Advice for freelance journalists: ‘Learn when to move on from a pitch’

Freelancing offers journalists the chance to create their own hours, publish work in different places, and secure income in a volatile industry. And as more newsrooms announce budget cuts and layoffs this year, more journalists are considering going freelance full time. 

We reached out to journalist Sonia Weiser to learn more about making the transition to a full-time freelance career.

Weiser has helped other freelancers find opportunities for work, first through social media, and then through the Opportunities of the Week newsletter, which she launched in July 2018.

You created the Opportunities of the Week newsletter to help other freelancers. What are three tips that you frequently offer freelance journalists?

Weiser: Find a few people or organizations whose opinions and advice you trust and/or whose career you respect and make them your core resources. 

Use your portfolio to showcase your best work — not all your work. No one has to know all the things you do to make money. If it ruins your personal brand to admit that you’re ghostwriting someone’s dating profile messages in exchange for cash, then don’t put it on your resume. 

Learn when to move on from a pitch. It is very possible that your idea is not good and editors are turning it down to save you from yourself.

Can you describe your journey to becoming a full-time freelancer? 

Weiser: For me, freelancing was less a choice and more a necessity. I had enough experience as a full-time, in-office employee and enough experience getting fired from my roles as a full-time, in-office employee to know (or at least believe), that I was not cut out for a traditional workplace. Fresh out of college, I had little respect for office hierarchies and politics, didn’t understand what professionalism looked like, had trouble understanding boundaries, and didn’t bother hiding my self-destructive behavior. I had grown up excelling at academics, and I foolishly believed that my smarts alone would carry me. 

But they didn’t. Luckily, I had freelanced during college and had enough writing samples from my brief and terrible stint as a staffer for a website (from which I got fired after the months) that I could pass myself off as a writer, so I started networking and applying for everything while doing weird gig economy jobs to supplement my meager income. I’m fortunate that my parents were able to help me financially during this period, but I hated being reliant on someone else. So I worked constantly and eventually got to a place where I could scramble together enough to support myself. As my career progressed, I was able to turn down assignments that didn’t align with the kind of writer I wanted to be, became better at pitching, got better bylines, and then started the newsletter, which was not supposed to be a five-year thing — but here we are. 

How has freelancing changed since you started? 

Weiser: I don’t know if this is true, but I’d like to believe that freelancers have grown intolerant of bureaucracy … and are more open about how they’ve been screwed over. It’s become so common for freelancers to take to Twitter to call out publications for not paying them in time (or at all) or editors who were disrespectful, or whatever else we all used to only talk about in private. I also think that because so many former staffers have turned full-time freelance, people are more willing to consider freelancers as real journalists, not unemployed failures.


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Anonymous Dude
Anonymous Dude
4 months ago

Love her newsletter, more power to journalists!