Freelance work should be part of your journalism career

My advice to any journalist, especially aspiring ones and young ones trying to distinguish themselves among the crowd of writers, is take on any freelance job you can get.

There are three key reasons to freelance.

1) It builds your network.

When I left a newspaper job at The Roanoke Times to pursue a teaching career at Cedarville University in 2009, I immediately contacted the Springfield News-Sun about helping with high school sports coverage. They had a need at the time, and I began covering high school football games. As that paper moved away from full-time writers and more toward freelance writers I got more and more work.

Then when the sports departments at Springfield, the Dayton Daily News and the papers in Hamilton and Middletown merged under a single section editor and high school sports editor my opportunities grew.  This summer I am covering a lot of Dayton Dragons minor-league baseball games for them. They assign all of the game coverage I do and some feature stories. My relationship has grown to the point that if I suggest a feature story they let me do it.

The relationship with the sports department has spread. I have done two news features, most recently one on a World War II veteran that was tied to this past Veterans Day. And now I am beginning work on my third monthly feature in a row for the Springfield B2B Magazine that the business editor oversees.

This relationship with Cox Media has allowed me to develop a working relationship with them that has helped some of our students work for their newspapers to gain practical experience through a practicum credit and internships.

I also write regular features about local people for a free publication that is distributed in Cedarville. I have gotten to know several people in town that I otherwise might not have ever met.

And someone at SBC Life, a publication for the Southern Baptist Convention, contacted me this spring for freelance work. I’ve now done two stories for them. This could lead to finding work with others and possibly opportunities for my students.

Even if you work full-time in media, take advantage of an opportunity if it comes your way. You never know where it might lead.

2) It expands your skills and knowledge.

Most of my life I have written about sports. But the other types of stories that I mentioned above have been educational. There were learning curves to overcome, especially on the business and SBC stories, but it was worth it.

It’s good to write about what you like, but don’t be afraid to take a story because you’ve never done one like that before. If you know how to write, interview and research, you will do fine. The first sports story I ever wrote as a college student was a soccer game. I didn’t know much about soccer then, and I still don’t. But I still cover soccer when I’m needed. And the first lacrosse game I ever watched was the first lacrosse game I covered.

3) It pays.

A little extra money now and then never hurts. God has provided me with a lot of freelance work. It’s not enough to make a living on (I couldn’t handle that much along with the full-time teaching job I already have), but it helps the family budget and allows us to be a little more generous.

So take on those freelance jobs. There are lots of no-pay to little-pay blogging jobs out there. If you need experience and clips, go for it. But once you gain some experience go for the paying jobs.

And don’t just Google “freelance writing jobs.” That doesn’t get you much in the way of good freelance jobs. I’ve had no success with it. Contact local media and ask them if they need help. Contact websites that publish content in your areas of interest. It only takes one person to say yes to get you going.

You can be a part of journalism’s future with hard work

What is the future of journalism?

Translation: Can I get a job with a journalism degree?

I hear this question all the time from prospective students and their parents. The answer is yes.

Momma used to say, “Life is what you make it.”

Translation: If you work hard and prepare yourself well, you will make it. If you depend on only classroom experiences, the easiest internships you can find and expect to be hired just because you have a degree, you won’t make it in journalism.

Don’t wait until you have the dream job to be a passionate employee. Be a passionate student, or you will always be looking for that job to be passionate about. There are dues to pay, and you must pay them with a passionate pursuit of the career God has called you to. If you are a Christian work as unto the Lord, and let the words of I Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3:23 ring in your ears. Be ambitious.

This subject came to mind today when my friend and journalism colleague Kermit Rowe emailed a link to an editorial on Editor and Publisher’s website that offers advice to young journalists.

The editorial exposes some bad advice. Then it gives some good advice from others. It’s worth your time if you are a journalism major, a recent journalism graduate looking for a job or if you are considering journalism as your major.

The advice comes from journalists under 35. Read it, learn from it and apply it.

The business of news has a present and a future. Work hard in the present so you can be part of the future. The disruption of the past several years is creating new ground floors. It’s an exciting time to become a journalist.

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Cedars staff brings home eight SPJ awards

Awards season was good to the Cedars staff again this year. We just returned from the Society of Professional Journalists regional conference with eight Mark of Excellence awards. That’s three better than last year. Four of the awards were category winners and will be entered in the national contest.

This followed a third straight honor as the top non-daily student paper in Ohio in the Ohio Newspaper Association collegiate contest.

Journalists have never been in it for the money, and they aren’t just in it for awards either. But awards are still fun to win. It’s validation that you are doing good work, even some of the best work among your peers. The students of recent years are certainly helping to build a good reputation for the program and for Christian journalists.

They have been a blessing to work with. And it’s a blessing to see them take what they learn and apply it with a mindset of wanting to do the best job possible. Our program still has plenty of room to grow and much opportunity, but a strong foundation has been set in the past few years.

The goal of our faculty is to blend practical experience and skills development with what every journalist needs to know about the law, ethics and the ever-evolving business of journalism. And, most importantly, to apply a Christian worldview to every part of journalism.

If you know any Cedars staffers, please congratulate them on a job well done.