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THE BUSINESS OF FREELANCE JOURNALISM 

THE BUSINESS OF FREELANCE JOURNALISM

A Survival Guide For The Self-Employed Journalist

Most journalists dream of one day being able to go it alone – of being able to freelance in some exotic location without having a boss to answer to. They know, too, that the only thing that can possibly top that adrenalin rush they get from seeing their work being published, is that wonderful feeling of contentment and achievement that can result only from knowing they are in total control of their existence.
Most know deep down that chances are this will remain a dream. Yet they continue to dream. And every aspiring journalist – the student at university, TAFE or college – dreams about landing a job as a cadet on a major metropolitan newspaper or a reporter for a television news team. They all dream about seeing their name in print; they all dream about experiencing that adrenalin rush that they’ve all heard about.
This book is all about making that dream come true. It’s about showing the way to turn your journalistic ambitions into reality – and to earn real money as you do so.
This book has been written so it’s easy to understand. It aims at taking a subject that can be as academic and stuffy as you like and making it so simple to get to grips with that even the most ordinary of people could put it to good use.
This book will give you a new perspective on the business of freelance journalism. Some of the concepts you’ll read about will be new to you; they’ll make you think about freelancing in a whole new light. Other concepts may be familiar. But by the time you get to the end of it, you will be in possession of the most powerful, easy-to-understand and implement recipe to kick-start your new career as a freelance journalist.

In Store Price: $AU19.95 
Online Price:   $AU18.95

ISBN: 1 920699 83 X
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 131
Genre: Non Fiction/Self Help


 


Author: Grant McDuling 
Imprint: Zeus

Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: October 2003
Language: English

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Grant McDuling  

Grant is a professional writer with over 28 years experience working as a journalist, author, broadcaster and PR Consultant on three continents. He holds a Degree in Communication and has experience both as a working journalist (print media and radio) as well as running his own business as a freelancer and consultant. 

Grant is a prolific writer, having already written 16 other books,  12 on business and wealth creation, two children’s picture books, a book on motorcycling and a young adult’s adventure novel.

Read this review from Steve:

I have just finished your book on freelance journalism in one sitting. Thank you for a very informative and insightful read.  You have filled a void with this book, as I had been searching unsuccessfully for a source containing exactly the information you have provided.  As I said, I read it in one read, and I feel you have been extremely comprehensive in a very succinct manner.  

I am a first year Professional Writing and Editing TAFE student and have been asking teachers to provide me with this stuff, yet they had not been close to as helpful as your book. So, thank you and thank Zeus for having a first page result in Google.  

I now feel armed to give it a go myself, in due course and according to my set of goals, guided by your instructions.  

Anyhow, I just did a quick search on the net for your email, apparently found it, and thought I should give credit where it is due.....Steve

 

INTRODUCTION 

J

ournalism is these days considered by many to be one of THE professions to make a career of. It’s exciting, creative, glamorous and romantic. It also brings with it a certain amount of power, due largely to the ancient notion that there is power in the written word. 

Journalists also have a social responsibility, which further empowers them. They are able in no uncertain way to form social opinion about any matter they choose. They have the ability to place topics on the public agenda. 

Yet it is also a profession fraught with dangers – professional dangers. It is a highly stressful profession, leading to many burning out and others taking to the bottle. It is also an all-consuming profession that really is like a drug to its adherents. Many find it all but impossible to think of anything else even when off- duty at home. The adrenalin rush when chasing a story and the elation and ecstasy upon seeing ones byline is hard to explain. There simply is nothing quite like it. 

Media positions too are few and far between, and the queue for an opening is a long one. To make matters even worse, success is a two-edged sword – it brings many unforeseen and unwanted challenges that all but the very toughest can survive. 

In Australia, one of the most testing of challenges is a uniquely Australian phenomenon called the Tall Poppy Syndrome. Getting to the top in this profession is one thing; staying there for any length of time is quite another. Just ask any successful television presenter!

But the encouraging thing is that most journalists-in-training don’t for a moment let this sad state of affairs put them off. They flock to universities, TAFE and Colleges in their droves. And this is wonderful. 

I suppose it’s a bit like sport. Take a drive around any Australian suburb on any Saturday morning and you’ll find literally thousands of kids playing just about any form of organised sport imaginable. Let’s take soccer as an example. The last time I enquired there were about 500,000 registered players in this country. This makes soccer one of the most popular sports of all; yet take a look at the state of the National Soccer League. Nationwide there are only twelve professional teams that struggle to attract more than a few thousand spectators to any game. Now consider how many Aussie players make it on the very lucrative international scene and you’ll understand that kids don’t take notice of these odds when they first lace on a pair of soccer boots. And they all, every single one of them, dream of playing for Manchester United one day. 

Writing is no different. Every journalist dreams of one day writing a best - selling novel, yet they know, deep down, that chances are they never will. Yet they continue to dream. Every aspiring journalist – the student at university, TAFE or college – dreams about landing a job as a cadet on a major metropolitan newspaper, or as a reporter for a television news team. They all dream about seeing their name in print; they all dream about experiencing that adrenalin rush that they’ve all heard about. 

This book is all about making that dream come true. It’s about showing the way to turn your journalistic ambitions into reality – and to earn real money as you do so. You see, what would be the point otherwise? Forget what you’ve always been told about what motivates and what doesn’t. The fact is that MONEY is a great motivator. Why else would the Journalism departments at universities and TAFE be overflowing with students? There’s no shortage of prospective journalists, just as there’s no shortage of starry-eyed professional football hopefuls. 

So congratulations on your decision to buy this book and put into action some positive steps towards making your dream come true. But before you start reading, push aside all you’ve ever been told about being a working journalist. Start with an open mind,; a clean slate, and take on board what I’m about to tell you. If you do, you’ll be ahead of the pack; you’ll at least have a great chance of seeing your work published, and earning a reasonable living for your efforts at the same time. 

You see, I’ve spent over twenty five years working as a journalist. These years haven’t always been good. They haven’t always been profitable. Well, not until I worked out what I was doing wrong and corrected it. Then everything changed. The writing commissions flowed and the money began rolling in. So too did requests to lecture to Journalism students, both undergraduate and postgraduate at the University of Queensland. I was able to develop a strategy based on my experiences in journalism that would open doors for students so that they would, at the very least, gain renewed enthusiasm and hope in an often gloomy job environment. At best, they would gain meaningful employment in their chosen profession. 

But let me, at this stage, outline briefly the experience I gained that has enabled me to write this book. 

I was born into a family of journalists. My Dad Leo is a career journalist who has worked in various roles ranging from reporter to sub-editor, and from motoring editor of The Star, a major South African daily newspaper, to the editor of various South African newspapers and magazines. My two uncles were also career journalists: Alan wrote for The Pretoria News and Denis worked for the South African Press Association (SAPA) for many years. My younger cousin Sue is also a career journalist, working at present as editor of a food and travel supplement of The Star. My brother-in-law Raymond is the works manager of Times Media Limited. And now my daughter Kerry has been awarded a degree in Journalism from the University of Queensland and works as a freelance journalist. 

Writing was in my blood. It was something I couldn’t help doing. Imagine how hard it was then for me to take a conscious decision, on leaving school, not to follow in my Dad’s footsteps and join his newspaper as a cadet reporter. I guess it was because I was keen to try something different. You see, all my life all I had heard about was the news. African coups, trouble spots, wars and violence were common subjects discussed at the dinner table. The latest front-page story, who wrote it and against what odds, were everyday discussions in the McDuling household. And I loved it. 

But, I guess, a side of me wanted to break free and try something else. How I was to rue the day I chose to join an oil company instead. Not because I didn’t like working for Shell – far from it – it’s just that I was to have that creative urge gnawing away at me for many years to come. My decision was partly based on the fact that, in South Africa, journalism at the time was a very poorly paid profession. I was acutely aware that our family had lacked what many others took for granted and I was keen to ensure I didn’t also end up trapped in a poorly paid job. 

Then, in 1978, after years of languishing in the journalistic wilderness, I decided to get back to my real roots and freelance. I also discovered that this would not be an easy path to follow as there was little in the way of accumulated knowledge to help me. I would be left largely to my own devices. I would have to pioneer my own route to publication and financial reward. 

At the time I was involved in motor sport at Shell, and this proved fertile ground for writing. I was also involved in the world of vintage motorcycling. This would be my entrée into the world of journalism, I knew. I approached Evert Van Niekerk, Motoring Editor of The Citizen, a major Johannesburg daily morning newspaper, and I was in business. In no time at all I became somewhat of a specialist writer, reporting on motorcycle events on a weekly basis. And the modest cheques began rolling in. From those humble beginnings I gradually spread my wings, adding to the publications I wrote for. I also began writing the odd road test of new car models for some newspapers. 

I began to realise that if I wanted to significantly enhance my prospects in this business, it was time for me to give serious consideration to improving my level of formal education. This meant further study. I scouted around and found the best solution for my particular circumstances was to enrol for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication at the University of South Africa (UNISA). You see, having a young family meant studying full time was impractical. What I needed to do was to study at night via correspondence, and this was the only university that offered that option. 

Six long years later I had the degree I was after and did it open up opportunities! Within weeks I was appointed PR officer for Ford, Mazda and Mitsubishi at the South African Motor Corporation (SAMCOR), the assembly plant in Pretoria. That meant more writing, more road tests and more motor sport – a perfect situation to my way of thinking. 

But my freelance writing didn’t stop. I continued to write for those publications that had given me my break when I really needed it. And needless to say, the extra money was more than welcome. 

The political climate began to deteriorate rapidly as the 1990s began to unfold. As the levels of crime and violence began to escalate alarmingly, we decided, like many, that the time had come to seek greener pastures. The destination of our choice was Ireland, partly due to our family roots and partly because it was, after all, the land of writers. So we sold up, bundled the kids onto a plane and headed north. 

Our first few days in Dublin were wonderful. Life had suddenly become a real adventure. But as the days turned into weeks, it began to concern me that I was proving to be decidedly unsuccessful at landing any work. Of course I started off making contact with publications like The Irish Times. What I found astonishing was the fact that not being a member of the trade union meant I had absolutely no chance of being employed as a journalist in Ireland. I was actually told that by the editor of one of the papers over dinner one evening. 

No worries, I thought. I’ll just join the union then. So the next morning I was on the phone to them. “I’d like to join the union,” I said. “I’m afraid that’s not possible,” came the reply. “I beg your pardon?” I responded. “What do you mean it’s not possible?” “We’re full,” the Irish brogue sang back. “What do you mean you’re full? Surely trade unions can do with all the members they can get in this day and age?” “We’re full,” the voice came back. There was something very final about the way it was said. 

It was final all right. It sealed my fate in no uncertain terms. All I had managed to achieve at that stage was to sell a few articles, two to the Irish magazine Fleet Management and one to The Golfer, an English-based magazine that was soon to fold. 

What was I to do? Radio - that’s it, I decided. If I can’t get work with a newspaper or magazine, I’ll get work as a newsreader on radio instead. So I phoned up all the radio stations I could find and asked if they had work. 

“I’ll be able to give a unique perspective on the upcoming South African general elections,” I explained. 

My lucky break came with Anna Livia FM. “OK, can you start tomorrow? You’re reading the 7pm news.” 

My excitement quickly turned to trepidation because until then I had never seen the inside of a radio studio before. But it’s amazing how quickly you learn when your kids are hungry. Anyway, I made it through the first week – quite how I’m still not sure. Perhaps it was the fact that I also had to write the news that kept me going – or distracted me from the terror of getting behind the microphone live to read seven or eight minutes of news each evening. 

Anyway, I loved my time as a newsreader. It was one of the best years I had had in any job. It only lasted a year because during that time we had come to the realisation that Ireland was not to be our home; we had decided that Australia offered us a better long-term future. 

So we packed up once more and headed for Brisbane, well prepared emotionally to start all over again. 

I was given a tour of the ABC radio studios in Toowong, Brisbane, on our second day here. However, I chose not to get back into radio – first I would have a real good go at getting into the print media. Why I decided that I still don’t quite know. Must be something to do with being driven, I suppose. 

After a short spell as MD for a business venture – a position I was offered while attending a book launch of all things – I ended up being offered a job as a journalist working for the Redland Shire Council. And what a wonderful job that was too, except for the fact that it was only for a fixed nine-month term. From there I went back into PR, and worked for a year as a Senior Account Manager for Bayly Willey Holt, a local Brisbane PR Agency, before being lured by CSIRO Tropical Agriculture as PR Manager. 

While these jobs brought in a regular, much needed, income, they didn’t distract me from my love of freelancing. Indeed, they helped fine-tune my business instincts and heightened my desire to expand my writing repertoire. I began writing for more publications than ever before, and on a broader range of topics too. I began to see, first-hand, that I didn’t need to be an expert on a topic to write well about it. 

After three years with the CSIRO, the chance came to really put the sum of my accumulated freelancing knowledge to the test. And it would be the ultimate test, because, due to an internal reorganisation, the CSIRO closed down or amalgamated entire divisions, leading to staff redundancies and lay-offs. This would be the nudge I was waiting for, I knew. And I grabbed it with both hands. 

Overnight I found myself set up as a full-time freelancer, with a registered business name, sales tax number and various types of professional indemnity insurance policies in place. I was ready for the big test. 

Running my own business had always intrigued me - but I did worry whether it was more some type of fatal attraction rather than a genuine desire to ‘do my own thing’. Whatever the case, I was soon to find out. 

I knew the CSIRO would continue to have writing needs and that someone would have to perform them. Why not me? After all, I was more than familiar with the organisation, its people and culture. A few short discussions later, I found myself signing a contract to perform the work for a year. I was in business! 

Of course, I was only too well aware of the age-old adage that one shouldn’t have all one’s eggs in one basket, so with that firmly in the back of my mind, I began marketing myself to selected organisations that I guessed would find what I had to offer of interest. The first was another scientific organisation, the Australian Centre for International and Tropical Health and Nutrition, based at the University of Queensland. It turned out they required a complete set of brochures to be designed, written and produced, as well as various other promotional activities. I was asked to submit a proposal and a quote, based on a monthly retainer basis. This I did, and was duly appointed. Great, I thought. That’s my second client. 

It really began rolling from there. I was then approached by the Queensland Horticultural Institute and asked to write their annual report. After that they needed some brochures produced. 

The game was well and truly on. 

Regular writing work continued to roll in too. I found myself writing regular feature articles, mostly supplemented with colour photographs, for Australian Classic Car Monthly, The Jaguar Magazine, MG World, Triumph World, Car News, The Courier Mail, Australian Sugarcane, Computer Reseller News, Military Vehicles Magazine, The Qantas Club, Balloon Life, and Australian and British Soccer Weekly. 

As you can imagine, I found life was suddenly very busy indeed. And very lucrative. I had never earned so much in my life before! But the funny thing was, the more involved I became, the more I found I could achieve. I began recognising opportunities almost every day. I launched a magazine aimed at the Australian – Southern African business community and published it for a year before I realised I could make more money more easily doing other things. Like producing calendars. All I needed to do this was a decent camera – I had bought a single lens reflex Pentax camera in Dublin for £100 – a roll of colour transparency film and a market. Too easy; the printer does the rest. I produced a full-colour calendar with great pictures of classic Triumph sports cars and distributed it to the classic car market. The entire production run of 1,000 calendars sold like hot cakes. 

I flirted with magazine publishing again and remain attracted to the idea, however risky it might be. I launched a glossy soccer magazine, aimed at the burgeoning soccer market in Brisbane. The first issue sold out overnight, but selling advertising space and collecting advertising revenue proved frustrating. It was not what I wanted to do. However, I couldn’t afford to hire an ad salesperson just then – I wanted to prove the concept first. And that’s the classic Catch 22 situation, isn’t it? I chose not to continue with the magazine, and decided instead to buy one that was already up and running. 

My opportunity came when I heard that another sporting magazine may be for sale. I won’t mention names here because the owners didn’t want it known they were thinking of selling. And it is still being published by them today. Anyway, I didn’t quite have the financial resources at the time, so I put it on the back burner. A year later I revisited them and negotiations began once more. However, I finally decided to drop the idea, as according to my cash flow predictions, it would take me six years to recover my initial investment. That timeframe was a little too long for my liking. 

I was also offered the opportunity to edit an internet-based business-to-business magazine, which I accepted. I ran that publication, which was aimed at the forklift truck industry, for the better part of six months before I hit the proverbial jackpot – being asked to ghost write a series of books on business and wealth creation. This I couldn’t refuse because it was, to my mind, the Holy Grail of journalism. You see, not only would I be writing books on a full-time basis, I’d also not have to bank on sales to produce an income by way of royalty payments like most authors do; I’d be paid a good monthly salary and a monetary bonus for each book completed. 

This wasn’t my first attempt at being an author. I had, by this time, already written and published three books: a children’s picture book that was published electronically (I also drew the illustrations myself), a young adults’ novel set in the horse-racing industry, and a book about motorcycling in Australia. The latter two were published in America. 

I wrote seven books during my first year as a ghost-writer. Life as a full-time writer was certainly looking up. And to crown it all, these books have all gone on to become best-sellers, both here in Australia and in New Zealand as well. 

The idea for this book sprang from lectures I gave to senior journalism students at the University of Queensland. Their reaction was nothing short of terrific. I began to see that the challenges they would soon be facing in finding meaningful employment as journalists would, in some way, mirror my own. However, I had found ways to deal with, and overcome, most challenges, and they appeared eager to try some of my ideas. They listened enthusiastically and asked intelligent questions. This whole topic needed further attention, I decided. 

     So there you have it. That’s my story so far in a nutshell.                  

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