Freelance Journalists are Still Journalists Playing By Different Rules

With today’s newsrooms keeping only a fraction of their former staffs on payroll while still gunning for high-quality, up-to-the-minute coverage, it was inevitable that media outlets would rely on freelance journalists’ support to make it all happen. Not only are freelance journalists now covering top news stories on behalf of multiple outlets, they are often the ones covering specific publications’ beats.

My experience working with these non-tethered reporters has been mostly rewarding—I appreciate that their main focus is their story rather than newsroom politics, and many of them really know their stuff. Additionally, once you’ve proven that a source stands up, a freelance journalist is likely to trust the person for future articles and be more open to related story ideas.

However, I’ve also heard rumblings of frustration regarding some freelance reporters choosing not to talk to anyone via phone—instead relying on Help A Reporter Out (HARO) for emailed responses that may or may not make it into their story or solely using email to conduct interviews. Without an interactive conversation, how can a complete picture of the issue possibly be gathered? Well, it can be done and done well if the freelance journalist has a solid grasp on the topic and asks thought-provoking questions. These folks are working on multiple stories at once and can often stay focused better by avoiding the phone (who can blame them). Additionally, the choice to include or not include a source’s contribution happens regardless of whether they conduct an interview by phone or receive proposed responses by email.

The bottom line is that companies can garner success working with freelance journalists if they understand their perspective and work style in developing a story. Relationships with publication editors and reporters are just as important as those with the freelance journalist community. And learning to play by their rules is often the key for inclusion in their frequently high-profile stories.

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