Sharing their success
THREE YOUNG freelances told February's LFB meeting how they got here and shared their strategies for success.
Marianne Lehnis(@MarianneLehnis) has been freelancing for less than a year. She told how "going to events in the tech space" led to her approaching an editor at a conference. He told her, "Go home and send me six feature ideas tonight. " She interviewed conference-goers then and there, wrote these up and emailed them to the editor that night. She got a regular contributor gig, a niche magazine for "disruptive investors" that turned out to very late with payments before they "closed down altogether. At which point they still owed me about £3k." - an example, says Marianne, of why it's good to be an NUJ member.
But Marianne "didn't feel as bitter as I should because it got me a lot of work" and contacts, leading in turn to pitches via a tech editors' Facebook group. "This led to working on a research project for an investigative YouTube channel. I pitched a story about a large-scale bitcoin investment company that scammed people all over the world, interviewed my contacts, researched the backstory and laid the groundwork for the investigative project." A lot of work also comes her way via attending conferences.
Her strategy for 2019 is to diversify - into video, for example. She recommends having a LinkedIn account that's "really good" and covering "a fairly complicated niche area" – re-insurance is one of hers. Also, talk to everyone everywhere you go, whether in your beat or not. For example, at Guardian Live she met someone at random from a content agency and kept in touch. In any beat there are always over-saturated areas but also newly emerging, niche opportunities. " Look for more unusual places more unusual markets.
Leo Schick(@Leo_Sheek) is a video producer mainly for Associated Press (AP), "I like to do a lot of different things so freelancing is for me," she says. Leo had "quite a few careers" before doing an Investigative Journalism masters at City, University of London City – she trained as teacher, worked in Papua New Guinea, was a website content manager and librarian.
Leo was an AP global news intern - yes, paid - for three months in total, first in the text department the for three weeks on their photo desk doing athletics, where she watched her photos of Usain Bolt getting instant global distribution. AP tends to keep their interns, Leo has never applied for a staff post as AP's freelance operation is "so flexible" and need video production 11-hour shifts covered. She has also recently worked at the "intersection of NGOs and journalism." Her work has including a Niger Delta data gig, comparing satellite mappings showing heat spots which point to where gas is being burned with what Nigerian Government statistical data said.
Volunteering with radio station Resonance FM has led Leo into paid "side hustles or projects" in radio, including Archive on Four and a more recent project "I can't talk about" via a callout from the UK Audio Network email list for a French-speaking investigative journalist who'd done radio.
Jake (@jake_hulyer) moved to London to start freelancing about three years ago. Now he's a culture critic,a features writer – alongside consulting, copyrighting and PR work.
Jake started out writing "interviewy features" for "alternative" music title Fact magazine - up to 1500 words for £150, and for Boiler Room (electronic music site), £2-300 for a 1500-2000-word feature. Actual music journalism can "pay quite terribly. " Songlines (world music) pay £15 a review while the Economist's arts section Prospero pays around £130 for a 800-1000-word blog.
There are more profitable "side hustles" in his chosen field, though. Indy labels pay around "150-200 quid" for press release of a few hundreds words, or for festivals £200-250 for press releases taking "half a day, " then there's much "more lucrative" day rates copyrighting for a major label. Then there's around £250 a day consulting for brand strategists - rum distillers wanting to "have a thing as a festival" for example. There's also work editing Apple Music's descriptions of play lists, plus the "solid work" of transcribing lectures by famous DJs at the Red Bull music academy.
Jake's now "trying to do more features writing", requiring much "research into bird smuggling legislation" in the British Library, which he does enjoy. After the best part of a year from commission to publication he earned £2500 for 5000 words for Guardian Long Read – he's heard they pay up to four grand for more experienced writers. He's also written features for Wired, more recently for FT Weekend, who "kind of pay OK but it's kind of a lot of work, " he managed to bump them up from 36p bumped up to 42p a word. The "ratio of specialism and diversification" is "always really difficult".
As LFB Committee's Larry Herman said of our panellists "You're there and you're doing it... an eloquent response to the general pessimism... on journalism. "
- Last amended 20/02/19