Surviving as a Freelance Journalist
Permanent positions in journalism are rare. There is competition among freelancers for lucrative contracts. To be one, journalists had to even see and get lucky. How do the professionals see the developments of their profession? Alexander Glück interviewed three self-employed people.
WILA labor market: Freelance journalists and journalists are not always professionally successful, many see themselves in the precariat. How can young professionals increase their chances of success?
Simone Brockes: It is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain a permanent position, which would be important at the beginning of a journalistic career. This is how many newcomers end up on the free market. In addition to a broad range of subject knowledge, entrepreneurial thinking is also necessary, but often lacking.
Today, a broad network of contacts, flexibility, and a relatively secure financial background are prerequisites for being able to work successfully in the long term. The feeling for the current zeitgeist, trends, and the art of discovering an exciting story behind the message are the foundations of success. And then you should also be able to write fluently and correctly. Not to mention good self-marketing. The “free” of today must be an “all-round talent”.
Bettina Blass: From my point of view, it is important to build up a good network of contacts, because this is where and through recommendations you get the most orders. It is also important to make yourself visible on the Internet so that you can be found. Through my homepage, I have already received many orders, from customers I have never seen or spoken to.
Timo Stoppacher: It is also important to clearly position yourself and your offer. Do not work as the egg-laying wool milk sow who does not reject any order, but to sharpen his profile. This also means developing a specialization right from the start, for example on topics, possibly also through appropriate courses of study, where you already get the expertise of the topic.
Blogs versus print – is there really competition or is it a media supplement?
SB: For me, blogs are a good media addition, a fund for various topics from which wonderful new stories can be made. As is always the case in our profession, the motto is always: Open your eyes! And: The best stories are on the street or are available online today. Thus, targeted “surfing” should also be learned.
BB: A blog is ideally multimedia. A print product cannot do that. For me, print, online, TV, and radio are media that complement each other and that also have their own time: I listen to the radio, for example, in the morning or as a podcast late at night. I usually read print in the evening. TV is also more of an evening medium. I’m online all day. I consume online media at my desk, on the train, or while watching TV.
TS: I do not see a competition here either, but convergence. Blogs are often found in niches that the regular media market does not cover, for example straight ahead.
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Freelance against employed – here, too, competition is often suspected that does not exist everywhere. Specifically: In which areas do both groups actually benefit from each other?
SB: It depends on the topic. The “free” has the advantage of investing more time in good research and thus being able to work on the “firm”. Or to offer your own report on your own initiative. This includes a good exposé that makes you want more. Also, the freelancer should know how his contact person “ticks”. One editor likes it as concise, the other loves it as more detailed. The respective medium with its focal points should therefore be known.
BB: I don’t see any competition: my customers are often permanently employed, and they need my content, otherwise their product may not appear. Since I like to be self-employed, they are also no competition for me. Without their assignments, I would not be able to be self-employed. So it’s a win-win situation.
Which professional aspects of freelance journalism have changed most significantly in the last twenty years?
SB: If you used to have your fixed place in a medium and a “comfort zone” there, this is no longer the case today. Every day, the “free” has to reposition himself and rethink himself and his work. The latter may be so good, but what good is it if the potential client does not “bite”?
BB: In 1995, I was still writing on typewriters in the editorial office of a daily newspaper in Baden-Württemberg, without electricity. Today I can also write my texts on the tablet and publish them immediately. I don’t even need a publishing house to publish anything. Digitalization has accelerated and simplified journalism. However, there is also a lot of crap online due to digitization.
TS: The competition seems to have increased because more and more young people want to do “something with media” and then end up in journalism. Many editorial offices have cut jobs in recent years, and the job market is even tougher for older journalists. Often only free journalism remains to bridge the time until retirement.