Three Things You Can Do Right Now to Start Your Career in Journalism
Listen to The Writer’s Co-Op, subscribe to Freelancing with Tim, and reach out to your local editor (in that order).
Listen to The Writer’s Co-Op.
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s my tweet about it. Basically, Wudan Yan and Jenni Gritters made an excellent podcast specifically about the business of freelancing. Why is it so important? Well, writing might be what you love to do but we also live in a capitalist society. If you’re like me (i.e. in high school), you don’t have to worry about making money off freelancing (although this is also a privileged position to be in). But if you’re like me, you want to know how to and what your career could look like. You’re doing the job of a “professional” journalist, why not make some money doing what you love anyway.
I was freelancing on-and-off for a few months because of school and then summer finally came. That meant more time to write. TWC gave me a huge boost in seeing freelancing like a small business of sorts. Yes I love it, but I deserve to make good rates regardless (I’ll make a post specifically about rates and negotiation as a young freelancer soon). The podcast is on pretty much every major podcasting platform and you can listen to the entire podcast in one day. If you like it, consider subscribing to their Patreon for just $7/month (believe me it’s very worth it!)
Subscribe to Freelancing with Tim.
Tim Herrera is the Smarter Living Editor at The New York Times and he’s been doing free Zoom panels for months now bringing on excellent guests to talk about pitching, freelancing, starting a podcast, how to launch a book, pretty much everything you can think of. They’re awesome and very worth it.
He also runs this newsletter called Freelancing with Tim that includes really helpful resources like pitching guides and answers to common questions about pitching. Also, consider subscribing to his Patreon as well (believe me, it’s very worth it!)
Get in contact with your local newspaper.
Your local newspaper is where you can really start digging into freelancing. I started freelancing for my local newspaper, the Queens Eagle after my editor at City Limits suggested it. I have a school newspaper, but it wasn’t very rigorous and I wasn’t able to do the type of reporting I would have loved to get into. I asked the editor at the Queens Eagle if he was accepting pitches at the time, he said to send over a few ideas, I did, he liked them, and I got to writing.
Did I know how to report? Yes (kinda) because I was able to get some experience at my internship at City Limits, but we only had time to do one team reported piece. But my assignment at the Queens Eagle was my first job all alone, without any team to help me report out a piece. So I figured it out. I did all the research I could, leaned on my experience at the internship a few weeks prior, and in less than a month got my first solo byline.
Just four months later, a piece I wrote for the Queens Eagle about a devastating sewage flood in Southeast Queens that got cited in a City Council oversight hearing of the Department of Environmental Protection (I’ll also make a post about how I reported it out). And less than a year later, I have an essay forthcoming in The New York Times.
It’s been a great journey and a lot of hard work to get here but it’s very possible. During school, I wasn’t even freelancing very much because I was distracted by academics. Freelancing, especially as a high schooler or college student, is all about efficiency and making the best use of your time. Focus more on spending 5 intensive, productive hours than spending 10 hours and wearing yourself out. This is really for life in general but it applies specifically to freelancing.
Look up your local, or neighboring papers, and email the editor there. See what they say. If you get no response try a regional paper. Be resilient in trying to land that byline in the local paper because it can really set you on a good path.