Oliver Pelling is a freelancer who writes feature articles, web-content, blog posts, sales & marketing copy, press releases and everything in-between. He’s passionate about action sports, music and travel. You can find his personal wesbite here and he also tweets @olliepelling.
Nothing hurts a young journalist’s pride more than an empty inbox. We’ve all been there at some point – firing off internship requests, job applications and article pitches hour after hour, waiting for something to stick but hearing nothing back. That’s the hardest part too, hearing nothing back. A rejection is easy to deal with when compared to no response at all, because nothing cuts deeper than the sound of silence. Whether you’re freelancing, looking for a job and seeking internships, there are undoubtedly going to be times when you’re left staring into the abyss of your deserted inbox and ultimately, your soul.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, lulls are to be expected and if you can’t handle the hard slog it takes to get your foot on the ladder (or in the door, whichever’s your favourite) journalism probably isn’t for you. Obviously, when your self esteem is battered it’s hard to remain positive, so here are a few things you can do when your inbox isn’t brimming and your bank balance isn’t singing.
Send more emails and make more phone calls
Although you need to make sure you give yourself breaks so you don’t get burnt out, you really do need to be tenacious. Follow up the emails you sent yesterday with a phone call to the right person. Be polite, ask if they received your pitch/application and if you get a no, move on. Scour the web for full-time and freelance opportunities and email high-profile people in any field with an interview request; you’ll never know who’ll say yes (if you bag a good interview, it’s a lot easier to get a commission off the back of it from a related publication). Keep pitching, keep pitching, and keep pitching.
It’s been said a thousand times before, but if you want to come up with the best ideas for pitches, or you want to be on the ball in your job interview, you need to know what’s going on in the world. Read all the papers. Not just the liberal ones either. You don’t have to agree with the politics of a paper for it to give you ideas for your own writing. Maybe after reading The Sun you’ll want to write a piece on whether or not it encourages football hooliganism, for example. I’m not suggesting The Sun does do this by the way; just trying to point out that sticking to one outlet for your news will give you a blinkered view and limit your options. There’s no space for news snobs among aspiring journalists as those that have the broadest knowledge of journalism and current affairs will go the furthest. Read all those textbooks from uni again too. You may have read them before, but you never know when something might stick in your mind and come in handy at a later date.
Blog, tweet and be online
There’s no two ways about it anymore, having an online presence is crucial for young bucks. Get on Twitter and add like-minded folks, strike up conversations, get involved in #hashtags – you all know the score by now. There’s no better time to write a blog post on whatever the hell you want than when you’ve got nothing better to do. Make sure it’s current, relevant and a damn fine piece of writing to boot and you’re good to go. A few other things you might want to invest some time in tweaking include your website, your online portfolio, and your CV.
Write for free
I’ve heard a few people (me included) say that, because they’ve got a degree, they’re not going to write for free anymore. Quite frankly, that’s a crap attitude to have. Being unemployed usually means you’ll have a fair amount of free time on your hands, so what harm can it possibly do to have something/somewhere to write for every week? Of course you should always be looking for paid work and I’m not suggesting you sign up to one of these content-creation things where ALL of your time will be spent bashing out copy for little or no money. What I am suggesting is that you find publications you like and things you want to write about, and offer to write them a couple of pieces a week. Whether they’re reviews, columns, features – whatever – your portfolio will be brimming in no time, and you’ll be bettering yourself as a journalist and writer.
To sum up, my advice is this: maintain a positive attitude and keep moving in the right direction. There are so many talented young journalists out there that it’s inevitable that it’s going to take a while for us all to find a home in the industry. I’m not talking as someone who’s got a tonne of regular commissions or a solid job either, I’m talking as someone who tries his best to do all of the above on a daily basis, because you’ve just got to keep moving forward.