How to be a freelance journalist: real advice from another young, unknown journalist on freelancing

I am not going back to freelancing.

Last month, I came on full-time with Technically Media, a company I helped launch and produces Technically Philly.

Still, going back on my own, in some form, has returned me to thinking about and combing through some of the advice I collected in 2009, during my year freelancing.

Too many of those perspectives and resources seemed valuable to not share.

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Focus: my goal for 2011; Growth: my experience in 2010

About a year ago, in December 2009, I was sitting in my living room with two friends.

I had no heat, two plastic chairs and a coffee table. I was chasing down the last of that year’s freelancing invoices to make about $16,000.

I was certainly still privileged for an endless list of reasons, but, to put it shortly, for a lot of reasons, 2009 was a miserable year for me. The three of us all had disappointing years. We all agreed that 2010 was going to better. Much, much better.

What I did do last year was reflect on 2009 and decided upon a theme: slow start.

I haven’t paid it much mind until now, but I think that’s a great task, summing up a year and trying to move in the direction of another for the following year. In that post, I suggested 2010 would have to be a year of ‘next steps.’

Basically, I need a thousand flowers to bloom so I could see which one I wanted to pick.

As expected, 2010 was a much, much better year. It was a year of tremendous growth for me, and, yes, next steps, as I’ll reflect upon below.

But now, with all of this growth, it is time to pick. Fitting the professional goals and the personal resolutions I’ve set, my theme or my overarching goal for 2011 is focus.

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My 10 Most trafficked posts of 2010

You can learn a lot by looking at what you’ve done over a year.

So, while I try to get better at making goals and sticking to them, I have an eye to my work here, because this has always been a place for experimentation and learning, where I develop my thoughts, my writing and my style.

So, like I did last year and the year before, I’ve looked at the 15 most trafficked posts I’ve written here.

Looking at the list I think there are two specific lessons to be learned:

  • Original Reporting rocks — It’s just what I saw in Technically Philly’s roundup of top stories. In this list of 10, seven featured first-issue original reporting, two offered insider commentary and one offered a strong opinion. No aggregation, summaries or general perspective made it to the list, though I do all those kinds of posts too and those kind of posts dominated my 2008 list and had more influence on my 2009 list.
  • Time matters — This site gets a relatively low-level of traffic (the top post on this list received fewer than 500 hits this year), so the sheer amount of time a post is up is magnified. With bigger traffic sites, the first week of traffic can largely overcome a long tail. However in my case, just one of the 10 posts was created in the last four months, and I don’t think that’s due to lack of relatively meaningful content. So, with lower traffic sites, the longer a post is up has a greater impact on its overall traffic than with higher traffic sites.

That said, here are the posts. Draw your own conclusions:

10. Newsworks: WHYY online news brand launching means a lot to these legacies — Nov. 22

Find the other nine below.

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Technically Media Inc.: introducing a media services consultancy

Simply put, we build audiences.

At the beginning of December, I left another role and promised greater details on what I would doing. Here’s a start.

In the past few weeks, I’ve chosen a payroll services company, applied for tax status, requested a business operating license, closed an existing account and otherwise finalized the incorporation of a new business, of which I am now a full-time employee, answering early a resolution of mine.

Technically Media Inc. is a media services consultancy with three founders: Sean Blanda, Brian James Kirk and myself.

And, while I could get you lost in the details, all you really need to know that at its simplest form, we build audiences online.

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My 2011 Professional Resolutions

Yes, I’m doing a resolutions post. If for no other reason than to hold myself accountable.

Looking at last year’s professional goals, which were much more about staying afloat financially, I think this year, the theme is laying the foundation of sustainability to grow a business and opportunities at journalism and the like.

I broke them out more specifically by month, as I did for last year’s personal resolutions:

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Rosemary Feal, Modern Language Association, Metro Q&A: Stories that never ran

A year ago, I did a short interview with Rosemary Feal, then the Executive Director of the Modern Language Association, ahead of the group’s annual conference in Philadelphia.

The interview was due to run in the Metro but never did. With a year passed and its hook gone, I run it here for all you grammar geeks because there just might be interest in hearing the thoughts of someone who told me: “I also love the semicolon, but that’s just my personal preference.”

Find what I submitted below.

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Story Shuffle 4: SNOW audio is live

Earlier this month, my friend Brian James Kirk hosted the fourth Story Shuffle, with a theme of SNOW.

Now, the audio from all 11 stories are up. Listen to mine here or find the others here.

My story was on attending a local high school basketball game where I grew up as an excited middle schooler. As a promise to myself, I prepared notes for my story the first time. I was interested to see if I felt it improved my storytelling, which was ultimately my goal in starting the event series.

So, I dashed down 10 bullet points a few hours before the event, gave it a once over and took to telling the story fresh and un-aided later.

One thing I learned in the ‘research’ phase was that the high school gymnasium of my childhood is named for a former coach and ‘the father of wrestling in New Jersey.’

In addition to the RSS feed, you can follow Story Shuffle on Twitter and Facebook.

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The exotic nature of local: or why generic foreign gifts suck

On Christmas Eve, why not discuss gifts.

For, what, the past few hundred years, the more far-flung and exotic the purchase or discovery, the better. Those emotions are mixed up into colonialism and exploration and Manifest Destiny and so many human and American spirits that I don’t care to explore them.

But I think there’s something changing there.

In 2005, I spent a small fortune in the local currency on hand-crafted wood carvings and jewelry from new friends and acquaintances in a Ghanian mountain village, all to be given to friends and family at home. I was back home for no more than two weeks before I showed off a necklace I was particularly fond of and someone remarked how similar it was to something she had seen at Target.

Oh.

I was brought back to this thought and what it means by a great last-page essay in the strong Philadelphia sustainability magazine Grid.

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William Penn Foundation three-year $2.4 million investment in Philly journalism

The William Penn Foundation board of directors has pledged a three-year $2.4 million grant to Temple University to incubate “a new organization designed to strengthen our region’s capacity for professionally-produced public interest journalism,” as described by strategic consultant Michael Greenle.

“This will fund journalism, support other outlets and find and cover gaps in coverage,” said Greenle in a small meeting of stakeholders yesterday. It may likely take at least a year for real momentum to happen here. Various matching grant efforts are expected to boost that overall total, in addition to future revenue plans, Greenle said.

In 2011, the grant would create a collaborative Center for Public Interest Journalism housed at Temple, which would serve three main functions:

  1. ‘One Stop Shopping’ — Centralized resources from Temple that could benefit public affairs journalism in the region (like MPIP, the computer science program, the journalism program) to be offered to partners in some way.
  2. Incubate Collaboration — This center will incubate a collaborative effort that will take a more active role in public affairs journalism that could very well look like this or portions of this. Or not. That’s to be left up to senior staff, as explained below.
  3. Host Events — Create a broader dialogue among journalists by housing the existing Phiji series and, as I thought, perhaps involving the BarCamp NewsInnovation event we and Technically Philly have put hosted at Temple.

The foundation’s interest in this space was first addressed publicly here after a stakeholders meeting last January. Greenle’s recommendations and work with the foundation follows previous research from the JLab institute announced in April. This project is influenced by proposals set forth by my colleagues and me at Technically Philly.

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Foundations should require public art displays, rehearsals and performances

The movement is already afoot, put on most prominent display by the Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture, but I crave more.

Last Wednesday, I was waiting to meet someone in the food court beneath the giant Comcast Center in Center City Philadelphia. Then people started singing, as you can sort of make out in the above photo. Turns out it was a new performance by the Opera Company of Philadelphia. It was cool, not only watching the rehearsal, but all of the people stop and watch the rehearsal.

But here’s where I think it gets fun.

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