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Does writing about the topics you’re truly interested in and invested in sound like a dream come true? How about being able to write wherever and whenever you get an opportunity to do so?
If you’re interested in a writing career that focuses specifically on certain topics or niches, freelance journalism could be the ideal career path for you.
A freelance journalist operates in much the same way as a professional journalist does. However, freelancers can set their own rates and working hours, and usually have the privilege of working remotely or from home too.
With that said, there are a few things you should know about becoming a freelance journalist before you take the plunge and market your services. Your income in this industry may be erratic, at least at first anyway. You will have to work hard and sharpen your writing skills to compete against the thousands of other talented freelancers in the market.
If you’re still interested in setting yourself up as a freelance journalist, we’ve compiled this guide to tell you everything you need to know about this flexible, diverse career path.
Read on to learn more about journalism. Find out what you need to do to become a freelance journalist, and discover where to find all the best journalism jobs that will suit your skillset and expertise.
What is a Journalist?
Every journalist is a writer, but not every writer is a journalist.
A journalist is an individual that’s trained or skilled in gathering text, audio, video and visual information and processing this data into newsworthy formats. Most journalists get tasked with broadcasting these news stories to the public as part of their job descriptions.
A freelance journalist is exactly the same as a traditional journalist, except for how they choose to deal with clients and conduct business. A freelance journalist does not work for one or two specific publications that have hired them.
Instead, they are self-employed and manage their client portfolios themselves. Freelance journalists sell their services by the hour, day, project or article, rather than working for a fixed salary paid by a permanent employer.
Freelance journalism offers several unique benefits that traditional journalism may not. Freelancers get to choose:
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- Who they work for
- The topics they write about
- How often they work, where they work from
- When they write their articles
They can set personalized rates according to their level of expertise in the industry and their knowledge about certain specialized topics.
The Salary of a Freelance Journalist
According to GlassDoor, the average freelance journalist in the United States makes around $49,209 per year. That’s just over $4,100 per month over the course of 12 months.
Statistics from ZipRecruiter reveal freelance journalists earn anywhere from $16,500 a year to $143,000 per year. They cite the annual average salary of a freelance journalist as being $60,119, which converts to a rate of $5,010 per month or $29 per hour.
The salary you can expect to earn as a freelance journalist will vary widely. The budgets of the clients you work with, your level of skill and reputation in your industry, and the number of clients you secure all have an impact.
Some niches may pay better than others. For example, you could expect to earn a higher salary when writing data science-based and investigative journalism articles as opposed to writing about sports, charity events, or local community news.
Qualifications Every Freelance Journalist Should Have
Professional journalists hired by news agencies and publishing houses typically need formal qualifications, such as bachelor’s degrees in journalism, literature, or media studies. This is not the case for freelancers, who can legitimately call themselves freelance journalists as long as they can find publishers willing to publish their work.
Publishers are not interested in the qualifications you hold when you market yourself as a freelancer. It might be helpful to earn a degree in media studies or journalism to gain some insight into how the world of journalism operates and what employers will expect of you—but it is not compulsory.
What is compulsory is being a talented writer, having excellent grammar and syntax skills, and having an eye for interesting and engaging stories to write about.
The most important skill to have as a freelance journalist is an excellent grasp and command of the English language.
You don’t need a formal qualification for this either, but it can help to prove to prospective clients that you can write accurate and grammatically correct articles, especially if you’re a beginner in the freelancing world. Your grasp and use of English should include sufficient skills in:
- Spelling (you should know the difference between USA and UK spelling variations)
- Newspaper submissions etiquette
- Journalistic article formats and appropriate headline formats
- Vocabulary that is pertinent to the topics you plan to write about
Essentially, the more writing-related skills you have, the better equipped you will be to set yourself apart from your competitors and secure well-paying clients.
You can build your English language and writing skills on free online educational platforms such as Coursera, ALISON and Journalism.co.uk, or take a formal course if you have the resources to do so.
Diversifying into Photojournalism
Many freelance journalists choose to diversify their careers and services by expanding into freelance photography. Often, photojournalists are freelancers who do not have any official qualifications in journalism or photography but have carved out a niche for themselves.
Your success in the photojournalism industry will largely depend on the quality of your shots and your talent as a photographer—more specifically, a photographer that can tell newsworthy stories through their work.
The key skills and tools that you need to enter the world of freelance photojournalism are:
- A high quality, portable camera, suitable camera lenses, and other necessary equipment like transportation bags and tripods.
- A deep understanding of photography, including the technical skills to properly use your camera and take interesting shots at a moment’s notice.
- Sufficient knowledge of current events that are relevant to the photojournalism niche you have chosen to focus on.
- Editing skills. Most photojournalists edit their own photos using post-production photo editor software like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, Afterlight 2 and ACDSee Photo Studio.
- Determination and persistence, despite inclement weather, dangerous or politically charged situations, and hesitant subjects. Freelance photojournalists who make it in this business push past a number of barriers and obstacles to capture the best shots they can.
There are two main paths to a career in freelance photojournalism. You can either submit your photographs to editors for their speculation and approval, or you can secure a freelancer contract with one main client or several different clients.
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There are a number of different niches within the photojournalism sector that you can focus on when building your photo journalistic career. You could branch into sports, wedding, fashion or celebrity photojournalism, nature and conservation, news and investigative, or even war photojournalism.
The latter takes plenty of perseverance and gumption, but can be exceptionally well-paid due to the high level of risk involved.
If you want to enjoy success as a freelance photojournalist, your best option is to choose a niche that suits your abilities as a photographer. You could choose a niche that aligns with your preferred journalism niches so that you can offer prospective clients a full package of services.
It’s crucial to bear supply and demand in mind when making your decision. Sports and celebrity photojournalists are often in higher demand than war photojournalists, especially considering that there are more sports leagues and games in the world than there are civil wars.
Depending on the publications you wish to approach, their readers may have more interest in reading about sports and weddings than about regional conflicts, or vice versa. It’s important to know your audience.
If you don’t mind the risk involved, a field like war or investigative photojournalism will not be as saturated as its counterparts.
This makes it an unfilled niche, and one in which you will be more likely to secure a steady supply of work. However, if you prefer to work in safe and stable environments, a more popular field like sports, weddings or nature photojournalism might be a better option for you.
6 Steps to Becoming a Freelance Journalist
1. Select Your Niche
The first and most important step of becoming a freelance journalist is selecting a niche or industry that you wish to write about. Start by choosing a broad topic or sector, then narrow it down to more specific ideas that you are passionate and knowledgeable about, or interested in learning more.
You can visualize these ideas using concept maps and flow charts to assist your niche selection process. Read journalistic articles that pertain to your topic and assess whether or not you would be able to localize these ideas to appeal to your target audience. Contact mentors, educators and other freelance journalists for advice if you feel it is necessary.
2. Build a Writing Portfolio
Every freelance journalist needs a comprehensive portfolio that will showcase their skills to prospective clients. Your editors will want a clear idea of who you are, what qualifications you hold, and how adept you are at writing in a journalistic style before you can pitch your ideas to them.
You will need to collate a portfolio of your best writing work to prove yourself to editors and secure the work you need. You’ll need a professional cover letter, a freelancer resume, and an online platform where you can show off your work digitally.
Many modern freelancers choose to build online portfolios on custom websites and social media accounts. Building a website is exceptionally easy nowadays, and there are many themes and formats designed specifically to give freelancers the opportunity to build a portfolio of their writing samples.
Having a website makes it easy to keep all of your work samples in a single place that is instantly accessible to your clients.
3. Pitch Ideas to Your Editors
The first step involved in pitching your ideas to clients and editors is to identify which publications and freelance writer websites address your chosen niche target markets.
If you’ve chosen to write articles about botany, for example, you are not likely to get these articles published in a technological or automotive magazine.
Once you’ve selected a handful of relevant publications that you would like to write for, contact the specific editors that handle your topic at each publication’s offices. You can typically find their contact information on an online publication’s Contact, Team, or Staff web pages.
It’s essential that you know who you are pitching your ideas and articles to before you go ahead with your pitch. One of the quickest ways to get your work rejected is by addressing your pitch to the wrong editor or a publication that’s not at all relevant to your topics of choice.
4. Network and Build Contacts
The most successful freelance journalists are those who continuously attempt to network and build names for themselves within their industries. The size of your freelance journalist salary will probably depend on how willing you are to network, build contacts, and keep in touch with members of your industry who may publish your articles.
LinkedIn and social media can form valuable parts of a freelancer’s networking strategy, but your approach should reach further than that. You need to know where you can find regular supplies of work, especially if you are a beginner who’s unsure of where to pitch your ideas.
5. Create an Invoicing and Billing System
You will be responsible for invoicing and billing each of your clients individually as a freelance journalist. This means that you will need to develop an efficient invoicing system to ensure that you get paid regularly and in good time.
There are plenty of invoice templates available online, and they are simple to build yourself. It’s recommended that you create a personalized chart of your rates to inform your clients of exactly how much you charge for each project.
Your system should allow you to easily keep track of invoices issued and paid. Some clients will not pay on time, so prepare yourself to follow up on invoices if necessary.
You’ll also need to conduct some research into how freelancers in your country, state or region pay taxes. Some tax authorities require freelancers to pay provisional tax, and others have different systems.
Freelancers don’t have employers that automatically pay over their taxes during each pay cycle, so you will need to handle this process yourself to remain compliant with local tax laws.
6. Accept the Possibilities of Criticism and Rejection
Journalism is a highly competitive industry, and you won’t land every story you pitch to an editor or client, especially as a freelancer.
In fact, you might need to send out the same idea or article to several publications to find one that is willing to publish your work. Some editors will not respond to your requests either, and it’s up to you to follow up with them when this happens.
If your pitches get accepted, your work will be open to criticism and alteration by editors. You might not agree with every revision or change they make to your articles.
But it’s imperative that you learn to work constructively with them and accept constructive criticism. Be professional in your communications with editors at all times, and remember to be willing to compromise.
Editors also have deadlines and specific requirements that they need to adhere to, to perform their jobs well. Most of them are under significant pressure to fill multiple staff positions and optimize dozens of articles for publication.
Don’t take it personally if you don’t receive immediate responses to your pitches, or if you need to edit your articles many times before acceptance. This is all part of the learning process, and it could assist you in becoming a more proficient freelance journalist with time.
Where to Find Jobs as a Freelance Journalist
Approaching publications directly is a great way to secure journalism gigs as a freelancer. However, there are other approaches that you can take too.
There are dozens of trusted freelance writing platforms online that you can turn to when looking for paid freelance journalism jobs that you can complete at home or while you travel.
Here are some of the best options for freelance journalists of all levels of expertise:
Journalism Jobs finds and collates all the best freelance journalism jobs on the web in a single, convenient location.
Common job vacancies you will find on Journalism Jobs include content writing positions, editing positions, copywriting positions, and more traditional journalistic jobs as well. Many of these jobs can be performed remotely, while others require you to work from a specific office or location.
LinkedIn is a big name in professional social networking, and LinkedIn Jobs allows you to promote your professional profile on LinkedIn to prospective clients and employers.
You can subscribe via email and receive notifications for job openings that match your skills and interests. Many of the jobs on offer are location-based, but there are plenty of remote positions and projects available on this platform too.
SolidGigs is the job-site that does the grueling job searching for you. So if you’re tired of spending hours and hours looking for jobs, try SolidGigs — just pick the type of jobs you’re looking for, and they’ll send you only the best freelance opportunities on the web. All you have to do then is apply and get to work!
Freelance Writers’ Den
Founded by freelancer Carol Tice, this platform gives every beginner freelance journalist a chance to build their network and find advice, training and jobs online. The den offers plenty of online tutorials and webinars for writers, along with an active community of journalists and clients.
Upwork is a well-known freelancing platform that allows freelancers of all industries to find part-time, full time, or one-off jobs. Head to the ‘Writers’ category and the Upwork algorithms will find suitable jobs from an expansive list of offers.
The Upwork system is easy to use and suitable for beginners, as well as seasoned professionals in journalistic fields. Clients get verified according to the speed and reliability of their payments, and you can view how much each client has spent hiring freelancers on the site in the past.
You can use these features to ensure that you submit proposals to clients who you know will be willing to pay you fairly for your work.
This website has been assisting freelance writers and journalists to find jobs that match their skill sets since 1997. FreelanceWriting.com has a subscription eNewsletter feature that regularly updates you about new jobs and vacancies. Simply subscribe and suitable job listings get sent straight to your email inbox.
This remote job-finder website calls itself the largest remote work community in the world. It posts plenty of remote writing opportunities for copywriters, journalists, content writers and ghostwriters across multiple niches and industries.
Some projects on offer have specific countries or location restrictions, but most of them can be completed remotely from virtually anywhere in the world.
Carving Out A Future As A Freelance Journalist
If you are passionate about journalism and enjoy the challenge of being responsible for your own business, becoming a freelance journalist could be an ideal career option for you.
You can have your articles published online, offer them to print mediums like magazines and newspapers, or even have them broadcast on television and radio. Many freelance journalists also write press releases and newsletters for their clients, remotely, and from dedicated offices.
The good news is that you don’t need any formal qualifications to build your career as a freelance journalist. You simply need to invest in yourself and your work on an ongoing basis.
Your success in this industry will hinge primarily on your command of the English language, your writing talent, and your ability to spot riveting news stories that your clients’ readers will appreciate.
Any excellent writers who enjoy working for themselves and handling their own finances have a great chance of making a name for themselves in the diverse world of freelance journalism.
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Written by Nina Sharpe
Staff at Millo.co
Nina Sharpe is a content champion for various outlets, covering various business topics from finance for startups to small business accounting tips.
At Millo, we strive to publish only the best, most trustworthy and reliable content for freelancers. You can learn more by reviewing our editorial policy.