In the 90-minute “Freelancer-Editor Meet & Greet” session at the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) conference on Friday, five editors from different news outlets answered questions about what kinds of stories they’d like to see from freelancers, and what made stories stand out.
Editors from the Los Angeles Times, Scientific American, The Tennessean, San Jose Spotlight, and SPJ split up into groups and took turns holding interactive Q&A sessions with attendees.
Gary Estwick, the business, race, and culture editor at The Tennessean, emphasized that successful freelancers should bring something unique to the newsroom, like sources or geographic advantages.
“I don’t care which standing or position you have, whether you are a senior journalist or college student. I pay less attention to titles but your writing,” said Estwick. “Give me something full-time reporters cannot do”
Estwick said that editors would still consider freelancers even if they didn’t have specific story ideas. He encouraged writers to send three to five work samples for future opportunities.
Ramona Giwargis, co-founder and CEO of San Jose Spotlight, preferred to take pitches pertaining to government decisions and policies. A good pitch should break down these government decisions and policies and explain what these mean to the public.
Giwargis also stressed the importance of art. Freelancing journalists who already brought photos or pictures for their pitches were always preferred, she said.
Consistency also matters. “What I want to see is the capacity to hit deadlines,” Giwargis said. “But what happened is that people pitched in, and I asked them to improve their articles, but they never turned in their final draft in time.”
Lou Harry, the editor of SPJ’s Quill magazine, warned that freelancing was a numbers game. Quill only has 12 feature stories open each year, which means intense competition between the news writers, he said.
Harry also mentioned that, for quarterly publications such as Quill, stories can be time-sensitive. It is important not to write something about legal cases where new updates may come out before the story goes into print.
The Quill editor usually wouldn’t take the first pitch immediately. “When I pitch a story, I pitch a writer,” he said. “I usually never take pitches in the first place, but would always respond to ask for more aspects/opinions and conversation from the freelancers. After that, I will ask freelancers to do something else.”
Angel Jennings, the assistant managing editor for culture and talent at the Los Angeles Times, called the workshop inspiring.
“It’s encouraging to see so many people forging their own path in this industry. As the industry is at an inflection point, they find new avenues to tell stories, elevate issues and voices that are not largely covered,” Jennings said.