Becoming a Freelance Broadcast Journalist

Learn how one man discovered that a broadcast journalist can make it on his own as a freelancer.

| May/June 1971

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    Improve the quality of your work as a freelance broadcast journalist by investing in a dependable recorder.

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I have recently discovered, to my delight, that a broadcast journalist can make it on his own as a freelancer. In fact, I'm now making my living this way and I'm going to tell you how I do it. I want to emphasize right in front, however, that this article is written for folks who already have some grounding in news reporting. If your experience in communications is limited to a few months of tearing copy off a teletype or to working as a copy boy or advertising salesman, you may not have the preparation needed for this freelance journalism.

Reporting the News

Alright, news reporters. Now that we've sorted ourselves out, I'll lay down two ground rules: (1) The following instructions are not meant to tell you how to rake in so much money in three months that you can take it easy the rest of the year. Rather, I'm going to show you a way to get out from under a boss . . . or to survive when you're without a job. (2) Remember that I work in radio news. Your field might be TV or newspapers. In either of the latter cases, you'll want to think "photographs" when I say "audio tape". Alright . . . here we go.

I became a radio "stringer" quite suddenly when I found myself without a job just one week before the legislature of my state convened. I didn't want to leave the area and I didn't like the idea of collecting unemployment compensation . . . so I got on the phone to a number of radio stations.

I did not confine myself to stations located in my state. I also contacted broadcast studios just over the border . . . studios which might logically want to use coverage of major events within my state. I was fortunate in that there are three all-news stations in just such ideal positions. I called each of the three and offered to serve as their stringer at the capitol . . . with telephoned reports of the action there.

The stations I called were (a) located in cities large enough to give them competition from other broadcasters, thus forcing them to offer "exclusives" and (b) known for having fairly active news departments. Two key points: I guaranteed market exclusivity (I would take on only one station per city) and I would charge a station only for the stories it accepted. In fact, no one was committed to take any of my reports at all. Generally, the larger stations thought my quoted price of $2.00 per accepted story was dirt cheap . . . and the smaller broadcasters thought it was reasonable enough. The only exception was an all-news station owned by a major network: It had an established practice of paying ten dollars per report.

Radio Stations

In three days of calling, I 'signed up' five stations. No written contract was drawn. I simply sent each accepting radio station a letter that put in writing what I had offered on the phone. The letters also included my home address, home phone and capitol phone.


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