Are you one of the thousands of journalists holding your breath and watching as the industry declines?
28,000 people in the United States lost their newsroom jobs between 2008 and 2018, according to the Pew Research Center. (That’s a quarter of all the news jobs in the US.)
If you work for a print publication, you’re probably taking the brunt of the downturn. But digital media isn’t off the hook. Nowadays, layoffs of digital media employees happen with frightening frequency, too.
Being laid off is nerve-wracking in any industry.
Most of us knew the downturn meant taking positions that offered lower pay. But with 25% of the jobs vanishing, that motivation is gone, and you may be wondering how to keep a roof over your head.
It’s time to channel that fear and anxiety and shape it into entrepreneurship: you’re going to make the switch from journalism to freelance blogging.
Skills to Pay the Bills
What makes journalists great freelance bloggers? They already have a firm grasp on these skills:
Journalists know which sources to trust and where to find them. That includes finding information and data the old-fashioned way (in person using actual books!), using primary sources and internet research. Being able to dig into information and sort out the facts are important to blogging, particularly on unknown topics.
This ability alone will set journalists apart as freelance bloggers looking for work. Mining gold from speaking to subject matter experts is simple for a journalist, who also understands precisely the questions to ask in order to get the right information.
Journalists craft stories that draw in a reader and keep them there. Often they take topics that seem mundane and transform them into glowing narratives. They can easily pick up what writing techniques should be used, as well as word choice and word count.
If there’s one thing television and movie portrayals get right about journalists, it’s that they are tenacious. Journalists do not give up until they’ve exhausted every option and tried every tool. They have mastered how to follow up with people quickly. This same determination can be used when there are slow periods where bumping up marketing efforts may be needed. This grit is needed if a client or source is dragging their feet on a project.
These are just some of the skills developed as a journalist that can be the key to building a “brick-and-mortar business” sized salary as a blogger from a home office or anywhere. (One of the reasons to love freelance blogging – you’re not stuck at a desk!)
From Laid Off to Legendary: Break Into Blogging
So if you’re a journalist, you already have most of the skills freelance blogging requires. But what should you do if you’ve been laid off or you need extra income? Follow this roadmap to kickstart a new blogging career.
1: Get help
Losing a job can be as emotionally devastating as losing a loved one. You’ll miss your work, your co-workers and your way of life. If you have savings, it may be good to take a breather and depend on that for your living expenses for a while before diving into something like freelance blogging. This is especially true if the industry is new to you.
Journalists live and breathe on deadlines, but try to stay away from hard deadlines when starting a freelance blogging business. If you were laid off then you may think you’ll be “over it” in a month or two, but remember to treat this time as part of your grieving process. This is also a great opportunity to do more research into freelance blogging and evaluate your hard and soft skills.
You must look at switching from employment to freelancing as a distinct career change. Even if you decide to continue writing about topics you were assigned to in your journalism job, there is a significant mind shift when going out on your own.
2: Get legit
Being on your own means developing an entrepreneurial mindset. While starting this as a part-time gig can be ideal as a way of easing into the freelance blogging world, this is your new business. Treat it like one.
Here are a few things to consider as you begin this new journey:
Some employer contracts limit where former employees can work. It’s important to be sure that writing for another publication, even as a contractor, doesn’t violate any exit obligations.
This will be your digital version of your portfolio and information on what makes you a distinctive blogger. This is what you’ll use to attract new clients. A writer site is more than simply posting a copy of your resume online.
A good website is enticing. Feel free to brag about your achievements and knowledge. A good portfolio page of clips are a great start. Then it may be time to do some research on how to articulate the ways you can use your skills and accomplishments to create content for other businesses.
With traditional job hunting, there’s a big focus on you and your desires. When creating a successful business, the focus will be on your audience and their needs. Making that distinction is the secret to a good site.
3: Get connections
For better or worse, ex-journalist groups are popping up online. If you have an active social media presence, it may be good to let your followers know you are looking for work. (Keep in mind you may be sharing this information inadvertently with former co-workers and supervisors. If you’d like to keep it close to the chest, approach folks via email or private message.)
Do a Google search on “former journalist Facebook groups” or “ex journalist Slack groups” to find others like you. Commiserating with your former co-workers is an important part of the process. Expanding your network means finding a new, online “water cooler” and opportunities to establish connections for this new phase in your life. Some groups may also meet in person, which is fantastic for pushing you out of a mental slump and back into normalcy.
4: Get specific
Chances are you found yourself diving into a lot of different topics at your previous job. Niche down to one or two areas you are comfortable with. Let the longtime beat reporters rejoice! Also consider some niches are more profitable than others.
For example: My main position as a journalist was in features writing. So I did a lot of personality profiles and stories on upcoming events. This would probably not be such a great niche for freelance blogging, because the fast growing businesses — and hence the most lucrative projects for you — are in fields such as SaaS (Software as a Service), tech, finance and business-to-business.
As a freelance blogger I started with blog posts on the writing process itself. It was a good entry point to getting clips under my belt that I could share with future clients. Then I started working with small-to-medium sized tech industries, public speakers and thought leaders who need an influx of good content for their site and social media platforms.
5: Get pitching
Creating winning pitches may be a bit of a learning curve for former journalists. As a staff journalist, you’re given a beat and then dig around for any and all subjects or potential story ideas to an editor in brief emails or quick meetings.
But with pitching, you’ll have to get a feel for the kind of communication to send to individual clients. Some businesses want a long list of content ideas packaged together. Others will only look at brief emails with a short listing of your capabilities. Pitching can extend to social media platforms like LinkedIn, too.
All freelance pitches require a level of personalization to which journalists may not be accustomed. This includes giving stats or details about the company based on the research you’ve done or mentioning personal connections you may have with the company.
Remember the differences between a good public relations media release and a bad one. Good ones are specific, normally brief, contain every detail of important information and are unique or enticing.
With that in mind, a good pitch may resemble a well-crafted press release or interview request. You have one opportunity to summarize your idea and why you want to work with them. You’ll have to articulate this with specificity and detail. You’ll have to convince them not only of your abilities, but also to trust you and begin a working relationship with you.
That’s not always an easy thing to do. It may require some long-term interactions developed over time. News journalists wrap up their work on a daily, perhaps even hourly basis. Bloggers may have to work on a good lead for weeks at a time before getting an introductory meeting with a marketing manager.
Faithful readers of this blog understand how freelance blogging can transform their lives and can boost their own (and their clients’) online presence. It can serve as supplemental income or morph into a full-time entrepreneurial endeavor. If you know of any ex-journos who could benefit from this, please share.
If you’re a former journalist, use this post as a guide to translate your journalism skills into freelance blogging success. You’ve already mastered the basics.
The biggest hurdle you’ll face may be getting into the mindset of a business owner. Use resources like this blog to show you how, and to help you find well-paying work.
It’s possible. There’s hope. We’ve got your back.
(What other tips would YOU suggest for writers who want to switch from journalism to freelance blogging? Share your experiences in the comments!)