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Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Freelance Toolbox

Freelancing? Let SPJ guide you

By David Sheets

Journalists dwell in a media marketplace rife with uncertainty. Formerly stable places — newspapers, TV, radio, even some news-oriented websites — struggle with scarce resources and diminishing staffs. Some operations still able to hire, meanwhile, cannot guarantee long-term employment.

Get It Now:

Download the Freelancer Guide (free for SPJ members)

Outside, j-school graduates and seasoned news reporters elbow for sparse jobs, and salaries have shrunk at the same rate as stability. Palpable desperation pervades the news-gathering industry.

Despite all this, we still may be entering a “golden era” of journalism, and freelance journalists are destined to become a big part of it.

Consider: Ten years ago, most people still had phones tethered to walls, carried video cameras the size of suitcases and received much of the day’s news from a television in one corner of their living rooms or the newspapers they fetched out of the shrubs.

Today, we’re connected by devices smaller than a pack of playing cards. With them, we can write and talk to anyone, take photographs and movies wherever we are. We can record life around us and share those recordings instantly. And thanks to this technology, anyone can disseminate information; however, not everyone can do it well — people tend to announce, but not analyze; presume, but not probe; count, but not calculate.

The same judiciousness that editors applied to the power given to them by their printing presses appears wanting with button- mashers and their mobile media.

Thus, trained journalists remain extremely valuable. Their ability to gather information and report it without fear or favor, and do it ethically, will, as ever, set the standard for dependability and accuracy. But they won’t do their jobs from newspaper newsrooms or broadcast studios; those are platforms of another age. They may never even see who employs them.

And they probably won’t work for just one employer.

That’s why SPJ’s Freelance Committee decided a year ago to put together a guide for journalists who are carving a distinct path: to point them toward independence and help them remain on course.

The electronic guide, which debuted at the Excellence in Journalism conference in September in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is culled from published work in SPJ’s Independent Journalist blog and Quill magazine. It includes information on how to get started as a freelancer, set pay rates and a budget, adopt a marketing strategy, approach potential clients, manage new technology, and do all of these things ethically and responsibly. It also contains a list of Web links to assorted sources on life insurance, legal support, video editing and government document searches. The guide’s contributors are successful freelancers and journalists, all providing their unique perspectives on freelancing and the state of the media marketplace.

Get It Now:

Download the Freelancer Guide (free for SPJ members)

In the past four years, while an estimated 25,000 newspaper- related jobs have disappeared, we’ve seen the rise of “hyperlocal” news, issues-oriented websites and specialty weblogs, each aiming for a narrowly defined audience. New and seasoned reporters are behind all of these efforts, as well as “wannabe” journalists motivated by interest and emotion.

For all of them, SPJ’s freelancing guide intends to serve as instructor, adviser and friend. We hope this guide succeeds, and we invite readers to tell us how to make later editions even better.

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