Should freelancers pitch right now? Yes, and here’s what to do

Carolyn Crist

About Carolyn Crist

Carolyn Crist (@cristcarolyn) helps AHCJ’s freelance members find the resources, tips and contacts they need to create and run a successful business. A freelance journalist and author, Crist covers health, medicine and science stories for national news outlets such as Reuters, Runner’s World and Parade. She also writes for trade and custom publications. Contact her at carolyn@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Dan Simpson via Flickr

In numerous groups, forums and discussion lists, freelance journalists are asking three big questions: Do I pitch right now? Can I pitch COVID-19 stories? Can I pitch non-coronavirus-related stories?

The answer to all three: Yes! A resounding “yes, absolutely.”

Some freelancers have reported a decline in work, and others seem booked around-the-clock. Those who have lined up work are reporting similar trends:

  1. Many publications are assigning right now, so it’s worth reaching out.
  2. As news coverage shifts daily, editorial needs are adjusting also.
  3. Editors are pivoting as much as freelancers are, and they could use help.
  4. If you’re able to tackle quick-turn stories, you may be able to land several assignments.
  5. Long-term work is uncertain, but short-term work could turn into more later.

To be sure, not all publications are able to assign, some news outlets have limited freelance budgets, and staff writers often cover “news of the day” stories. At the same time, publications need new perspectives, and small staffs (or health beat staff reporters, in particular) are beginning to face fatigue with the 24/7 news cycle, which opens opportunities for freelancers to step in and allow others to rest.

The main message is this: You are needed. If you have the time and availability to take on work, you should let others know, including current and former editors, fellow freelancers, and your larger network on social media.

Look to these resources for availability:

Opportunities of the Week: Sonia Weiser’s weekly newsletter highlights pitch calls that have been posted online, often on Twitter. As part of her weekly process, Weiser asks editors for rate information, and she includes the original post so you can read more and find contact information. In addition to your own search for pitch calls, the weekly update can fill in the gaps and introduce new publications that you may not know. You’ll find calls for both COVID-related and unrelated stories.

StudyHall: This weekly newsletter also curates a list of current pitch calls and opportunities open to freelancers. It includes many of the Twitter posts listed online, too. Additional subscription options include a listserv for freelancers to talk, as well as pitch guides, a shared database with editor contact information, and business resources. StudyHall also is keeping a list of publications that aren’t taking pitches now.

Freelance Success: Lovingly called “FLX” among subscribers, this email newsletter highlights the latest news in the freelance writing world, market guides, and a forum for discussions. This week, freelancers are talking about where to pitch, contracts in the age of COVID-19, and “how to deal” with freelance work right now. The group hosted informal video calls on March 20 and March 27 and will likely hold more.

Why You Need to Reach Out to All Clients (Current and Past) – Jennifer Goforth Gregory: As the reality of the changing news cycle began to hit, Gregory wrote this post (less than two weeks ago!) about how to pivot now. Her blog focuses primarily on content marketing, but the main points apply to freelance journalists as well. She offers tips for contacting editors, including a couple of email templates. She shares this advice:

“Things are going to be a bit wild here for a bit. And as freelancers, we will just need to ride it out and be as proactive as possible. If you start to worry about work and the future of freelancing, use that worry proactively to market yourself.”

How Freelancers Can Pivot Into COVID/Coronavirus Writing – Ilima Loomis: Both a journalist and content marketing writer, Loomis wrote this post on March 25 based on the feedback and assignments she’s observed so far. She explains how to repurpose old clips and promote yourself on your website, social media, and email signature. She says:

“I’m seeing a lot of freelancers adopting a ‘scarcity mindset’ and reacting in fear. There is absolutely nothing to be gained down this path. Yes, be prudent, cut costs if necessary, but do not retreat. Make the decision to approach each day with growth as your goal. Growth can be getting an assignment, adding some new clips to your website, or just learning something new. If you grow even an inch, even a centimeter, that’s a win. Reach for the light.”

Resources for freelance writers during the coronavirus – Rebecca Weber: On one page, Weber links to four episodes of The Writing Coach podcast, where she discusses freelance workflow, remote reporting, and how to adapt pitches and articles to address the effects of COVID-19. She hosted an open coaching call on March 20, and portions will likely appear in future episodes. She also offers a pitch guide and links to coronavirus resources for reporters. She says:

“Adapt your pitches and articles to address how the coronavirus impacts the niches/communities you already cover.”

Prevent Coronavirus From Killing Your Freelance Income – Carol Tice: Having freelanced through previous economic recessions, Tice offers words of advice, both during the short-term and long-term, for adjusting your freelance business. She says:

“Best way to get through this is to focus your energy on what is within your sphere of control. What you can take action on. … What can you do, proactively, to prevent coronavirus from putting a hole in your writing income?”

Hidden Gold course – Ed Gandia: For the time being, Gandia has opened access to his online class, which has three hours of audio and a class workbook, that highlights ideas for landing work quickly.

Twitter: In general, stay tuned on your account for pitch calls and new opportunities. You’d be surprised how many editors are posting here or responding to other threads about editorial needs, both COVID-19 and not. Some editors have specifically asked for non-coronavirus stories or perspectives on the future. Use a variety of terms together as hashtags and keywords, such as: “freelance,” “pitch,” “assignment,” and “call.”

Your favorite national journalism organizations are a great resource, too.

Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ): Almost daily, AHCJ’s topic leaders are writing about the latest COVID-19 developments and story opportunities. This extensive tipsheet provides background and sources for reporting, and this post explains how to find the latest studies and cover them thoughtfully.

National Association of Science Writers (NASW): A dedicated resources page lists 30 links for covering COVID-19. NASW will update the page regularly, and all resources were available to the public at the time they were listed. NASW is also inviting reporters who cover COVID-19 to join a free email discussion for support, questions and resources.

Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ): On the homepage, SPJ lists several resources for reporters. SPJ and the Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) are recognizing college journalists who are covering the pandemic while completing online classes, so read more about that and nominate an entry, too.

Look for updates to come from the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and other groups as well. Details aren’t online yet, but since many national journalism conferences have been canceled, new webinars and virtual opportunities will take their place. I’ll announce them as soon as they’re available.

Here are a few more journalism-focused sites that could be useful.

Columbia Journalism Review: The front page is devoted to COVID-19 news and resources, and Leah Sottile shares a first-person perspective on coronavirus and a freelancer’s dilemma.

NiemanLab: If you want an industry-wide view, you’ll find commentary about the future of journalism, trend stories on what major publications are doing, and how journalists are working together to cover the pandemic.

International Journalists’ Network: The latest stories discuss how journalists can protect themselves, advice from Chinese journalists, and 10 tips for covering COVID-19.

Poynter Institute: A landing page dedicated to COVID-19 resources links to fact-checking tools, tips for journalists, a daily coronavirus briefing newsletter by Al Tompkins, and how journalists can fight stress from covering the pandemic.

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