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Freelance breaking news: Promises and pitfalls


Before the novel coronavirus hit, most national media outlets only hired local journalists to cover breaking news until their staff crews could rush to a scene. Now, in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, many news directors are turning to local independent journalists for coverage, trusting freelance reporters and photographers to supply continuing on-the-spot news.

The SPJ Freelance Community invites you to join Washington, D.C.-area reporter and editor Stephenie Overman as she discusses the issues freelancers face covering this fast moving story.

To register go to:

  • Katie G. Nelson, Minneapolis

  • Haisten Willis, Atlanta

Katie G. Nelson is an award-winning freelance journalist, photographer and filmmaker in Nairobi, Kenya. Nelson covers human rights, global health and accountability issues in the region. Her work has been published by The New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, Al Jazeera, The Telegraph, Associated Press and Public Radio International, among others. She is the vice chair of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa. Trained as an investigative journalist, Nelson cut her teeth as a reporter in the United States before moving to East Africa, where she was based. until the COVID-19 outbreak. Her investigations into health care, medical insurance and political finance laws have spurred policy changes at home and abroad. Nelson has a bachelor of arts and a master of public health from the University of Minnesota.

Haisten Willis has been a journalist since 2010, when he finished a master’s degree in mass communication from California State University, Fresno. Since then he has covered everything from sports to politics, business and real estate for local, regional and national news outlets. He’s been an avid news consumer since childhood, and his first journalism job was at his hometown newspaper in the Atlanta suburbs. After spending several years as a reporter and editor at community newspapers and trade magazines, he became a full-time freelancer by choice in 2016. Willis writes for outlets including The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He’s an active member of SPJ’s Freelance Community and is running for the organization’s national board this fall.