Starting a career in journalism is more difficult than what most aspiring writers realize. Not only do you need exceptional writing skills to write concisely and quickly, but you’ll also need to motivate yourself when your editor requires you to cover mundane topics day after day. Additionally, based on the workload compared to other writing professions, freelance journalists are often paid below average rates. Small local newspapers may only pay between $25 and $75 per 500-word news article. Larger city-wide newspapers only pay between $75 and $100 per 500-word news article. Unless the editor is buying All Rights to your article, you can expect the same pay rates for writing online content for their news websites.
Most full-time journalists have graduated a 4-year college, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism or Mass Communications. Such education is often necessary to groom an aspiring writer to learn how to write investigative news articles as well as learn about the ethics in dealing with sensitive topics and situations. If you don’t have a college degree or comparable experience, it is still possible to freelance as a journalist, provided that you have an aptitude to learn.
Working as a Stringer
A common way to break into journalism is to become a stringer. Yes, the word sounds strange when referred to a writer, but it simply means a freelance writer taking on basic journalism assignments. Many news publications hire stringers to handle excess work or to handle routine assignments, such as covering local council meetings or reporting on small crimes. Newspapers have employed stringers for many decades because it is an effective way to train aspiring writers to become experienced journalists as well as help the newspaper improve its reach in gathering newsworthy information for a hungry readership.
What an Aspiring Journalist Can Expect
A journalist will tell you that his profession is exciting and fulfilling because news never stays still, nor do journalists. Journalists are always “chasing the news”—especially breaking news that might affect many people. This thrill is enough to keep many journalists satisfied working long hours in a demanding profession, despite lower wages and deadline-driven work.
You might have heard the saying that you must have a “nose for news.” This simply implies that you need to be aware and observant at all times. News is always happening around you, or right in front of you. You must have patience to record detailed observations and think up questions for instant interviews. News writing is about transforming the story into something readable online or offline so readers can share in the experience that you had.
Finding Freelance Journalism Jobs
Before you contact any newspaper or news website for freelance assignments, put together an impressive collection of articles. If you lack samples of writing, then look for newspaper jobs that allow you to cover town meetings, community news, and local events.
It’s easy to find an important event, such as a future festival, a popular book author signing copies of his books at the local mall, an upcoming political election, and so on. Then cover the event and submit a tightly-written column to your local newspaper or news website. Your story must be relevant to the newspaper’s targeted readership, otherwise it makes no sense for an editor to consider it.
If you continue to find small writing assignments for local newspapers, you will soon have an impressive portfolio of work. You can use your samples as leverage to apply for more serious and higher-paying gigs with a newspaper. An editor also takes you more seriously when you can prove your skills. Establishing a relationship with an editor will help you pitch story ideas and query letters with greater success.
Conversely, you may want to email the editor or managing editor and inquire if they use stringers and if they have any available assignments. Be concise, self-assured, and professional. If they do use freelance stringers, the editor or a member of the editorial staff will interview you in person.
You can find journalism jobs online at popular job sites like JournalismJobs.com, CareerBuilder.com, CraigsList.org, and MediaBistro.com. Because most newspapers hire local talent, you may find more jobs at CraigsList.org because it localizes job listings.
[ Search for Freelance Journalism Jobs | Online-Writing-Jobs.com ]
Your First Job Interview
An editor wants to see your skill-set and judge your aptitude for writing news stories. Bring your portfolio, a lineup of fleshed out ideas exclusively for that newspaper, and one or two sample articles that you’ve written for their readership. These things will help the editor decide if you are qualified for any available assignments.
Some editors are specific in what they want their journalists to cover for that day, for that week, or for an entire month, depending on the news. Some editors prefer their journalists to follow their own ideas and develop their own topics; other editors have their own ideas or own topics. Be versatile—sometimes you may not have a choice. A well-developed portfolio will demonstrate that you can tackle different topics and events.
During the interview try your best to look relaxed, upbeat and confident. Behaving nervously and stuttering over your words might leave a negative effect. Prior to the interview, picture the interview moving along flawlessly. This strategy will relax your nerves and empower you to be in control of yourself during the interview process.
Here’s a common scenario:
Suppose you are eager to write for your local newspaper. How would you construct your query letter?
You can start like this:
Dear (Editor’s name),
I have been a long-time reader of [title of newspaper] and greatly enjoy the news coverage. As a dedicated reader and passionate writer, I am inquiring if I may contribute to [name of newspaper section / department / or newspaper in general].
Our city is buzzing with excitement this season, and I would love to cover some of these stories ideas for you and your readers:
– How do the new animal laws impact midtown pet owners?
– Support our agriculture: homegrown food for your family.
– The forthcoming craft festival is luring art enthusiasts from across South America.
– How hurricane-stricken neighborhoods are strengthening highway safety for residents.
– New libraries and parks inspire families to relocate.
These are just a few ideas, based on recent developments in our community. Of course, I am open to your suggestions. I am an experienced freelance writer who has written on a broad selection of topics. Please see my attached samples and clips. Thank you for your time.
Your clips and samples should showcase your writing style and news gathering abilities as well as relevant experience and/or education background. A news editor always has a need for an additional writer, especially for seasonal work.