Freelance journalism is all about added value. What can you give an editor that they can’t get from a staffer? It’s simple: yourself.
Your identity as a journalist – who you are, what you know and which sources you have – is paramount. But if you work alone, how do people know you? How will they think of you for a commission or approach you with stories?
The answer is online. A strong and consistent social media presence, with a diverse network of professional and personal contacts, is an unbelievable asset to any journalist. But freelancers can use it in a way that staffers can’t. We don’t represent a publication: we represent ourselves.
Since moving from a staff job to freelance last year, the way my social media interacts with my work has completely changed. The only editorial stances I need respect are my own. Who I am and what I believe becomes a fundamental part of the package I’m selling. I’m free – encouraged, in fact – to use my social media to showcase myself as well as my writing.
Staff journalists have social media guidelines to which they must adhere: lines to toe, lanes to stay in, beats to respect. If and when they fall short, they risk the ire of co-workers or the reputation of their publication. They risk getting fired. Freelancers, on the other hand, have far fewer compunctions. I’m not saying we don’t have to maintain appropriate standards of discourse, but within reason we can pretty much say what we like. Ultimately, you can’t sack yourself.
I air my opinions without risking editorial pushback. It actually lands me a fair few commissions. I interact with journalists from all publications without stepping on anyone’s toes and have started using this method to secure collaborations. I can reach out to potential sources in my own way, which has made creating relationships with interviewees more successful. Followers get a sense of what interests me and send me tips and stories. They feel as though they know me.
Your online presence can give people the wrong impression of you
That’s a risk in itself – social media is only what you do post, after all. It’s one thread of a whole tapestry of identity. The negative spaces of what you don’t say go unseen, so it’s easy for people to get an exaggerated impression of you: black and white and no shades of grey. I can “be myself” on social media, for sure, but I have to remember that really it isn’t myself. Sometimes that’s tricky.
The freedom to say and do what you like online is also a big risk, professionally speaking. It’s easy to become intoxicated and even careless. But you can also make that work in your favour. The more free I become in my use of social media, the more diverse my contact list grows. The more editors get a sense of me. The more people remember me. When you allow your personality to shine through, you create your own visibility. And that’s why it’s so vital. A journalist is only as good as the stories they find. And with social media, stories can find you too.
By Harriet Marsden