A quick check of Indeed, Zip Recruiter and LinkedIn show there are tons of companies looking for freelance writers on a variety of topics. Health care. Autos. Finance. Resume writing. You name it, and you can find the area you want to write about.
But getting a company to bring you on can be a time-consuming process. Those who want to be a freelancer need to have patience and realistic expectations.
These companies can now, if they choose, work in a global marketplace, so there are plenty of candidates. True, writing in English in the states is different than in England or Australia, but those companies will make clear what they’re looking for.
For those just getting into the freelance market – or those frustrated that they haven’t received a contract yet – here’s what you can expect.
You’ll have to take a test. Most companies ask you to take a writing test based on their subject matter. They’ll give you a word count range that you have to hit – 500 to 520 words, for example --- and a deadline.
They may ask for additional writing samples. Some ask for links to your work, others ask for links to a portfolio. If you don’t have strong, published samples that you’re proud of, find a website that will let you write on a variety of subjects so you can point to five strong, published pieces. I am not an advocate of writing without compensation, but if you need to strengthen your portfolio, you may need to take this step.
Have patience: Many companies nowadays have the same disclaimer --- we get so many inquiries we can’t respond to them all, and will only be in touch if we want to move forward. Like any job seeker, I find that hard to swallow, but it’s the reality of today’s job market. So you’re going to need to be patient. Expect it to take several weeks – my experience is six to 10 --- from the application process to getting your first assignment. Why? Your work has to be reviewed and accepted; you’ll need to receive and sign a contract agreement; you may need to go through training; and then, you’re finally ready to write.
Don’t expect to get rich. Nope, not at all. Most companies pay five to seven cents a word, and that including time to research your topic and self-edit. Most pieces fall in the 300 to 500 word range, so you need to write a lot if you expect to make a living, and at first, you want write a lot. Companies will want to see you can consistently meet deadlines and produce quality copy before trusting you with more work. I’ve been fortunate (I think) because I can average about $35 an hour – not bad, and I can take as much or as little work as I want. Many make far less than that.
Searching for work: I set aside two hours a day to scour several site for opportunities. I've found that the most effective way to find quality work. I try to apply for three to five jobs each day, writing resumes and cover letters specific to those opportunities. It takes time, but pays off in the end. Remember, you have to treat this like a job if you;re going to succeed. Setting aside time each day to focus, I've found, is as important as the writing itself.
Don't get frustrated. Even the most experienced freelancers don't hear back from companies or get turned down for work they know they can do blindfolded. They'll also be offered work they won't do because the compensation isn't adequate. (I was once offered a writing job writing travel pieces that paid $2 each -- and required about 90 minutes of work!) But don't get frustrated. There are lots of opportunities out there; you just have to hunt.
Freelancing can be a terrific way to make money, especially for those who value flexibility and the ability to work and write when they want. Just remember – be patient and keep those expectations real.
Everyone is a publisher these days. It doesn’t matter if you have a building full of reporters or are just one person (like me) who writes a blog. There are no barriers of entry to news anymore.
And that presents a real problem.
What I’m writing today, on my little blog, is opinion. But with so many people writing, it’s become increasingly hard for people to understand what’s news and what isn’t.
On one hand, that should be easy. News is what’s happening now and is reported free of any bias; just the facts, ma’am. (And no, Joe Friday never said that on Dragnet).
But by removing the barriers of entry, real journalism has been usurped by a blend of advocacy and opinion that masquerades as news. What’s worse, most cable news and internet sites don’t help their readers differentiate between real news and everything else.
Let’s take Fox News. As I mentioned in my last blog, the cable network has a number of very credible journalists. Then, it has Sean Hannity. Hannity is not a journalist – he says so himself – but his followers don’t know that. His show masquerades as news as it follows the same format as Fox’s news shows. The difference, as we know, is that Hannity is an avid cheerleader for GOP causes and makes no bones about it.
This isn’t to say Hannity is the only one at fault. Over at MSNBC, the wildly entertaining Chis Matthews, and Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell are in the same boat. Rush Limbaugh belongs there, too.
I have no problem with anyone doing their schtick. Free speech and all that. But I do have a real problem with entertainers acting as journalists, news shows or sites further muddying the waters by not labeling what is and isn’t news.
Again, a fairly simple definition. If your show reports without bias and presents both sides of the story, it’s news. If you don’t, it’s not.
These news purveyors would do everyone a favor by noting, in a scroll on the TV screen, or along the top of their website, that Sean Hannity, for example, is a talk show host whose views and guests favor a conservative audience. (It would be, of course, the opposite for the liberal and anti-Trump MSNBC).
At least viewers would know, for sure, that they’re about to engage in an exercise in tribalism because they’re about to listen to someone who parrots the views they believe in – and they’re not watching a newscast.
The issues of how media – especially social media – has increased tribalism and group think are ones we’ll tackle as we go.
But for now, we need a little change that no one will ever do.
There’s been a lot of talk about Fake News, and really, it’s a term that does a horrible disservice to the Fourth Estate, a critical component to our democracy.
The term Fake News has confused what’s fake and what isn’t, what’s news and what’s advocacy, and what’s fact and what’s opinion.
So let’s try to clear the air a little bit.
Fake News is now being used as a term by people who don’t like or agree with a news story. Report about government corruption? Nah, Fake News. Report about an ongoing probe? Nothing to see here, it’s Fake News.
In reality, there’s nothing fake about these stories; there’s nothing wrong with the stories. It’s just that someone doesn’t like it – and it’s OK not to like what’s written.
But it’s not OK to weaken a critical component of society by attacking its credibility. That’s simply wrong.
It also isn’t Fake News when a publisher makes a mistake. Mistakes have happened, daily, since the advent of print. When mistakes happen, reputable news organizations immediately fix them. The New York Times is a perfect example. If the Times makes an error, it publishes a correction that lives at the bottom of a story in perpetuity. They don’t hide it. They own it. The mistake is not proof of Fake News; it’s proof that we’re human.
Opinion isn’t Fake News, though it is something worse – it blurs the lines between what is news and what isn’t. All the cable news networks are guilty of this.
Let’s take the much-maligned Fox News as an example of this. Fox has some outstanding journalists who report the news without bias, journalists like Sheppard Smith, Brent Baier and Chris Wallace (who is one of the best in the business).
But the problem occurs when Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow and the like come on with programs that clearly have a slant (Hannity shills for Donald Trump, Maddow can’t stand him). The cable news networks don’t try to differentiate between news and opinion, and that confuses viewers.
Hannity’s viewers (and Maddows) believe them to be impartial journalists, and they are not. There’s nothing wrong with them having an opinion and playing to an audience that tunes it to hear their version of the truth.
It’s dead wrong for the cable networks not to label these programs as opinion.
Remember, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but they’re not entitled to their own facts. So what happens? We hear these talking heads spout their version of the truth, and everything else becomes Fake News.
There are too many of us forgetting how important a free and impartial press is to our society. The press uncovers abuses, sheds lights on important societal problems and acts as a government watchdog. Communities that no longer have a newspaper are weaker for it, because citizens don’t know the actions their local school boards, city councils, planning commissions and the like are taking.
We should be fighting for the press, not tearing it down, with unfounded cries of Fake News. We should be supporting the press through whatever subscription fees they’re now forced to charge, not encouraging confusion with these Fake News sentiments.
Most importantly, anytime anyone uses the term Fake News we should cast a suspicious eye toward that person, because, in all likelihood, they are the ones who are really Fake.
We’ve read, repeatedly, about how legacy media continues to evolve to meet the new digital media demands. Newsrooms are hiring all-platform journalists who can write for multiple media; they’re restructuring to add more muscle to their digital reporting teams and they’re putting more emphasis on using metrics to determine what gets covered and what gets pushed to their audiences.
All of that is well and good, but it still means publishers are behind, since all of those steps should have been taken more than a decade ago. Would real digital change in a more aggressive manner have stemmed the advertising, circulation and ratings point losses suffered by legacy media?
Who knows? It’s more than fair to say that earlier action wouldn’t have hurt.
As legacy media makes its structural changes, it’s forgetting a major component. It needs technologists, and it needs them fast. The science of content delivery is evolving, and there are few people — if any — in traditional news operations that have a firm grasp on what’s happening.
Content delivery involves using available devices to get content to users when they want it. In order to be successful, newsrooms need people who not only understand how these devices work, but how they can more effectively use them to push out the content their users want.
I encourage you to read Quartz’s outstanding story on how smartphones are changing the way content will be produced and consumed. Content is no longer a story written by a journalist because he or she thinks the topic is relevant. Content will be topical based on where a person is at any point in his or her day, whether it be stuck in traffic, emerging from a subway platform on the way to work, or drinking a nice cabernet at the end of the day.
For example: Who, in your organization, knows how to use location data to pinpoint where your audiences are, and deliver information based on that knowledge? That, to me, is the single most important issue content producers face. It’s no longer good enough to simply produce the content; you have to get the content to audiences where they are.
The paradigm has long shifted. People no longer find the news — the news finds people.
What do I mean by that? In the long, distant past (like, 15 years ago) audiences still, by and large, waited for their newspapers to be delivered to their doorstep, or turned on their radio for the morning drive, or went home and waited for the local and then national news to be broadcast in the late afternoon/early evening. People had to go find the news. Now, with push notifications becoming ubiquitous, news finds people based on their content desires.
Instead, many publishers are still experimenting with content in a 2010 way (I say 2010 because that’s when the tablet era began). Many are still trying to determine what works best on mobile vs. tablets, what works best at what time of day and whether certain content should be long-form, short-form, or strictly graphically displayed. Instead, they should be focused on the impact technology has on content, and react with the speed of a technology company — not a legacy media company.
That’s why every news organization needs a technology guru who understands the latest technology and content’s relationship to it.
Content is no longer just about writing. It’s about delivering what people want — fast.
So, we have yet another racial firestorm a brewing, this time involving Bruce Levinson, the owner of the Atlanta Hawks. He said some stupid things, and has now vowed to sell the team. The legacy media has reported the events in the standard, traditional, straight-laced way that it has reported such stories for more than a century. And soon, it will go on to other things.
And that’s the problem. Legacy media could --- and should --- just stop reporting on issues. It should take the lead in fostering real conversations about important issues in our country, and race relations could be at the top of the list. There are tons of others that are vexing, too, but this country has never really had (at least, in my time), a real sustained conversation about race in America. Instead, legacy media simply reports on events and focuses on the wrong issues. More on that later.
Look at all of the race-related stories of late. Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, is shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. That leads to days of violent protests, and a stark split in how the populace views the events. Blacks say the shooting raises important issues on race, yet a plurality of whites say it got too much attention, according to Pew Research Center poll.
In a Dayton-Ohio suburb, a black male is shot dead by police while walking through a local Walmart carrying what appears to be a toy gun. Judging from the photos in the local media, the demonstrations on behalf of the John Crawford, the slain man, were attended mostly by blacks; the demonstrations in support of the police, mostly by whites.
And now Levinson, who, in short, said attendance at Atlanta Hawks’ games stinks because southern whites are uncomfortable around blacks. Media has reported the story, what his emails said, the NBA’s self-congratulatory back slapping, and the predictable outrage by those offended by the emails. That reporting is all good, but it leaves open a critical question that deserves reasoned examination --- is Levinson right, and if he is, what does that mean for race in Atlanta? All of the denunciations of his incredibly clumsy and offensive remarks doesn’t change that he could very well be on to something.
Then, there are all of the other race-related issues that we talk about amongst ourselves, but don’t talk about together. Whites who clutch their purses or bags tighter when a young black male draws near, or who cross the street to avoid blacks; or blacks who won’t leave a store without a receipt for fear of being accused of shoplifting, or who duck in a store to avoid balding, tattooed white guys. Those are just a few examples.
The issue of race in America lacks real, prolonged and serious leadership. There is no advantage for any elected official to make this topic a priority. Most whites don’t see race as much of a problem, and if the majority if the electorate doesn’t see something as an issue, why bother?
Well, there’s a big bother. There are plenty of people that want to pretend that the issue of race in America is exaggerated or it’s “better than it has been.” But there are plenty more who understand this is an issue that can cause immense social harm. Ferguson was a societal microcosm that should teach everyone a frightful lesson --- people who feel wronged, and reach a breaking point, will react, loud and angry. If the same had happened in St, Louis, Chicago, or New York, the proportional demonstration and violence would have made Watts look like a teeny, tiny neighborhood dispute.
And where’s the legacy media? It breathlessly covers the story as long as there are ratings to be gained. When the story begins to lose steam, the reporters disappear. It’s not like Michael Brown is any less dead, or that the people in Ferguson feel any less wronged. It’s just that the media has lost most of the interest it had at the height of a truly awful story.
This is not to say this is legacy media’s fault. It is not. Legacy media could use the examination of social issues as the niche it needs to remain relevant in a digital world. It has the reporting and editing expertise and community reach to make a real, lasting difference. What’s it waiting for?
Media can take the lead --- right now --- and lead open and honest conversations about race in communities across the country. And I mean going beyond the superficial, “I don’t like blacks,” or, “I don’t trust whites” polls we see so often. I mean a real look at how racial attitudes impact every aspect of all of our lives.
How does race impact where people live, and the ability for them to easily access city services? What’s race’s effect on the ability to secure a good-paying job with true, equal chances at promotion? What role does race play on Sunday mornings, when countless parishioners flock to churches and worship with people who look just like them?
These are powerful, important issues that need context, and, most importantly, solutions with community input. Some will argue this is the role editorial boards and best played in opinion pages. They would be wrong.
This is the role of the new legacy media, which should embrace leading a community through difficult issues.
Reporting what happens isn’t enough anymore. It’s time to become community activists that provides context and leads to solutions.
First, I haven't wrapped my brain around everything that's happening in Ferguson. Horrible doesn't come close to describing Michael Brown's death, or the nightly images pouring out of what looks like a domestic war zone. But plenty of people are writing about the long-term social issues and what this means for race relations; I could, but there are plenty of people on the ground doing excellent first-hand reporting and gathering string for more longer, thoughtful pieces.
I'm thinking about the other issues that will arise from Ferguson:
1. Will Twitter be the acknowledged 24/7 news source? The live streaming being displayed on Twitter is better than anything I've seen on TV. It's raw and powerful --- and it's real time. Instead of the Sunday night canned cable shows, I watched Twitter as the violence flared. In addition to the live streams, tweeting, photos and videos have given me more quality formation that I can keep up with. I'm using the NYT and CNN as supplemental sources of information --- and that's a first for me.
2. Are we watching the biggest American social media story to date? I think so. All of the social platforms are fairly mature, so they're able to disseminate information faster. The closest thing I can think of --- the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007,
3. Will authorities try to limit social media use in certain instances? Given the First Amendment, I don't see how that's a real possibility. But we have seen efforts by local authorities to trample on citizens' rights through intimidation and equipment confiscation. Could we see even more of that in the future?
4. Is crowdsourcing now mainstream? Seems like it, based on what's happening here.
5. Will social media engage in self-censorship? I would hope not. But --- if there is information that is knowingly incorrect, or places lives in danger real time, would a social site remove that information?
These are just a few of the things I've been thinking about. And really, none of it is as important as getting to the bottom of the events that led to a young man death's.
Just recently, a college student said to me he was reconsidering becoming a journalist. He has valid concerns about the industry. Circulation and revenue continues to decline. Publishers still insist on operating as they have for decades, instead of seriously mirroring the successes of their digital competitors. Entry level pay is low, raises are hard to by, and furloughs and layoffs continue.
While all of that is true, that doesn’t mean the future for journalists is as dark as the midnight sky. Rather, there are many more career opportunities today that there was a decade ago.
In my educational experience, young people still think of journalists as people who are employed at legacy companies --- a newspaper, or television or radio station. They don’t think of all of the other opportunities, or different types of journalism, that are available.
They don’t think of opportunities at AOL, Yahoo, Google or ESPN. They don’t think of all of the potential opportunities at digital publications such as Grantland, Vox, the Verge, Mashable, and all of the others that need outstanding journalists. (Notice I said journalists --- not bloggers, writers and essayists. They all may have excellent writing skills, but the writing styles are different. More on that another time.)
I’ve taken the position that, unfortunately, the very best in the profession should strongly consider these new digital avenues. Nothing against the legacy publishers; I still believe they’re an excellent place to start. But the legacy players are still, by in large, weak in areas that journalists now need in order to be successful, including: Understanding user engagement, and not just page views and visits; A-B testing every headline of every story multiple times, not just once; tweaks in keywords to push search engine results; innovative uses of social to drive audience; the use of gamification; and much more. All of these are skills the new breed of journalist needs, which go far beyond the in-vogue “all-media” or “all-platform” journalist. Generally, that just means a journalist who can write a story and add a photo and video to it … and that’s so 2003.
I get a nauseous feeling every time I talk about this because I grew up in newspapers when they were king. Journalists wanted to reach the top of the profession working on stories for a major metropolitan publication. They wanted to write what they were passionate about --- whether it be sports, local government, entertainment, investigations, or any of the other available topics.
As newspapers have dwindled so have many writing opportunities --- at least in the legacy world. The digital world is quite different and holds opportunities for those up-and-coming journalists.
I kept having this one thought during the recent Inland Press Association’s Mobile and Social Solutions Conference --- why aren’t there more people here?
As legacy news operations have shrunk, so have the conferences that bring journalists together to exchange ideas and discuss what’s new in the industry. Used to be I would build my yearly work and vacation calendar around the SPJ, ASNE, NAA, NABJ and NAHJ conferences. Not anymore. I stopped doing so years ago, as conference attendance began to dip as fast as circulation numbers.
But Inland keeps plugging along. The Chicago conference, with roughly 40 attendees from small to mid-sized publications, attracted an all-star lineup of speakers worthy of a conference 50 times the size (that's why you won't believe who was there). Among them (and I apologize upfront for those that I missed): Alan Mutter, the author of the widely respected Reflections of a Newsosaur; two social media experts at the top of their field, Shannon Kinney, the founder of Dream Local Digital, and Toby Bloomberg, the president of Bloomberg Marketing; Charles Laughlin, the senior vice president of BIA/Kelsey; Christy Oglesby, the Managing Editor for Engagement at Cox Media Group; Erin Dougherty Foley, a partner in Seyfarth Shaw; and Rich Forsgren, the chief technology officer at Times Publishing Company. (For the record, I spoke as well).
Among the subjects covered --- eight tech trends changing newsrooms; the content challenges publishers face in the digital world; how to use video to increase audience; new ways of showcasing content; a vendor showcase that highlighted some cutting edge digital work (I found Matt Voight’s Saambaa and Tony Wills’ Local Yield Mo presentations fascinating); and much more.
Inland (and its partner, the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association) are filling a huge void in the industry by providing valuable low-cost training and conferences to its members. And it bears repeating --- Inland brings in speakers who are the top of their game, speakers who could demand fees just for showing up, but don’t. That’s a testament to Patty Slusher, Karla Zander, Mark Fitzgerald and the rest of the Inland staffers who have built strong connections throughout the industry and have a wealth of experts they can call on to help educate their members.
Inland, SNPA, and other small associations are showing that you can help your members thrive during tough industry times. They’re not flashy, and that’s a real good thing. They just do good work, and it would behoove publishers to support them.
Why? We all know associations are in trouble. Dues and memberships are often the first budget items slashed, and even if they’re not, there’s no travel budget to pay for transportation and hotel (often the most expensive parts of any conference).
But staying away falls under the penny (un)wise, pound foolish. Yeah, it costs to attend, but you’ll learn more in two days that you will all year. And really, it’s incredibly economical. You can’t get all of these experts in one place and have a chance to pick their brains. Yeah, you can save a few pennies now, but that won’t help you in the long run.
You can get more information about Inland and SNPA at: