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What Are the Best Ways of Finding Stories For Freelance Journalism?

There are two important questions to take into consideration before you start writing:

   1. What you are going to write about?

   2. Where to find that story?

Once any budding freelance journalist cracks how to answer these two questions they should be well on their way to a successful career.

 

1. What to Write About So, where to begin?

There are some pretty safe areas you can target as a novice freelance journalist – stick to these and you should be in with a good chance of publishing success. Some require little technical knowledge and can be completed with only a small amount of research such as:

  • sport - your local football team may appreciate some attention.
  • travel writing - take your notebook when you go on holiday and don’t forget to promote local areas and places of interest.
  • gardening - readers are always thankful for the advice and experience of others – share yours.
  • local history - did the last hangman in Britain live in your town?
  • health and beauty - a perennial favourite.
  • diet and fitness - and again!
  • food and drink - share recipes, experiences and advice.
  • reviews - books, restaurants, films, music, plays, theatre, festivals – people are always interested to know what others think.
  • fashion - tips on how to look good and where to buy are always in demand.
  • customs and legends - spooky stories steeped in history are always interesting.
  • local buildings of interest - stately homes, local lidos – what do you have?
  • arts and crafts - instructions for making things are always in demand.
  • celebrity news/interviews - who doesn’t love a bit of gossip?
  • carnival, fairs and festivals - spend the day, take your camera and write about what you see.

 

Others may require a little more in-depth knowledge or more substantial research but are still good openers for novice journalists, such as:

  • antiques and collectibles
  • computing
  • motoring
  • industry and finance
  • DIY
  • consumer trends and issues
  • inventions
  • alternative technology
  • transport
  • farming
  • education
  • environmental issues
  • religious news

 

So, as you can see from the lists and suggestions above, there are plenty of subject areas that novice freelance journalists can try their hand at.

What Not to Write About!

However – novice beware! – there are some topics that are a real no-no for the inexperienced freelance journalist. These generally include stories connected to legal issues such as:

  • court reporting - difficult for even seasoned reporters to cover well, plus there are plenty of legal wrangling for the novice journalist to negotiate.
  • consumer stories - great if they are amicable, but are you prepared to get into something more dangerous – exposing dodgy market traders for example?

 

It is also in any freelance journalist’s own best interest to stay away from anything that involves:

  • exposing crooks or criminals
  • confronting people Watchdog style when you are unsure of what their reaction may be
  • entrapment or subterfuge

 

They are fraught with both physical and legal dangers and there’s a risk that the situation may get out of control. Best leave these stories to the seasoned journalist, who has the back-up of his crew, legal team and perhaps a burly minder to prevent any trouble.

Tip–Offs

If you do have the seed of a great story and don’t want to cover it yourself – call your local newsdesk and give them a tip-off. That way the story still gets covered and you may even get a tip-off fee – a tip-off for a major newspaper that leads to an exclusive story can earn you as much as £500! – without exposing yourself to any danger.

2. Where to Find That Story

Journalists working for major newspapers have the luxury of people calling them up with a story, usually on a daily basis, about some super dramatic event just about to take place or who’s just been snapped leaving the hotel room of a famous film star.

Unfortunately, the average journalist, especially novice freelancers, do not have this perk, so it is essential they are able spot newsworthy stories or seek them out. So, you need sources...

Contacts and Sources:

   a. The emergency services

A good way to start sleuthing for stories is to make contact with your local emergency services. This is not as macabre as it at first seems as they will have details of light-hearted stories – cats stuck up trees, children with heads trapped in railings – as well as the more serious incidents – house fires, rescuing trapped passengers from road traffic accidents and the like. And don’t feel like you’ll be taking up their precious time because it’s an answerphone you’ll be calling.

   b. Local town contacts

It’s a good idea to contact, introduce yourself and build relationships with some of the following people:

  • your local MP
  • councillors
  • headmasters
  • undertakers
  • local policemen
  • local GPs
  • members of the clergy
  • organisers of local charities and appeals
  • shop keepers
  • local Women’s Institute organisers

 

This is not a complete list, it’s just to give you an idea of the kinds of people you should be networking with and, as you can see, it covers all bases. If there’s something going on in your community, one of the above is bound to know something about it or someone who does!

   c. Mailing lists

Press releases are an excellent source of news for any freelance journalist and account for a third of all news stories that appear in magazines and newspapers. And, the way to receive press releases is to add yourself to the mailing list – it’s as easy as that. Whose mailing list you add yourself to is another matter. You can either go for broke and add yourself to every company or organisation you think might generate a story or you can add yourself only to those that specialise in your area of interest. Some ideas to get you started are:

  • cultural organisations
  • travel firms
  • government agencies
  • major super-market chains
  • theatres
  • local sports clubs
  • local businesses

 

   d. Minutes and Agendas

It is a requirement of all councils, but not parish councils, to produce agendas and accompanying reports at least three days before any meeting takes place. They should be available at your local library or council office and freelance journalists can usually request them free of charge – some councils will charge a small fee. With some careful filtering and deciphering of council speak, they can provide you with a useful lead or two.

   e. Other local magazines and newspapers

Getting hold of every other local magazine and newspaper available is another good source of materials for freelance journalists. You could try to get hold of:

  • church magazines
  • school magazines
  • sports club newsletters
  • women’s Institute newsletters
  • local charity newsletters
  • local allotment associations
  • town newspapers

 

Often a small piece in one of the above can be turned into several different article or feature ideas. And local town newspapers also have births, deaths and marriages, as well as engagements, milestone birthdays and planning applications to trawl for interesting snippets.

   f. Advertisements

Yes, advertisements really do provide potential stories for freelance journalists. Take for example the advertisement for 20 giant land snail babies – free to good home. This provides the potential for an interview with the owner of the snails to find out how they’ve ended up with 20 giant land snail babies or articles on how to care for them, a beginner’s guide, unusual local hobbies and so on.

If you want to find out more about being a freelance journalist request a Writers Bureau Freelance Journalism course prospectus.

 

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Cathal Coyle

"My short-term intention is to continue combining writing for newspapers and magazines with my current job. I'm enjoying my writing 'sideline' but I may find as time goes on that I want to make the transition to full-time writer."

Cathal Coyle

 
NUS Student Discount Card Association of British Correspondence Colleges
British Institute for Learning and Development

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