How To Become A Freelance Journalist

While the character Carrie Bradshaw in Sex In The City made being a freelance journalist look like a glamorous job, it does take a lot of hard work and discipline to make it – especially if you are just starting out.

So if 9 to 5 really isn’t your style, and you don’t like being cooped up in an office wearing stuffy *office attire* then a career as a freelance journalist might just be the career for you. Magazines and newspapers all around South Africa rely on freelance journalists to work in specific areas – words are in high demand. From film reviews and music to science and environmental articles. The hardest part of all is getting started – but having a fat portfolio of published work and a knack for networking is the key to kick-starting your career in freelance journalism.

So where do you get published????? Seeing your first by-line in print is an amazing *high* and just being acknowledged for your work is incredibly rewarding. Before you start you need to read a lot and then read some more – you need to know all the publications out there and the content they publish. Next time your local paper arrives take the time to read through slowly and see what it is they publish, do they focus on sports, local events, people, restaurants…….

Many freelance writers write with specific magazines or newspapers in mind, so you need to work out who your target audience will be if you want to earn a living. Take a look at your local publisher, get to know what they print, note down the tone and style of their magazine or newspaper – try and read some back issues to get an understanding of what they are about. Remember editors receive lots of articles, so to get noticed, you need to have a game plan.

Generally you would write your article first ensuring the story is true and of good quality, editors have eagle eyes so double and triple check that your spelling and grammar are immaculate. If possible try and download their style guide if it is available online and make them fall in love with you. Check that any quotes used, names and titles are spelt correctly with a clean double-spaced copy being your ticket to landing the job.


Include a cover letter with your name, address, phone number and a short description of the article; if you have never been published before do not expect to get paid on your first try. If you have been published before, send them the links to your online articles, and don’t feel uncomfortable about asking to be paid – the worst they can say is NO!

In your cover letter you need to make an impression – quickly – explain that you are a freelance journalist and describe the article you have submitted in a few lines. If you make it snappy and appealing they will want to read more. It’s also practical to add a deadline date for them to get back to you – but do this tactfully; you do not want to look pushy – or desperate.

Do not send your article and cover letter to the email address of your publisher, instead deal with them directly, ring and set up an appointment with the editor. Editors are real people too and they all started somewhere with many of them fantastic people who are willing to help out newcomers who show potential and talent.

Writers are not loners with no social skills, so if you have sent out articles and haven’t heard back pick up the phone and give them a call, remind the editor who you are and ask about the status of your article. A phone call reminder also shows your commitment and it’s easier to talk to the editor for feedback and to answer any questions. Just remember if this is what you want to do – don’t give up!

Have you considered a career as a freelance journalist? Are you a freelance journalist? Do you have some tips to share?



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