Knowing how to write a news article is one thing. How to benefit financially from that knowledge is another.
For editors, a freelance journalist can be an irritant and a savior all at once. They can be bothersome when repeatedly proposing story ideas at busy deadline times but they can also rescue a news desk that may be short of staff on any particular day.
The key to freelance journalism is to keep plugging away with quality work so that the editor will always have time for you.
To get a foot in the door of your local newspaper, a freelancer should know four things – the news, the editors, the newsmakers and the follow-ups.
Spend some time thinking about these four important facets and how you may write your articles before you even start to submit work to any publication.
1. Know the news – it may sound obvious, but you’d be amazed at the number of freelancers who have no knowledge of local issues but believe the quality of their writing gives them first right to premium column space. It doesn’t matter how well you write, if your article is irrelevant to the publication’s agenda, it has little chance of getting used. Take time to read the paper. Go through the issues and gain an understanding of its editorial stance and what it cares about, not what you think is important.
2. The editors – these people are the gatekeepers of your articles and they could drop your stories at a whim. You should know them, their names, positions in the company, demeanor and how they feel about certain issues, which can give you an idea on how to slant your articles for a better chance of getting published.
3. The newsmakers – it is crucial that you know who makes the news and who doesn’t. Go through newspapers in your area and identify which people are the ones who are quoted and to what issues they are often sought out for. Once you know that, go through the phone directory and get their contact numbers. Your ultimate aim is to get to know these people voice-to-voice, face-to-face on a professional, and even personal, level.
4. The follow-ups – this is probably the most important knowledge you can have because this is what will brand you as a journalist. And, significantly, this is not something you can read up on but it is what you generate from your own head. If an issue crops up, arm yourself with the knowledge required from the first three points and then work on a possible follow-up story. Remember, the in-house reporters will probably be doing the same thing, so you should try to think of a different angle. This will prevent you from stepping on toes and also raise your standing in the eyes of editors.
Once you have all this in your head, call or email the editor and tell him or her your story idea. If it is topical, fresh and relevant to what the paper had in its latest issue, and it takes the story further, there is a good chance it will be used.
If so, you have your foot in the door. This does not only apply to newspapers. There are magazines and online news outlets that can also be targeted. Follow these four rules and kick-start your freelance journalism career.