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Tips Tips for Getting Started as a Freelance Journalist

Discussion in 'Tips & Tutorials' started by ben_sherlock, Apr 26, 2017.

  1. ben_sherlock

    ben_sherlock Registered Member
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    Journalism is quite possibly the best avenue into steady work as a freelance writer. If you write an essay about your trip to Amsterdam, you can only sell it to one travel magazine once. But the news is happening all around us all the time, and there are countless websites desperate for people to write it for them because there are countless consumers desperate to know what’s going on in the world. It’s a beautiful cycle.

    Writing a News Story

    First thing’s first: writing news stories. The best advice I can give on how to actually write a story is first to just read news of any kind. So, if you’re left-wing and you intend to write political news, I’d recommend reading news from both left-wing and right-wing outlets (i.e. Breitbart, Fox News etc.) so you know everyone’s perspective and you’re totally informed, and just read as much of the daily news as you can. If you do this, eventually the way articles are written will just become a second language to you and it’ll come naturally, and it doesn’t even take very long for this Metamorphosis-like transformation into a journalist to take place.

    The second piece of advice I can offer on the actual writing is the same piece of advice you’ll find in every single writing how-to ever created (and there’s a reason for that), and that is to just start writing. Jump in the deep end. Don’t worry if your first article isn’t perfect; you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Just keep writing and it’ll come naturally. And if you haven’t found a news website to employ you yet (we’ll get to that later in the post), it’s still important to write news articles, because it’ll help you refine your journalistic style which will only help your chances of getting hired and they all ask for writing samples anyway, so this way you’ll be able to provide some.

    Finding a Unique Angle on a Story

    The best thing you can do when approaching a news story is to find your own angle on it. This is where you get creative, and if you can think outside the box (not to pat myself on the back), it’s really easy.

    If you find a news story you want to write an article on, don’t just read the MSNBC version and write your own from that. Read the BBC version of that story and the CNN version of that story and the New York Times version and the Washington Post version and the Guardian version, because they’ll all have different angles and different parts of the story, and if you read all of them then you’ll have all the facts and you can use that to hopefully find your own angle on the story.

    For example, when I was covering the Oscars and Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor, I was researching that and I noticed a little nugget on one page that said he was the first Muslim to win an Oscar, and so that became my angle. That way, it wasn’t just about a guy winning an Oscar. Then it became political. I could link it to what Trump was doing at the time with his travel ban and how the Muslim community needed a positive after so much negative.

    ...Or You Can Write Something Completely Original

    If you want to write something completely original from scratch that CNN or USA Today didn’t get to first, then I suggest conducting interviews with figureheads involved in hot-button issues. I personally love seeking out organisations or individuals to interview. I’ve interviewed all kinds of people, like a guy from the Westboro Baptist Church who believed that God sent the shooter to that Orlando nightclub and took him to task, or a guy from a Jewish gun advocate group about the link between being Jewish and loving guns (it actually makes total sense, believe it or not).

    Obviously the first question is, how do you find these people? Well, it’s really easy. In order to find these people and get totally original quotes and material to write from, you just look online for their contact information. Just go on their websites and look for the word ‘contact’ and you’ll get a contact form or ideally an email address and if you send them a message that challenges their beliefs or accuses them of something, you’re almost guaranteed to get a response because people don’t like to just sit on things like that – they want you to know how they feel – and you can publish that and it can lead to great journalism.

    Also, just a couple of tips, ex-politicians tend to move into teaching at colleges or practicing law, and every college and every law firm has every employee’s contact details on their site, which makes it super easy to find the guys who voted for the Iraq Resolution or something like that.

    Finding a News Outlet to Publish Your Work

    This is easy, because there’s a wonderful tool called Google. Pretty much every news website in the world accepts submissions. However, there’s only a few of the mainstream ones that you have anywhere near a good chance of actually getting published in. So, seek out the smaller ones. Seek out the news sites that are specific to the arena you want to work in. If your main interest is Marvel and you want to report on the new trailers and interview the actors, then IGN would be a much better home for you than the LA Times.

    Just like finding interviewees, find people to publish your work by seeking out their contact information and getting yourself out there. They won’t find you; you have to go to them. A great writer arrives on their doorstep with great samples, they’re thrilled. Oftentimes, websites looking for content writers will list the position on Craigslist, so keep an eye on that and check it every day and apply for any and every journalistic position you find, even if it’s not in your preferred area, because experience is invaluable and puts you leagues ahead of anyone without experience, no matter how good they are. No opportunity is below you – just get yourself published.

    How to Build a Readership

    Once you’ve done that and your news is online and it’s there for people to find it, how exactly are they going to find it? To build a readership, I’d say honestly to just write the best articles you can and keep writing and don’t be deterred if you don't attract a large audience immediately because if your writing is good and you have interesting things to say then people will read it, and it may take time, but it does happen.

    So, there you have my collected wisdom regarding getting your career off the ground as a freelance journalist. It takes a while to really start making the big bucks, but it’s fun (not like riding rollercoasters is fun, but it’s fun in a way), it’s important work, and it can be very rewarding. Hope this helps. Good luck, everyone.
     

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