How to Become a Freelance Journalist

Mar 20, 2024
Young woman who is a freelance journalist conducting an interview as an independent press and media fellow.
Follow these guidelines and tips to launch your freelance career in journalism.

By Rowan Glass

With the recent wave of layoffs hitting the journalism industry hard, many journalists are looking for a way to apply their skills outside the newsroom. In early 2024, hundreds of journalists were laid off at major outlets across the U.S., with several papers even going under. These are hard times for the news industry, so it’s no wonder many journalists are searching for a way out.

Freelance journalism is one available backup option for both veteran journalists and newcomers to the field. Most news outlets and other media platforms accept freelance pitches on a rolling basis, providing a steady supply of work if you know where to look. Additionally, freelancing offers freedoms and flexibility that a conventional newsroom job can’t provide. In this article, I lay out a few tips and best practices for aspiring freelance journalists so that you can best leverage your skills to go freelance.

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What’s your beat?

While newsroom journalists may cover various topics, freelance writers usually specialize in a specific beat—a particular area of expertise they consistently cover. Establishing a beat based on one’s background and interests is vital for success as a freelancer. Most outlets prefer writers with specialized expertise and focused story ideas, so it’s essential to identify and develop your beat early in your freelance career.

Developing your beat defines what kind of journalist or writer you are. If you have a background or interest in fashion, you’ll know to brand yourself as a fashion writer and pitch to fashion outlets. If your background is in science and technology, you’re well-positioned to write for outlets specializing in science journalism. Your expertise will also show through to the editors you’ll pitch to, who want to see that you know what you’re talking about. Knowing what kind of writer you are and who to pitch to is, therefore, the first step in becoming a freelance journalist.


Just as important as defining your identity as a writer is knowing how to leverage it to write a good pitch. Freelancers typically work by developing story ideas and pitching them to relevant editors and outlets. Knowing how to develop an engaging, newsworthy, and concise pitch that will pique an editor’s interest is a crucial aspect of the field.

A good pitch is focused, interesting, and understands both what the outlet is looking for and what its audience wants to read. In 300–500 words, you must establish your idea, why it matters, why you’re the right person to write it, how long it will be, and what methods or sources you’ll use. You might also want to link one or two samples of your past work so the editor can get a feel for your style and abilities. Just remember that editors are often very busy, so keep it clear and concise—and don’t feel discouraged if they don’t respond (it happens to every freelancer!).

Because most freelancers’ success rate per pitch is fairly low, you should be ready to tweak and resubmit your pitch to various outlets and editors before getting a response. This can be a tedious and sometimes frustrating process, but it’s usually the only way for new freelancers to land their first assignments and start building lasting relationships with editors and outlets.


As in almost every career field, the old truism also applies to freelancing: it’s not what you know but who you know. Of course, what you know matters too, but the spirit of the saying is correct; when selling your ideas (as is essentially what freelancers do), it’s important to build lasting professional relationships in the field to facilitate your work.

The primary type of relationship freelancers must cultivate is with editors and outlets. Many freelancers gain consistent work by proving their worth to specific editors who know they can trust the quality and timeliness of the writer’s work. Usually, this works by successfully pitching an editor, meeting their expectations in the assignment, and then pitching them again with another great idea. Most editors remain receptive to writers of proven quality, so this approach can provide a steady stream of work for a given outlet or column.

Networking with other freelancers can also be a source of valuable advice, information, and further networking opportunities for novice freelancers. Some freelancer and media worker networking organizations also publish pitching guides and cultivate databases of open pitch calls, pay rates per outlet, editors by outlet and subject area, and other such useful information. Study Hall is one of my personal favorites, as it includes both an opportunity finder, which has helped me land valuable gigs, and an email listserv through which I can network with other freelancers. Freelancing for Journalists and Journo Resources are two Substack newsletters I would also recommend.

If you’re a fellowship alumnus, ProFellow’s International Fellows Network can also be a great place to network. At ProFellow, I’ve observed that many fellowship alumni engage in freelance writing on at least a part-time basis, and they’re often very well-connected people. Connecting with other fellowship alumni can provide great insight into freelance writing opportunities.

Diversifying your portfolio

When you’re just starting out, it’s important to focus on developing specific beats, working on your pitches, and landing your first few writing gigs. However, once you’ve established a niche and a proven track record, you might consider diversifying your portfolio to build multimedia skills or develop your expertise across multiple writing genres. Doing so will open up the number of opportunities available to you regarding both the form and content of your work.

In terms of form, the media landscape is increasingly visual and short-form. Long-form writing is still around, of course, and it pays well when you can get it—but by and large, most media consumers today are more interested in audiovisual content and pithy writing than they are in lengthy, deeply reported stories that take time to unfold and read. That’s why multimedia forms of journalism and content production can give freelancers more work opportunities. Many writers are now extending their skills into podcasting, video production, photojournalism, and other forms of media. Cultivating your abilities in these non-textual forms of production can make you a more well-rounded and employable freelancer.

In terms of content, it’s not uncommon for journalists and freelancers to develop multiple beats, helping them land steady work in various outlets across several genres or areas of expertise. Beats are often but not always related; for example, a science journalist might cover both climate science and renewable energy. A business journalist might cover both technology and microfinance. The options are nearly endless, so think about your interests and expertise and identify how you can develop new beats to monetize them.

Fellowships for freelance journalists

Whether you’re new to journalism or already have some experience, joining a fellowship program tailored for freelance journalists can significantly enhance your career. These programs offer opportunities to develop skills, access new avenues, and network with industry peers. Some programs cater specifically to freelancers, while others are open to journalists from all backgrounds, providing a diverse array of options for freelancers to explore. Be sure to check out the full range of ProFellow’s journalism fellowships listings to take full advantage of these opportunities and bolster your career as a freelancer.

Additional resources:

Rowan Glass is an anthropologist, multimedia journalist, writer, and filmmaker from Oregon. His research, reporting, and travels have taken him from Indigenous territories in Colombia and Mexico to primary schools in Senegal, Kurdish restaurants in Greece, and music festivals in Morocco. In all his work, Rowan endeavors to help tell engaging stories about underreported people and places through incisive research and creative endeavors. Whether at a keyboard or behind a camera, at home or in the field, Rowan is always looking for the next chance to apply his skills to both creative and socially impactful ends. Rowan holds a BA in cultural anthropology from the University of Oregon and is currently applying to graduate programs in anthropology.

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