I was recently interviewed by a journalism student about my work as a freelance journalist and we covered some important points so thought I’d share those here with you. If you are visiting here for the first time, then I’ll share a little about me to bring you up to speed. And if you’d like for me to speak at your university, college, school, career workshop or other event, then just send me an email to get that conversation started.
I’m a full-time freelance journalist, writer, editor, and communications professional based in Los Angeles, California. I work with print and online media outlets, locally and internationally and cover a few different beats. I am also the publisher of a 52-page monthly digital magazine called Traveler and Tourist focused on travel and lifestyle. Each issue has three destination features with their own video teasers and a playlist of tunes to listen to while reading that edition.
On the magazine side, I am the founder and editor, so I create the editorial calendar, complete the content, and liaise with my graphic designer and editorial assistant to get each issue published monthly. My workload there includes finalizing stories, sourcing images, editing and proofreading, uploading and promoting each issue, etc. I also speak on panels about travel journalism as well as where to travel, and other related topics.
On the freelance side, I work with several media outlets with a consumer and/or trade focus so as a features generalist I’ve written about construction, business, travel, lifestyle, dining, education, entertainment, diversity and inclusion, technology, etc. My workload there includes research, interviews, seeking sources and images, writing the article, and submitting the final stories to editors for publication.
I thrive writing about so many different topics because it keeps things interesting. I get to learn a lot, I get to speak to some great experts in their respective fields, and I am constantly growing and learning because of it. This also opens the doors to writing for other outlets covering industries and beats I may not already, but the versatility of my published work makes that an easy transition for me and the outlet/client.
I’ve been in the business 10 years full time and about 4-5 years part time prior as I gradually moved toward the fulltime scene. I’ve been able to sustain myself in this business that long by building relationships with editors and publishers and being strategic about which clients and projects I work with/on. I’ve used online and offline networking as ways for marketing and outreach to find the clients and projects I want to work with.
I did not, however, go to college for journalism. I studied sociology and have a Bachelor of Arts in that discipline. Most of my know-how with freelancing and journalism has been gleaned on the job and through certifications and trainings, both online and offline, and other self-directed education to bring myself up to speed on how the industry works and where I can find work that adds to my professional experience.
Here are some of the questions we covered in our quick chat...
1. What is most fun or enjoyable about your work?
I enjoy that it has allowed me to create the lifestyle I want and the quality of life I want. I like the freedom of my schedule and choosing the clients and projects I work with.
2. What are some of the challenges in your work?
My challenge was that I moved to the U.S. as a 25-year-old, so I didn’t have the academic, social, or professional networks that others already in the country had to dive into for pursuing my career path. I pretty much had to learn what I could as I went and make the best of it. But in the industry, itself, I would say challenges include payment and plagiarism. The hours of unpaid labor many journalists must endure chasing checks due to them sometimes even six months to a year is disheartening. With plagiarism, you might find some of your work directly lifted and used in another article under someone else’s bylines. And then it falls on you to take on the responsibility of getting that article rightfully attributed to you. A third is when you pitch and don’t hear back but then find your idea, slant, and sources in a very similar article in another outlet a few months later. There’s no way to protect your idea once you put it out there and that’s disappointing when it comes to pitching ideas.
3. What do you wish you knew before that you know now?
I wish I knew how to read contracts. Each one is different and has legal language you might not understand. They have different terms on payments and rights, and you really must read through to understand and very often ask to change as they work to your detriment, especially if you are a subject matter expert with a very specific niche or industry. Another is learning how not to just earn money but also grow money. They don’t teach you how to freelance in school, so they most certainly don’t teach you how to thrive financially as a freelancer either. You end up having to learn as you go and glean what you can from colleagues and organizations or through your own experiences.
4. What does a typical day in your life look like?
Each day is so different and that’s what I enjoy about it. I try my best to not start work until 10 am. I spend until noon focused on my magazine and ensuring stories are ready or that it’s ready to publish and promoting it, etc. Noon to about 1.30 pm is spent looking at emails and planning for the rest of my day - looking at client needs and what stories to focus on and prepping for those. I take a break of about an hour for lunch. The rest of the day until 5-6 pm is spent on active work like researching a story or writing one, speaking to clients or interviewing sources, finding images or relevant links for articles etc. I close office by 6.30-7 pm at the latest if I have a deadline and then prep for dinner. Eat by 8 pm, watch or read something, and usually it’s lights out by 11 pm. Then it’s up at 6 or 7 am the next day. I like to go for a walk, read, do puzzles, color, enjoy my coffee, shower, and then start for the day at 10 am. On days when I’m covering events though, depending on time of day, I’ll adjust my schedule accordingly. And when I’m on press trips, that schedule certainly goes out the window.
5. How do you organize your time?
Time blocking has worked well for me. My first two hours are spent on my magazine. Unless I have a deadline or a source that can only speak at 5 am, I begin work only at 10 am. I know I have only those two hours to focus on that specific aspect of my day, so I give it all my attention. Then the time before lunch is emails and clients, the time after lunch is for active writing and research or other marketing and administrative tasks. Knowing that I have limited time in a day to focus on something means I make the most of the time I give each part. I use my Google calendar on my laptop and phone, and a printed diary at my desk to keep things organized. I also have a wall calendar I’ll sometimes mark important dates on as well.
6. Do you have any advice for students looking to go freelance?
Be very strategic about how you choose to freelance. If you think graduating and just going with the flow and saying yes to everything will help, that’s not the case. It also possibly won’t make you the same kind of money working in say a daily paper or newsroom would, but you can position yourself in such a way that you could earn about the same or more. Join membership organizations like the local press or journalism clubs, or associations for magazine editors or travel writers, etc. to make connections in the industry. Networking is also something they don’t teach you at school but these are great places to network and get your foot in the door, get yourself in front of others from the same industry, or who knows, even score an assignment or job.
Hope that was helpful for you! If you’d like for me to speak at your university, college, school, career workshop or other event, then just send me an email to get that conversation started.