Free advice for freelancers (and the editors who rely on them)

Patch relies on freelancers. Period. Each site is managed by a full time journalists called a Local Editor (LE), who covers news and keeps an operational eye on everything. That LE hires contributors: opinion writers, sports reporters, photographers, general assignment, business, entertainment, food writers, reviewers, you name it.  Between Kurt Greenbaum’s 12 sites and my 12 sites, I would venture to say Patch is working with upwards of 75 freelancers in the St. Louis area. That’s a conservative count.

Our LEs find freelancers in different ways, including but not limited to:

  • Former colleagues
  • Former J-school classmates
  • Craigslist, or other online advertising venue
  • Referrals from other LEs
  • Twitter & Facebook
  • Former Patch directory listings collectors
  • Professional organizations like SPJ and NABJ

So far, my verdict about the freelancers in this market is that most are great: talented, conscientious, creative, and hardworking. They pitch ideas and meet deadlines. They’ve fast become part of the team.

There are a few exceptions. Here are some of the freelance faux pas we’ve seen here in the Greater St. Louis Patch coverage area:

  • Resistance to having work copyedited
  • Lack of AP Style knowledge
  • Quitting without completing assignments
  • Failing to meet deadlines or letting the editor know of possible delays

We Patchers aren’t perfect either. We’re part of a massive undertaking (500 sites to launch by year’s end) that is a work in progress from top to bottom and sideways, too. The LEs are doing journalism and management, many juggling budgets and editorial oversight for the first time. The more seasoned journalists are getting their brains around the “doing it all” concept and mastery of new technology. Communication is vital, but sometimes wires get crossed.  One of the items on my to-do list before the year is out: reach out to frustrated freelancers, especially those who are talented and want to work.

I also get the sense, however, that there are folks who believe working for an online media outlet is inherently informal in terms of journalistic standards. These are usually not trained or practiced journalists; rather, they may have fun, quirky blogs or other kinds of writing experience. They seem to be the ones most resistant to deadlines, rewrites, copyediting and anything that changes their first draft.

The Patch freelance budgets are limited, so there are awesome St. Louis contributors we cannot afford. That being said, there are awesome contributors who are working for less than they might like but feel it’s worth it to be part of the new media scene. They’re gaining valuable experience, exposure, and more items for their portfolios and resumes. In many cases, working for one or more Patch sites is just part of their employment picture; they have regular freelance gigs for other media.

So here’s the free advice part, whether you are involved with Patch or any other journalistic outfit:

Freelancers: Don’t burn your bridges. If you no longer want to work for someone depart in a professional manner. Give at least some notice, finish your assignments or make arrangements for someone else to do so. You never know when that editor you left in the lurch may crop up in your professional life. Not to mention word of mouth about your reputation.

Editors: Be clear and up front about your expectations. Don’t assume freelancers know what you want and then blame them when they can’t read your mind. Provide feedback and copyediting directives in a timely fashion. You never know when that freelancer you burned may crop up in your professional life. Not to mention word of mouth about your reputation.

In closing, to all the freelancers who’ve been working so hard for St. Louis Patch: I salute you. We (really) couldn’t do this without you.


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