Freelancing is something many journalists turn to at some time in their careers. For some, it’s the way in; for others it’s a way of developing their career, of jumping to the next level at certain key points.
Some senior journalists, who have a wealth of experience behind them, find they can sell themselves as consultants, called in when a publication needs fundamental re-directing, or when a publisher has a project that needs editorial development.
It is very hard to start your career as a freelance in any branch of journalism where you need well-developed skills – such as news reporting or sub-editing.
Those who manage to start their career as freelances are much more likely to do so as feature writers of some description. They may have a knack for a certain type of article. Perhaps they send in reviews which are accepted, the section editor likes them and gives the freelance more work. They go on from there, becoming regular, well-established contributors. Many a big-name columnist has started this way.
For others, freelancing can be a way of developing their career. The classic route to Fleet Street for newspaper journalists is to start doing shifts at a national while still working on regional papers. If such shifts go well, they may be offered a regular contract, or summer relief. If they are really lucky, they’ll be offered a staff job.
However, it’s most likely that, to be taken seriously by the paper or magazine you want to work on full time, you will need to go freelance and make yourself readily available to them. You want to be the first person they call when a shift or an assignment comes up.
Once you have the skills and experience to be able to get shifts, you may find you prefer to be freelance. Doing shifts, you may have more freedom than a staffer, and enjoy working on several publications each week. Feature writers, who may have a contract to write a column each week, or a certain number of features in a year, are often freelance.
Freelancing is also common in broadcasting. The advent of a forest of independent production companies has meant that the old, established career structure has been fractured. Many broadcasters have set up their own production companies, or now offer their services to these independents.
Another way of thriving as a freelance is to become an expert in some key area which is regularly in the news but which is too specialised for most publications to employ a staffer. You might know everything about budget airlines, for example, and write about them for a range of newspapers, magazines and websites. You might find you can get a book commissioned on the subject, and then you will find that TV and radio regularly ask you to appear.
If freelancing is thrust upon you, you need to fall back on your resources. This is where having NCTJ training can stand you in good stead. Perhaps for the first time in years, people want to see your CV, and to ensure that you know what you are doing.
If you are thinking about becoming a freelance journalist and would like some information about tax and running your own business you can access HM Revenue and Customs below.