International Students have an edge as Freelance Journalists
April 04, 2021
While there are a variety of student job options out there, as well as some lucrative internships, students looking to break into the creative and media industries are often also “commissioned” for smaller projects/assignments. In effect, this prepares you for a freelancing career. If you are planning to return to your home country after graduation, you can still leverage your UK experience and networks to write for publications here, in your home country, and across other places.
Journalism is one of those professions that you don’t necessarily need formal training in. Having something important to say, bringing in your own unique perspective, and being prepared to work hard and fast are enough for the job. With the rise of freelance journalism, this process has been democratised, and all you need to do to get your voice out there as a budding journalist is to start pitching your ideas to editors. We’ve put together some tips and tricks that can help you go from a wannabe journalist to an official one in an industry that’s one of the few to have made it through the pandemic.
Find your voice
The key to landing commissions as a freelance journalist is to have something to say that hasn’t really been said before. As someone living and studying in a different country, you are bound to see and experience things the way locals don’t. Start by figuring out what you’d like to report on. Is it about how a community from your home country is making a difference around you? Is it about your struggle and the eventual joy of finding genuine home food in your new country? You could even report on experiences of studying abroad for an outlet in your home country.
Once you’ve found what you’d be good at, read as much as you can about what’s already been done in the area, and how it has been done. Even if people have already written about the same thing, there’s going to be something that hasn’t been covered. Maybe figure out if you have a personal story that’s related to the issue, or if the pandemic has changed anything. If it’s already largely done, try looking at publications that haven’t covered it yet. They might be interested in a new angle.
Figure out the basics
Now you need to talk the freelance journo talk before you can walk the walk. Terms like “pitch”, “commission”, “call for pitches” are going to be thrown around casually, even as you wonder what they really mean. Let me help. A pitch is an idea for an article that you share with an editor, and a commission is when they accept your idea for publication and agree to pay for it. The distance between when you start pitching and landing your first commission can be long, and tough, but knowing where to find resources and guidance is the key to starting out right.
Fortunately, the UK already has a well-established community of journos who are willing to help newbies. Free newsletters like the ones by Sian Meades and Beth Kirkbride are a treasure trove of weekly opportunities for you to make the most of. They put together calls from editors looking for pitches for specific topics and publications, and also guidance on how to understand the nitty-gritties of the trade. Another great resource to understand the basics is the Freelancing for Journalists podcast by Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson, who also run super affordable webinars for budding journos like you and me. Facebook groups like Young Journalist Community are also the place to be if you want to take a look at what your peers are working on, and ask about everything from places to pitch, to editor contacts. Of course, always Google everything first.
In journo-land, you will find everyone asking for, and chasing after, clips or bylines. These are nothing but work you’ve already published, which will in turn help you get more work by giving editors an idea of your voice and style. If you’re wondering who will give you work if you haven’t ever written anything before, don’t worry. Even having a blog or a Medium page where you compile writing is a good start. As a student, you’re lucky to always have a student publication at your university as a way to get your work out there. If there isn’t one, also look at starting your own! Taking the initiative can really set you apart, and it’ll be worth all the hard work. There are also many publications that do pay for work by new writers, including Aurelia Magazine and Metro.co.uk.
Now that all that is out of the way, write your first pitch! Pitching is a skill that you will learn on-the-job, but always remember to keep it short, while mentioning a brief introduction of yourself, your article idea and a sample headline, intended word limit, and why you’re the best person to write this piece. If that’s a lot of information overload, check out Journo Resources by Jem Collins, which is your one-stop-shop for everything as a freelance journo in the UK, including pitching guidelines. Fire off those pitch emails, and then shoot off a tweet about having sent out your first batch. Congratulations, you’re a freelance journalist now.
Freelancing can be tough and rapt with uncertainty. Always remember to be patient with yourself, and give it time. It took me as many as seven months to land my first paid commission, after having pitched it to at least 15 publications. Believe in your idea and refine your pitch with every rejection, you’ll get there!
Written by Snigdha Bansal
Snigdha Bansal is an Indian journalist pursuing the Erasmus Mundus Masters in Media, Journalism and Globalisation, with bylines in VICE and The Femedic, among others. Her work focuses on culture, mental health, and identity.