Journalism - Routes into the industry

Like most people who start out in business, you may well begin by taking on freelance assignments or covering newsworthy events in the hope of selling it to newspapers or magazines. If you already have experience and knowledge then the chances are you will already have a good collection of past stories and articles.


Which course should I take to become a freelance journalist?

A popular route is a postgraduate course in journalism followed by a permanent job on a local newspaper, website, or radio station. Successful freelancers need to have confidence in their abilities and this can only come with experience. It is sometimes hard to find a permanent job, leaving working for yourself as your only route into journalism. You will need discipline, determination, and focus - whether you are researching a story, pitching it as an idea, negotiating a fee, writing it up, or chasing payment for an overdue invoice. And that's before you even start thinking about paying tax.

If you want to further your education in the journalism world, postgraduate degrees and other qualifications are a resourceful way of understanding the communication between others through different media forms, and the English writing skills required. Popular University courses include Journalism, Media studies, and English – an English degree will enable you to improve your writing ability and your vocabulary to reach a proficient level.

Another suitable qualification is the NCTJ level 6 National qualification in journalism (NQJ). This particular qualification consists of 2 exams and an e-logbook assessment which is usually completed before the exams. For freelance journalists to have this qualification, it will open up many job prospects, future opportunities, and access to work experience. This is a great option if you choose to opt-out of University or want to further your knowledge in the field and gain valuable work experience.


Networking and building your portfolio

The first rule for a freelance journalist is the same as all freelance sectors - never put all your eggs in one basket. While regular work with a particular newspaper, website or magazine may lull you into a sense of security, be aware that if circulation or traffic figures drop the first saving to be made will be on the freelance budget. Always spread your articles around a few different publications or websites, getting the right balance won't be easy but hard work can build quite a portfolio of regular contributions - helping to spread the risk of unemployment.

Networking is a great way to establish relationships with other newspapers or magazine companies and put yourself out there. Check out conferences, live and virtual events, as well as local areas with newsworthy stories to connect with other freelancers and companies. By networking with a variety of freelancers and companies, you will be able to spread your articles around the industry - this will develop your work portfolio for future clients. Why not join the Freelance Directory too where you can connect and collaborate with other freelance journalists as well as those in similar roles such as Copywriting and PR. You can also show off your creative skills and add your portfolio to your profile for everyone to see too, allowing potential clients to find you and get in touch regarding new opportunities.

You can network through different social media profiles as well, particularly since you may be writing articles for websites. LinkedIn is a powerful networking social media platform that is considered a professional platform; establish a relationship with fellow freelance journalists and connect through this platform with potential clients. This will enable your network to see the type of articles you write and keep in the forefront of their minds should they have any suitable projects for you. LinkedIn also enables you to endorse your skills, so make sure your English language skills are up to date. Here are 5 top skills for journalism that you could be endorsed for:

  • News writing
  • Journalism
  • Communication
  • Article writing
  • English

As mentioned, networking is a spectacular way of growing within the freelance journalism community. It is a popular and rewarding job that can get hectic when you are writing multiple stories at once. Producing multiple articles for one client can be a steady income so you think, but spreading your articles across various websites and companies allows you to successfully build your portfolio. Journalism is a hard job, with tight deadlines and long hours, but a rewarding career that can provide a steady income.


Working out your freelance journalism pay rate

If you get a commission from a newspaper or magazine, you need to be quite clear about what the job entails, how much you will be paid for it, whether you can claim expenses, the deadline for the work, and the form in which it should be sent. Also, check when you should invoice and when you will be paid.

The National Union of Journalists' Freelance Fees Guide will help you negotiate a reasonable amount for your work - £120 per 1,000-word article is the minimum the guide suggests you accept for a weekly regional newspaper and £250 per 1,000 words for a magazine. Or if you are writing for a more prestige newspaper, the guide suggests £430 as a starting rate for a news “qualities” piece per 1,000 words in a National newspaper.

Many commissioning editors will tell you their fees are lower but think carefully before agreeing to work for them. As a freelancer, you have to pay your own phone bills, heating and administrative costs, tax, and insurance - and you won't get paid for holidays or sick leave. If an invoice is overdue, don't be afraid to pursue it. You've done the work, you have the right to be paid.

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