What does a freelance journalist do?
Freelance journalists work on a self-employed basis as writers. They need to find their own freelance gigs, so being organised, tenacious and persistent with help you to succeed as a freelancer. The type work they find can include one-off projects, contract jobs and regular assignments for repeat clients. So, rather than working on a PAYE basis for one client or organisation, they usually work for multiple clients at once.
As a general rule, freelance journalists will approach prospective clients (publications) directly to secure writing jobs. Bear in mind that these jobs can be competitive. That’s why it’s best to have an impressive portfolio ready to showcase your skills, so you can stand out from the crowd when you’re putting yourself forward for freelance work.
To have a portfolio, you first need to have writing jobs that you can fill it with. Sometimes completing work experience at a magazine or newspaper (think smaller papers, rather than national publications) can help you to gain vital experience while also presenting the possibility of getting a writer credit: where your name is listed beside an article or blog, giving you credit for the creative.
The more writing jobs you work on, the more experienced you’ll become. Similarly, the more credits you build, the better your portfolio will become. So, when you’re first finding work, the best thing to do is to keep an open mind about how to get writing jobs. You may find a local newspaper or magazine that appeals to you/your interests. Why not be pro-active and establish what kind of content they publish, then create an article or blog to submit to them. This is another way to build up author credits.
Another option is to start your own blog. This will help you to showcase your work online to prospective clients, as well as allowing you to write about topics that really interest you. If you have specialist knowledge of a certain industry or hobby, this can be a great topic for a blog. As many freelance journalists make their portfolios available online, a blog can be a great way of starting to build your online presence as a writer.
What to study to become a journalist
When it comes to being a journalist, there’s no set academic route to qualify. However, English qualifications are strongly recommended, particularly for contractual work. Similarly, due to the competitive nature of the industry, taking a freelance journalism course could help you to stand out from the crowd while teaching you the skills you need to succeed.
Some journalists also choose to specialise in writing for a specific industry, such as legal publications if they’ve studied law, financial publications if they have a strong head for business, or medical journals if they have a science degree. It’s worth thinking about the specialist knowledge you may have that you can apply to your work. If you’re enthusiastic about going to the gym and keeping fit, for example, sports journalism may be of interest to you.
If you’re looking to complete a degree and already know that you’d like to become a journalist, then a degree programme like English, journalism or communications would probably be most beneficial. This doesn’t mean you need a degree background to become a journalist, though. It just means that it’s one possible route into the profession.
What skills do you need to become a freelance journalist?
When it comes to being a journalist, there are a lot of skills you’ll need to have to succeed. Here are the five main skills that will help you become a freelance journalist:
An important part of being a journalist is following a set of ethical standards, including writing honest work, fact-checking and avoiding bias. So, for this reason, all journalists need to ensure they will act with integrity.
If you’re thinking of becoming a freelance journalist, make sure you possess a good standard of grammar and the ability to adapt your tone of voice to suit different writing styles. You should also be able to write concisely and organise your work in a coherent manner.
Sticking to Deadlines
Another consideration to being a freelance journalist is that you’d need to manage your own schedule. So, keeping track of and sticking to deadlines is a really important part of the role. By being able to meet deadlines, you’ll keep your clients happy and find the whole project process less stressful.
To ensure you meet deadlines, we recommend choosing a set amount of time in which to complete your tasks. For example, no later than two weeks after the project is assigned to you, so that you don’t fall behind and end up with a backlog of outstanding articles. Of course, this timeframe will be dependent on how urgent your projects are, as it’s likely that you’ll often find certain assignments have tighter deadlines than others.
As well as needing strong writing skills, working as a journalist also requires the ability to edit your work, so you can make much-needed improvements and tweaks. This is particularly the case if you’re thinking of becoming a freelance journalist, as you won’t have the luxury of an editorial team that you may have if you’re employed by a large publication.
Part of being a journalist is accepting that you’re going to receive amendments to your work. Whether it comes from editors, management or other industry clients, you’ll need to exercise resilience to cope with the changes and feedback that will come your way. It’s only natural that with the positive feedback for some articles they’ll come some negative feedback for some of your work too. It’s not enough to just acknowledge that they’ll be feedback along the way – you also need to know how best to respond to it. Becoming a freelance journalist means using the constructive criticism to hone your writing skills and help improve your writing moving forward.
How much can freelance journalists earn?
If you become a freelance journalist, you should ensure you keep hold of your records and receipts, as you’ll need this when you fill in a self-assessment tax return. The self-assessment tax return is filled out by self-employed individuals and sent to the HMRC, so they can work out how much tax is owed on their earnings.
In terms of earning potential, freelance journalists are likely to earn more as they become more experienced. The average annual salary for freelance journalists is around £32,000 per year. More senior freelance writers can expect to earn closer to £37,000 per year on average.
How much does a Freelance Journalist earn?
Not only will your salary vary depending on how experienced you are, but the rate paid by publications will differ according to their own payment systems too. Some places may pay you an hourly rate for shift work or pay a day rate for contractual roles. For certain projects, you may also be paid per word, for example a 1,000-word piece at £0.10 per word would equate to £100. If you’re paid a set rate, then intermediate journalists can expect to earn around £90 per blog post.
Thinking of becoming a freelance journalist? At Oxbridge, we offer GCSEs and A-levels in English, in addition to a range of writing and journalism courses. For more information, browse our courses or give us a call on 0121 630 3000 to speak to one of our experienced learning advisers.