Five freelancing thoughts from the Dublin Freelance Forum

Headed for the airport again after another interesting week of media work in Dublin. Some good radio work, some good discussions with editors and getting bumped off a TV show at the very last second – the more things change, the more they stay the same….

But I was honoured to be asked to sit at the top table this week at the Dublin Freelance Forum.

Brian O’Connell – a journalist, writer and broadcaster I have the utmost admiration for – and I spoke about what we do, how we do it, and the fun and games of the business end of freelancing – getting paid.

The Dublin Freelance Forum is organised by the NUJ, and even if you’re not a member, you should go.

Why? Because the contacts you make there will go a long way to making what is often a lonely existence much more palatable – and profitable.

I ran into award-winning travel writer Yvonne Gordon, whom I hadn’t seen for an alarming number of years.

Yvonne and I operate in different spheres, with different networks of editors, but that is not to say that they are mutually exclusive – any freelancer is always looking for new angles, new phone numbers, new places to pitch.

We may not be able to do so today or this week, but no doubt the time will come when we can help each other. And thanks to the spirit of solidarity fostered by the forum, we will.

Here’s five things I either said, heard or thought of over that day.

1. Think big - talking heads on the TV will always tell you what an advantage we have being English-speaking. So use it.

Don’t limit yourself to the major Irish newspapers and radio stations – find broadcasters and publications abroad. Interview foreign citizens of interest and offer features on them to media in their home country.

For the most part they tend to take a lot of newswire stuff anyway, so translating your material from English to another language is just another step.

Remember, the world does not begin and end with the Craggy Island Gazette.

2. Technology is your ally – don’t be afraid of it.

Learn to take photos and shoot basic video clips. Learn how to put them together. The objective is not to be able to cover your sister’s wedding; it is simply to compliment what you do.

I’ll write a more comprehensive post on my regular kit later, but one tip – don’t be afraid to spend money. Buying the slightly cheaper camera, lens, tripod or dictaphone is more often than not an expensive mistake.

Your video won’t be quite up to scratch, your audio will contain great interviews but with unbroadcastable levels, and your tripod will be about as stable as a tourist leaving the Guinness Hop Store after two rounds of the tour.

Eventually, you’ll end up buying the more expensive gear anyway, so save yourself the trouble, bite the bullet and buy the best you can first time around.

3. Pitch stories as multimedia - even if, for the next year or two you’ll be banging your head off a brick wall.

Our customers may not be aware that they have this need yet, but as more media becomes digital-dependent, they will.

So package your stories with short videos and pictures, the same way as you provide sidebars, factboxes and statistics now.

Eventually they’ll realise that the need exists, and they’ll come to you first when it comes to filling it.

4. Talk to other freelancers – to those who have ever held a staff job, the benefits of being in a newsroom are immediately apparent.

You’re an insider, getting instant feedback and knowing exactly what they want editorially.

We don’t have that, and the only way we can get it is to talk to other freelancers and our editors. So keep the lines of communications open, especially in the bad times – it could be that simple things are stopping you from being successful, and a second pair of eyes might see what you can’t.

5. Help others out where you can - I don’t have any secrets, so I don’t mind sharing what I know.

I may not give you my story ideas, but I’ll happily tell you how I come up with them, and what you might consider doing to improve yours.

We’re in a competitive business, but I’m confident enough in my way of working to believe that I’ll continue to succeed, and your success doesn’t necessarily come at my expense.

Besides, if you help others, you’ll find that they will also help you, so use Twitter, e-mail, phone calls, whatever – just make sure that you don’t end up isolated and out of the loop.

Working alone doesn’t have to be lonely, and besides – there’s very little in journalism that can be entirely achieved by just one person. Everything we do of any great value requires us to interact, not least with one another.

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