Get started as a freelance writer (part 2) - How to find work

Be clear about copyright

The first job of a new freelance is to get published rather than get involved in a copyright wrangle, which could sink the sale. Somewhere down the line, however, we may need to protect our interests through an awareness of copyright. Under English law, the copyright in a freelance article remains the contributor’s unless he or she has transferred it to the client publication. If it has not been transferred, the publication is buying only the right to first use in its medium (print periodicals). This is the case whether the article has been commissioned or submitted speculatively. The copyright owner is able to make further use of the material, for example, by republishing it, selling it to other newspapers and including it in a book. British newspapers and magazines, which also have their web versions to consider, are increasingly keen to take full copyright. Although in strict law the copyright transfer needs the active agreement of the writer, in practice few freelancers are in a position to resist a publication that simply declares it has bought the copyright.

Milk the cow more than once

With copyright in articles publishers hold most of the cards, but the freelance still has the source material. Copyright exists in the words used. Since there is no copyright in ideas, subjects and information, the freelance is free to re-arrange that material to exploit it with other outlets . Hence the saying, An article is not sold if it’s sold only once! The sensible freelance keeps some of the material back so that a later article is more than a reshuffling of words and facts; it also contains new information.

Follow-ups are everywhere

A survey by a national pooling organisation found that editors rated information from other publications as their most important source of news, ahead even of material dug up by their own reporters. This rather surprising finding is a sign that we must keep our eyes on our competitors and other relevant publications big or small. It isn’t only a case of following up their stories. News may lurk among the advertisements, where, for example, statutory notices may be the first occasion where a major construction scheme has come to light, or among the humble births, marriages and deaths. National newspapers draw heavily for news on local papers and specialised magazines. Sometimes the traffic is the other way, and a local or specialised angle will be spotted in a national story. Another source of follow-ups is to revisit a story some months or a year later. Has it happened as predicted, planned? Did the politicians keep their promises? To keep track of stories like this, we need to keep our own news diaries, into which also go our scheduled meetings, appointments and interviews.

Reprinted, with permission, from JournoLISTS – 201 Ways to Improve your Journalism by Cedric Pulford Copyright © 2001, 2010.


20th April 2011

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