But having read Jenni’s review of the ‘How to be a journalist’ last November I thought I’d see for myself.
So last weekend, I went along to the two day masterclass with freelance journalist Bim Adewunmi about how to become a successful freelance feature journalist.
The course was divided broadly into two separate sections on the different days; the first day was the more artistic side with how to pitch, how to write and how to frame features in particular. The second was more about the business of freelancing from money, tax and how to survive.
Now given it was a weekend course, Adewunmi sure packed a lot in, here are some of her key points:
‘Pitch, pitch, pitch..just pitch’:
It is tempting to lazily send a long winded email pitch something to a general Guardian email account and leave it for two days. This is wrong. When you send off your short and snappy pitch to the individual commissioning editor, fire up a new one to a different editor somewhere else. Rinse and repeat. Pitching is the most important skill you will ever have to master as a freelancer, even more important than writing itself. You have to keep doing it over and over again. Tip: If you do pitch to a national newspaper, pitch by 9am. Editors have daily idea meetings at 9.30am usually so if you pitch then, it’ll be fresh in their minds.
Get on Twitter:
Now over here at Wannabe Hacks we talk about this a lot, but it truly is important. Adewunmi says she finds a lot of her case studies, her ideas and her editorial contacts through Twitter. I agree, a lot of the freelance jobs I’ve got over the past year have been through people I’ve just got chatting to on Twitter. Plus Twitter is fun. It’s a hotbed of new ideas, witty lines and fun facts at your fingertips which should be used to get a conversation going. Admittedly it is also full of some truly awful examples of human behaviour but Adewunmi compares this to flying; even though there are high profile crashes here and there you are still statistically safer in the sky than the ground.
Get out of the house:
When you’ve had your fill of Twitter for the day, get out of your pyjamas, pick up your notepad and get out of the house. Go to the park, the library, meet friends, even eavesdrop on bus conversations. Just do something that stops you talking to the walls and keeps your ideas fresh.
Get to grips with money:
Yes we all tend to want to be writers because of some airy fairy love of the written word (I do) but if you are going to be, in effect, running your own business you need to get to grips with money. Set up a detail record of what has been commissioned, when you are going to be paid and learn to the evil ways of HMRC.
I’m glad I went on the course. I learnt so much in the two days even though, whilst I am still finding my feet in the profession, I am not a beginner anymore either. It is definitely not just a cynical money making exercise, as Adewunmi seemed passionate about her subject and we were seriously encouraged to pitch to the Guardian in the future.
The most important thing I took away from the course is that this is the first time anyone has ever sat down and told me the dos and donts. I have largely taught myself everything I know so far through trial and error and some pointers I’ve gleaned from various sources.
Adewunmi stressed that, despite studying journalism, no one had ever taught her how to pitch either. She said it was such a vital skill, especially in the modern industry, but courses still largely prepare students for staff jobs which don’t exist. This made me reflect on all the course information I’ve been given so far for Masters and I have seen nothing so far about freelance training. Of course it could be included as an option module- but shouldn’t it be compulsory?
I think the course was worth my while as it would have taken a lot of time and effort to figure it out on my own. But I don’t know if I would recommend paying £400 if you, like me, don’t have much money*. If you (or your parents) have £400 to spare then by all means have a go, if it would have cost you a month’s salary don’t bother. Pay your rent first and try to figure it out as you go along even if it may be more frustrating and yield less results.
*The ticket was complimentary.
Image courtesy of the Guardian.
What do you think? Do you have any freelance tips/suggestions for wannabe hacks? Do you think freelancing should be treated as a core journalistic skill? Tweet us your thoughts @Wannabehacks
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