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Freelance journalism 101
Vocabulary lesson

On Your Own: A Guide to Freelance Journalism

> Home

> Introduction: The freelance side of life

Freelance journalism 101

> Vocabulary lesson

> Dollars and sense

> Contracts are essential

> Copyright 101

> Dressing for success as a freelancer

> Staying productive even when you’re not working

Business matters

> Five reasons to pay attention to business

> Contracts and copyright — beyond the basics

> Getting your business organized

> Separating yourself from your business

> Keeping track of business

> Taxing matters

> Insurance considerations for freelance journalists

Making a living

> Time and money

> Budgeting without a salary

> A simple way to boost your pay: Ask

> Retirement planning: Where to stash your cash?

Finding work

> Finding your way to work

> Trolling the web for work

> Inspiration for finding the story

> Brainstorming ideas you can sell

> Pitching your way to a full story calendar

> Tips on freelancing for newspapers

Marketing yourself

> Paying attention to business

> Making a home for your business on the web

> Networking: the key to staying happy and fed

> Business cards help make the best first impression

Tools of the trade

> Why journalism ethics matter

> Four tips for better self-editing

> Selected websites for finding freelance journalism assignments

> Journalism organizations

> Journalism reading list

If you know how to write a story, produce a broadcast segment or webcast, edit copy or cover a meeting or beat, you have the basics of freelancing already in hand. The skills you learned in the newsroom, on assignment, on the desk or in journalism classes are the mainstay of your career. That’s neither more nor less true for freelance journalists than for those who work for a media organization.

For the most part, the language of your profession is the same whether you freelance or work for someone else. In journalism, a head is a head and a lead is a lead (or possibly hed and lede, depending on how old you are). Sources are the same, editors are the same, copy and clips are the same.

Freelancing does have its own vocabulary, though. Here are some terms you will come across in the freelance world that you may not encounter otherwise, and some terms that have somewhat different meanings.


The “client” is the person or company that pays for your work. Whether your assignment comes from the news or features editor, the business section or the state desk, your client is the publication or publisher. Your client list will include City Magazine, The Daily News, WRDF or Yahoo! News, not the editor or news director. Sometimes the client is an individual — a writer who hires you to edit a manuscript. Most often, though, it will be a publication, broadcast station or website.


A “gig,” loosely defined, is a work engagement. The term can refer to a single assignment to cover a meeting or write about a topic, or it can be a regular assignment to produce news or features. You might hear freelancers say, “I got this great gig blogging for …” or “I need to line up some new gigs so I can fire my bad client.”


“Niche” is a marketing term used to help prospective clients find you in the crowded field of freelancers. Generally it refers to your “beat” or area of expertise. More specific areas are “narrow niches” — for example, you might cover Medicare, not the broader area of health care. In addition to beats, niches can derive from the kind of work you are best at — investigative reporting, blogging, data journalism or narrative storytelling, to name a few.


Most queries include at least one “pitch,” or story idea. Pitches also can become part of a freelancer’s relationship with an editor. They should be specific enough to tell the editor what angle you intend to take in the story, not just a general idea. For example, instead of pitching a new “Getting around town” blog for a local news site, your pitch would include three or four routes you propose to write about.


“Query” letters are used to approach editors and publishers with story ideas. Freelancers send them through email as well as snail mail, but their intent is the same either way: to ask for work. If you haven’t approached the publication before, the query becomes a vehicle to introduce yourself and share some work samples with the editor or publisher — printed if you send snail mail, either attached or linked if you write the query into an email.

Last updated: January 20, 2015

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