How to Become a Freelance Journalist

Many young people or older people hoping to switch career have asked me what is the best route to take in order to become a freelance journalist.

In my own case, I tried teaching for a few years before deciding to try journalism. By then I had a BA degree and a postgraduate certificate in education. Should I go for a year-long postgraduate course or enroll in a short course, I wondered.

In the end, I opted for a 17-week course in periodical (magazine) journalism run by the large UK publisher Reed Business Information. I think it cost around a couple of thousand pounds in 1987.

For career changers a short taster course is probably the most sensible route to take. After all, what is the point of spending several thousand pounds on a course only to find that it is not for you?

Many universities and colleges have developed their own journalism degree courses over the years. But these usually take three years to complete with no guarantee of a job at the end of it.

Editors writing job specifications for journalists rarely cite the need for a degree in journalism. Even if they want a graduate the subject is not important. More crucial is to have basic skills such as news and feature writing along with sub editing.

And for freelance writing, the commissioning editor is unlikely to ask you about your degree, MA, PhD or MBNA. What they want to see is a targeted pitch with some good ideas and an ability to write a well structured article to deadline.

To write well and develop a network of contacts takes time and the sooner you can get going the better.

One of the best ways to break into the world of journalism is to have a specialism or to develop one. If you are passionate about your subject then you have a chance of conveying that enthusiasm to an editor. Whether this is bee-keeping or the involved world of forex trading if you have the knowledge and expertise then eventually might be sought out for your comments and opinions.

A quick search on Google will throw up lots of options on journalism training. There are one-day courses, two-day courses, online courses and some that run over several months. Or – if you have the time and money – you can opt to do a three-year degree. As they say, the choice is yours.


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