Getting freelance journalism jobs as a new grad

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 1.37.08 PMIn case you didn’t know, freelance journalism jobs are not just for grizzled veterans anymore.

According to the Annual Surveys of Journalism & Mass Communications Graduates, the percentage of those with both full and part-time jobs who also do freelancing is growing.  For the 2012 cohort, 34.7% of full-time employees say they also work freelance and 43.3% of those working part-time do so.

So, what does someone just starting out in the business need to know about freelancing?  Dana Neuts has been a freelancer for 10 years and is an active member of the Freelance Committee for the Society of Professional Journalists.  Here are her Top 5 pieces of advice for new grads or anyone new to the world of freelancing.

1.  Create and use marketing tools.  Those might come in the form of online profiles, business cards, a website or a blog, for example.

2.  Develop a network of contacts, both online and off.  Local editors, online freelance friends, journalism groups like SPJ or PR/comm groups like Media Bistro are some examples.  And look at your contacts in a different way — not only how they can help you, but also how you can help them.  It creates a different dynamic that will serve you well.

3.  Don’t be afraid to take risks.  Pitch stories to new publications, try a style you aren’t familiar with or take a part-time editing gig to pay the bills.  Don’t have experience or clips for a particular beat or genre?  Be up front with your editor — tell him/her, “I haven’t had this type of story published before, but here’s why I know I can do it.  If you give me a chance, I won’t let you down.”

4)  Volunteer.  Don’t ever underestimate the power of volunteering for a local nonprofit or, again, SPJ; you’ll meet people, learn new skills and make lifelong friends.

5)  Believe in yourself.  No one will give you a job or a chance if you don’t believe in yourself. Figure out what you’re good at, hone it, own it and be proud of it. Let that confidence carry you to new opportunities. Attitude is everything. If you don’t have the skills or clips you need but you have the right attitude, people will give you a chance.

So, what kind of money is freelance work bringing in to new grads? Survey says…

In 2012, bachelor’s degree recipients doing freelance work reported earning, on average, $3,000 from that work or other self-employment outside the regular job. That was up from a year earlier. The median salary earned by master’s degree recipients doing freelance work was $5,000, as it had been in 2011. In 2012, 17.6% of the bachelor’s degree recipients overall and 25.9% of the master’s degree recipients reported doing freelance work.

Though it doesn’t look like most new grads are getting rich with freelance work, Beth Wingarner offered this advice and more on the Poynter website for those just starting out.

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, connecting with fellow freelancers has never been easier. Knowing who’s writing, and who they’re writing for, gives you a good sense of which publications are open to taking freelance work. Get to know other freelancers on social networks and, once you’ve built a rapport with them, ask them to introduce you to their editors. While cold-pitching works, your success rate will be much greater with a personal introduction.

For more ideas on how to get into the freelance game, you should also check out SPJ’s freelance directory and online resources.