Linda A. Thompson: “I love being a freelance journalist, in spite of the unsustainable rates”
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We might be on the brink of a new recession. This time, at the difference of the recession that followed 2008, Linda A. Thompson feels equipped to brave it. Linda shares with us how she has built that resilience and kept the passion alive as a freelance journalist. One of the keys, is, like in any career she says, “the ability to crawl back up when you face setbacks”.
Why did you become self-employed?
It was a negative choice: I could not find a job. I graduated in 2012, the recession had supposedly ended a couple of years ago but it did not feel like this at all…
I looked for a job for three months, with no success. I decided to instead pitch stories directly to publications. One publication liked my pitch on the cocktails revolution unfolding in Belgium. I said, “Great, I just need to register as a self-employed person first”. We postponed the deadline by 2 weeks and that was my humble beginning as a self-employed person …
We are now on the brink of a new recession. Yet I feel way better equipped now that I have some experience. I am also glad I became a freelancer, I feel more protected that way: I am not at the mercy of a single employer.
I really feel though for anyone graduating or starting out as self-employed now…
What is your key to economic safety as a freelance journalist?
I am very big on diversification. When I started out, I decided I could not say “no” to anything because I feared I could not do it or because the assignment was too big. I said “yes” to absolutely everything. As I was a journalist, people started contacting me for translating or editing for content agencies for example.
It is the only strategy that makes sense to me. The rates in journalism are just unsustainably low. I would not be able to survive on that. I am okay with my choice even though it means that I don’t have a lot of bandwidth to work on longer-term stories. I just cannot do that with the number of clients and assignments I have in a given week.
Why become a journalist?
I don’t even remember not wanting to be a journalist. I have always loved writing and reading. Becoming a novelist seemed like a bit of a stretch. Journalist struck me as the right balance!
What do you like most about journalism?
I love to interview people: maybe I just should have done radio. I love making people feel at ease, asking the right question at the right time. I love the choreography you need to execute to get the right answers.
I can just pursue my interests: if I pitch to an editor and they say ‘yes’, I can write one or even several stories on the topic that intrigues me. It is a great job for someone who is curious!
In the end, being a journalist is also part of my personality. Friends are often tired of me and my questions as I keep asking them WHY they find that specific TV show so good…!
What has convinced you to stay on that tough journalism path?
I talked to another journalist a couple of years ago and he made me realize that there are a lot of different ways to be a journalist. I am quite introverted but I can still be a journalist. Maybe I am not a breaking news person, but more of a feature writer. Realizing that convinced me not to give up. I feel confident as a journalist now and I did not always feel confident in the past.
It is also important to stress the positive aspects of freelancing. I love being a freelancer, and a freelance journalist, in spite of the unsustainable rates. I feel I am at the wheel of my career and that I can put my energy wherever I want. The financial insecurity is not great but there are lots of things that compensate for that!
How do you get ideas for your stories?
Suddenly, an idea pops up in my head and it often feels like it has been hanging there for a long time. I also get ideas from talking to people, not only potential sources but also friends. Finally, in pre-Covid 19 times, I used to attend a lot of events and panels in my areas of interest, for instance, social justice.
What would be your recommendation to the ones willing to try out their luck as journalists?
Go for it. When I was about to start, people advised me not to even try. To me, you should, first, encourage.
Then, for young people generally, I would recommend building resilience: you need the ability to crawl back up when you face setbacks. You need to be able to deal with disappointment. It is really necessary if you wish to develop a long career.
I also decided, after I got my degree, that I would not work for free. I always managed to sell my stories, even the first ones. On the other hand, I put so much effort into these early stories, incomparably more than what these stories paid. If I had put in the workload commensurate with the price, I would not have gotten my first regular journalism gig, I think. You have to go the extra mile in the early years. You need to be a bit flexible in this regard.
Every freelancer should do their best to connect to other freelance people. I have been helped by many people, starting with that friend that told me that I could be a journalist with my introverted personality. We all think we are so special but in the end, we face common problems!
Would you like to read more from Linda A. Thompson? She co-writes a newsletter for creative freelancers that appears in Dutch and English twice a month and it feels relatable for anyone in that field, judge by yourself: The Friendly Freelancer newsletter
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