Why do you really want to be a journalist?

It might not be because you love writing

Welcome to The Professional Freelancer, a newsletter that will make your freelance life richer. In this issue: 
* Why do you really want to be a journalist?   
* Freelance journalist meetup in London   
* No-office office dog of the week: Charlie   
* Why are more people ditching the 9-5?

I'm one of those journalists who doesn't actually like writing.

A university professor once told me my writing is like a bulldozer and I took it as a compliment. I don't think my writing style is particularly elegant and I'm fine with that. My aim isn't to turn beautiful phrases and to agonise over the beat of my sentence structure. 

I see writing as a means to an end. It's a vehicle to transmit the information I've gathered – if that vehicle's a bulldozer, even better because it means my point is coming across strong. For me, writing is the part of the journalistic process that I have to just get through, something to tick off the to-do list. 

I was interviewing an academic recently for a story I'm working on and at the end of the call, she told me I'd asked good questions and that she'd really enjoyed our discussion. Apart from just getting a kick out of being told I did the job well, I realised that I'd also been enthralled in our talk. That was when it finally dawned on me that, after more than ten years of doing journalism, I finally figured out that my favourite part of putting a story together is the reporting. Finding information, piecing things together, interviewing sources – that's what I love.  

Talking to a source, getting to spend uninterrupted time immersed in their lives, hearing what they have to say is why I do what I do. Learning something about another person, the world and myself all at the same time and all in the space of a half-hour conversation is thrilling. The only way I can describe it is the antithesis of small talk; reporting is big talk. As such, I find writing hard because I have to do justice to someone else's story. In fact, I don't really see the stories I write as "mine" because they have nothing to do with me.

Now there is one caveat to all of what I've just said because there is one particular kind of writing that I do really love: this newsletter. When it comes to putting this together, the writing part just flows. I suspect that's because I basically am the story and the reporting is happening as I'm writing. Not to sound too navel-gazing, but it's like I'm reporting on myself.

We're not taught to interrogate why we want to do the things we're drawn to do. It's all well and good doing what you love, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you really love it? If you did, you might find you're actually doing something that you're good at that's only tangentially related to what you love.  

That happened to me – I started down my career path without ever stopping to ask myself what was it about journalism that drew me to it. So for about five years of my career, I worked as an editor because that was technically journalism and I didn't understand why I was unhappy. Had I realised the reporting and interviewing part was what I really wanted to do, I might have started a career in audio sooner and not bothered with the writing part. 

The same goes for journalists who do in fact just want to be writers. I know plenty of people who work in journalism who have no interest in reporting and just want to write. That's totally and completely fine, but they'd be better served if they spent some time thinking about what being a writer means for them. 

Something I get asked quite a bit these days is how I find balancing writing this newsletter with doing journalism. It's a funny question because I see this newsletter as a form of journalism. It's service journalism. If the New York Times can print recipes that help you cook dinner, I can publish newsletters that help you further your freelance career. 

I think the reason I get asked this question is that we don't all have the same definition of journalism. Or that many of us haven't stopped to think about why we’re in this profession. I understand journalism as providing citizens with the information they need to make better decisions. Those decisions, however, can be as big as "whom to vote for" or as specific as "what accounting software should I use to file my tax return".    

Spend some time figuring out why you really want to be a journalist, the answer might really surprise you.

Happy freelancing professional freelancers,
–Anna, FJ&Co. Founder

The FJ&Co noticeboard

Freelance journalists meetup n London:  The next FJ&Co event is a launch for my Is This Working podcast, followed by a meetup for freelance journalists. The evening will begin with a brief Q&A between my podcast co-host Tiffany Philippou and me, followed by no-lame networking. It’s on September 10th at 6PM at the Ace Hotel in London and tickets are free, but you must register in advance to attend.

What do you say when someone asks to see copy before you publish it? The question on this week’s #FreelanceHelpline is about copy approval and what you can tell someone who wants to see their quotes before you use them. Make sure you’re following FJ&Co on Instagram to stay up-to-date with the community.

The no-office office pet

This is the show-stopping Charlie, who belongs to journalist Lydia Wilkins

If you have a Good Pet who keeps you company as you work from home, send me a picture of them to feature here and bring joy to the lives of thousands of freelancers.

Calls for pitches

The list

  • What’s driving the rise in freelancing? Might it be how broken work and office culture is? I think so. On this week’s episode of Is This Working, Tiffany and I ask why more of us are ditching the 9-5

Listen now

  • I’ve written a guide to navigating pensions for freelancers. Despite what freelance urban myths will have you believe, there are plenty of manageable ways to save for retirement if you’re self-employed. Take advantage of that compound interest!

  • Much of my knowledge about how to run a freelance business comes from learning how online content creators make a living. Sarah Nourse is one of my favourite YouTubers because she makes videos about her different income streams and talks candidly about making money on the internet

  • As much as I’m not a writer’s writer, I do love a good heated grammar debate, especially about em dashes

  • “If your workforce is stressed enough that you think they need therapy puppies, you’ve probably got more work to do than just organising a drop-in petting session.” Vicki Turk on why a lot of workplace wellness is BS is spot on

  • “Do you just wear pyjamas all day?” Refinery29 has done a funny piece on what it’s like working from home


The Professional Freelancer is written by Anna Codrea-Rado, illustrations are by Léo Hamelin. It’s a production of FJ&Co, a platform that gives freelance journalists the tools, resources and community support they need to make a sustainable self-employed living
If you're new to freelancing, download First Aid for Freelancers, my free e-book on handling the early days of self-employment. You need to put your email address in to download it; you won’t be signed up to the newsletter twice. Also check over the archives for past issues
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