that the managing editor is happy with their copy. And that’s when things are running smoothly.
In a more difficult scenario, a freelance reporter will have first to pitch the idea, then demonstrate their previous work, then agree on a fee, then conduct the story, and ensure the copy is a stylistic fit. Motivation, communication, and organization are interlapping skills that are needed throughout each element of that process. If you need help with pitches, check out our Writers Work review.
It also goes without saying, but to get yourself noticed as a freelance journalist, you need to have excellent writing skills. You are fighting a losing battle without the ability to stand out from the crowd with your writing.
Obviously, a good freelance journalist shares the qualities of a good reporter who is not self-employed too. They are brilliant investigators, and have a strong sense of truth, along with that intangible skill of having a ‘good nose for a story. This means they know how to find and pursue ‘journalism scoops’.
To be a good freelance journalist, you also have to be persistent. You’ll likely face some rejection early on and even when you do become established, the ability to persevere through tough times is a skill that all freelancers need.
Is The Job Of Reporting The Same For A Freelancer?
A freelance journalist puts the same level of work into a story as a full-time employed reporter. This is because they still have to go through the same processes as their peers, fact-checking stories and ensuring that their sources are reliable.
They also have to adhere to the style of the publication whom they are writing for and take notes from the editor where appropriate. Both freelance writers and journalists may have to seek out organizations and publications to gain work. Websites that are useful for finding freelance writing work include UpWork, Freelancer.com, and Fiverr.
However, they are less useful for freelance journalism jobs. In this case, a freelancer is often better off contacting the publication directly with their story ideas and samples of their work.
If the publication in question has a commissioning editor, then they are a good first port of call. If not, then contacting the managing editor directly may work. In this instance, it is wise to demonstrate that you have at least very basic investigative skills; address them by their name, rather than ‘Dear editor’.
How Does Freelance Journalists Get Paid?
A freelance journalist agrees on a fee with the organization that will publish their work. This fee is usually agreed upon before the work is written, but on occasion, a freelancer can sell a story they have already completed, but not yet published.
After this, similar to other service providers, it is up to the freelance journalist to send an invoice to the publication’s account department for the work that was commissioned. The media organization will then pay this invoice via an agreed method on an agreed date. Check out our list of freelance templates for writers.
The invoice may be based on a price per word, assignment, or working time. Some freelancers have exclusive agreements with media outlets, while others work for several organizations at one time.
A freelancer has some tax benefits. However, it is worth familiarizing yourself with tax situation in your area. If you are starting your career as a freelance journalist and have no relevant experience, it is unlikely you can charge a large fee for your first few articles. However, as you gain more experience and improve your journalistic reputation, the amount you charge will increase accordingly.
If you found this article interesting but are unsure about journalism, check out our guide to becoming a freelance writer.