3 important things to know before you pitch a freelance journalist
In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said reporter jobs were on the decline, and will decrease by 9 percent by 2024.
That same year, the BLS also said that about 2 in 3 writers were self-employed.
As the number of freelance professionals in the U.S. continues to rise (Forbes reported 55 million in 2016), it's pretty easy to do the math here: Many of today's journalists are choosing to go full-time freelance.
Although you sacrifice the stability and benefits of a traditional corporate job, there are a lot of upsides to being a freelance reporter. Freelance writer Jennifer Post said the biggest perk for her has been freedom over the assignments and topics she covers.
"I did [write] for my local newspaper, but…after covering a few township meetings and local events, I knew I wanted something more," she said. "Even though it can be unpredictable in terms of workload, it's so worth it to have the freedom to pick and choose your work and be able to live the life you want."
Freelance writers don't all get inundated with as many pitches as full-time reporters do, but those that do end up on PR distribution lists often find it difficult to stay on top of communications from their various editors and publicists trying to get coverage. Based on my past experience as a full-time freelance reporter and interviews with a few of my Business News Daily freelancers, here's what PR pros should know before they pitch a freelance journalist.
1. They've got a lot on their plate
Many freelance reporters cover multiple beats for multiple publications — all while running a one-person small business. That requires a certain degree of organization and time management, and PR pitches often fall fairly low on the priority scale.
"I usually get at least five [pitches] a week," said Sammi Caramela, who runs an advice blog and writes for several online magazines on top of her Business News Daily work. "If I don't answer right away, it's not because I'm ignoring it; I want to give full attention to each, [but] I can't always respond."
Jennifer said she also receives the occasional PR pitch, but feels the most overwhelmed when she submits HARO (Help a Reporter Out) queries.
"The HARO pitches can be hard to keep organized because they seem to come all at once," she said. "I make sure to delete the ones that I know I won't use right away so they don't clog up my email and confuse me when it comes times to write the story."
2. They're not always in a position to accept pitches
The freedom a freelance reporter gets over their projects is not absolute. Much like staff writers, freelancers often work on an assignment basis, and when they do have story ideas of their own, it likely has to get approved by an editor.
If you're looking to pitch a freelance reporter a story for one of the publications they write for, be sure to specify the outlet in the subject line so they know right away how to organize and prioritize the message. Sammi advised PR pros to copy the site's editor (if you know that person's email address), or ask the writer to pass it along for their editor's approval.
"It's great to approach a writer that you're interested in, but it's even better to coordinate with the editor to ensure the content is focused and not too similar to other articles on the site," said Sammi.
3. If you're not getting results, seek out another contact
As mentioned above, responding to PR pros is not typically at the top of a freelance reporter's to-do list.
While I've always advocated staff reporters answering pitch emails, freelancers have many business responsibilities beyond just writing, and it's unrealistic to expect a response as quickly or as often as you would from a staffer.
Danielle Corcione, who regularly writes for a variety of media outlets, said that if you haven't heard back from a freelancer about your PR inquiry, follow up once, but take the hint.
"I get a bad taste from PR folks that keep following up [and] keep me on their lists, when I haven't ever expressed interest in covering their company," Danielle added.
The bottom line is, the freelancer you keep trying (and failing) to pitch is likely not the best person to get your client coverage. Ask for their editor's contact information, and go directly to the person who makes the editorial decisions. If you've really got a great story, chances are you'll get to work with that writer via their editor anyway.
Photo via Pixabay