While working as an independent journalist can be rewarding, it is also a tremendous amount of work to run your own business. AHCJ has a vibrant freelance community. Members are willing to offer ideas, contacts and support to each other. Our resources include job postings, advice articles, webcasts, links and more. To expand these resources, we have added a freelance correspondent who will look to members like you to offer suggestions, write tip sheets and expand our available links. We also have an active Freelance Committee interested in pursuing more services for you.
New Shared Wisdom
Find a collaborator who is committed to producing a book, ideally someone who has new insight. See it now »
New Shared Wisdom
Start and nurture a writers’ group
You have to establish an agreement on what the limits of confidentiality are and how you treat each other. See it now »
New Shared Wisdom
Filing a Freedom of Information request
The secret to any complicated FOIA request is knowing the records retention schedule. See it now »
About these resources
Freelancers are in a unique position within the news industry. They do not belong to any one newsroom, nor gain the benefits of being employed staffers. Yet, they are a significant portion of independent journalism in this era of bare-bones operations, niche websites and nonprofit startups. In fact, they provide the majority of the news and information published in the nation’s magazines, as well as much of the online specialty sites. These independent journalists require assistance in finding assignments, establishing personal ethical guidelines, negotiating contracts, branding themselves and otherwise running their operations as working businesses.
By creating the go-to site for freelance health and science journalists, we also get the opportunity to expose these writers to the extensive topical resources that will inform and improve their stories. Building this kind of community also increases the chances these visitors will want to attend the deeper training provided by the conferences and our fellowship programs. All of this means more accurate and meaningful reporting reaching the public.
We thank the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for the support that makes these resources available. The foundation has not dictated the content on these pages, but rather has provided a grant or financial sponsorship that allows us to pay for the costs associated with collecting, writing, editing and presenting valuable resources.
Send us ideas, questions, suggestions. Share your successes. Point us to good stories.
About the freelance correspondent
Barbara Mantel (@BJMantel), an independent journalist, is AHCJ’s freelance community correspondent. Her work has appeared in outlets that include CQ Researcher, Rural Health Quarterly, Undark, Healthline, NBCNews.com and NPR. Barbara is helping AHCJ members find the resources they need to succeed as freelancers and welcomes suggestions at email@example.com.
Pitching, reporting & writing
Freelancers need to know how to craft a winning pitch, find key sources when reporting, and write a compelling article. In this section, writers and editors offer advice and examples.
AHCJ’s virtual PitchFest in October was a great success. Board member Jeanne Erdmann, with help from Freelance Committee members, put together a cast of top editors from publications such as Scientific American, National Geographic, AARP, Nature and many more.
It’s not too soon to start thinking ahead to the 2022 PitchFest, which will be held in person at the annual conference planned for Austin, Texas.
Here is what participants in last year’s virtual PitchFest had to say:
"Pitching is the only thing that works for me, and I really appreciated this opportunity to meet face-to-face with editors of publications I want to work for, and with whom I would be a reasonably good fit."
"For me, this was the best pitch event I have ever attended. (I didn't go last year.) I have to follow up with all five editors with new or revised pitches, but I have a real prospect of getting work from all of them, and they are top-notch. That's huge!"
"I loved this format, as I probably wouldn't have been able to attend the in-person conference (even without the Covid complication)."
"Yes! Yes!! Yes!!! I learned so much and have prospects now. You know what REALLY makes PitchFest a good value? Getting email addresses!!"
How to ghostwrite Award-winning writer, editor and collaborator Wendy Lyons Sunshine offers tips for collaborating with an expert on a book project.
How to expand into niche publications Are you fed up with the rigmarole some consumer publications put their freelance writers through? Award-winning writer Jen A. Miller has tips for branching out into Business2Business and Business2Consumer publications.
Filing FOIA and other open records requests Subject librarian Katy Boss at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute created an instructive guide to filing FOIA and state and local open records requests.
Being a successful freelancer means you are running your own business. Learn how to ensure you are covered for liability exposure and how to find low-cost health insurance, to negotiate fair contract terms, how to price for value, and how to understand your liability exposure. Write a business plan, set and reach your financial goals and make sure your work provides financial security for you and your family. Use social media to expand your reach, and fellowships to advance your career.
Good time to keep careful track of freelance payments For some of AHCJ’s freelancers, payment issues were already a hassle before 2020 and the emergence of the novel coronavirus. Now they may be even more difficult. In several writer groups online, fellow freelancers have cheered for a surge in work but also bemoaned payment hiccups.
Tips for freelancers to unleash their inner entrepreneur Two top freelancers at Health Journalism 2018 – Linda Marsa and Heather Boerner – and attorney Ruth Carter offered a series of great tips to help you start thinking of your freelance work as a real business … and make it pay like one.
Freelance: The best career hacks A number of independent journalists – on a panel and in the audience – shared their best tools and advice for being a successful freelancer. Advice includes tools and software to use, best networking practices, how to be businesslike and building your brand.
Branding and marketing
Tips for creating — and protecting — your professional website Freelance writers always have to market themselves, and one way to put yourself before potential clients is to have a work website. But figuring out how to create a website can be overwhelming. Should you try to design it yourself or use a professional? And what design features will attract editors and convince them to hire you?
Freelancers learn to maximize social media skills Attendees at Health Journalism 2018 learned how to up their social media game from those who do it well — and how to avoid potential problems — at the “Freelance: Flex your social media muscle” session.
Networking is essential to the work of an independent journalist. It is how you meet fellow journalists with whom you can trade advice and support and link up with editors who can assign you stories. Learn how to network at conferences, set up a local writers’ group and find organizations to help you make connections.
And consider joining AHCJ’s Lunch and Learns, where freelancer members chat about a designated topic over Zoom every third Thursday of the month at 12 PM Central Time. The Zoom link is always the same. The discussions are not recorded, but you can find summaries of key takeaways by clicking on the topic name in the below schedule.
With so many applications on the market, it’s difficult to know which give accurate and reliable results. So AHCJ asked members which apps they like and also looked at the recommendations of other journalism organizations, such as the Society of Professional Journalists. Visit the website of each company to find out about pricing plans; there are often several options with differing levels of service. This is not an exhaustive list. If you know of other reliable tools in each category, please email the information to firstname.lastname@example.org so AHCJ can include them in its periodic update of this resource list.
OmniFocus A tool for organizing projects, with deadlines, reminders, priority settings and a calendar view.
Scrivener Gather all notes, links to websites and drafts for projects in one place.
Recording / Transcribing
Audacity An app for recording, editing and mixing audio.
Cogi This app records the highlights of phone conversations by buffering and then recording and stopping at a tap of a button.
Google PinPoint This app is part of Google Journalist Studio, a collection of tools for journalists. You can upload audio files for transcription via voice recognition software.
NCH Software This company offers a suite of software applications for recording, editing and mixing audio.
No Notes An app for recording calls on iPhones and Android phones. You also can create an account to have the recorded interviews professionally transcribed.
Otter.ai Record conversations using the Otter app. Otter can transcribe these recordings, live or later, using voice recognition software. You also can upload audio files from other sources for transcription.
rev.com This company is strictly about transcribing. It uses humans, and it promises a turnaround time of 12 hours and guarantees 99% accuracy for clear audio.
RescueTime Time tracking tool with a free two-week trial.
Toggle Track Free time tracking tool that can be used across devices. Paid versions available with additional features.
Freelance market guide
Our Market Guide is meant to be a growing site for AHCJ’s freelancers to find out what assigning editors at specific outlets are looking for from writers. These editors have been kind enough to share the mission of their outlets and set some parameters for pitching ideas. Please follow their guidance closely.
The Atavist Magazine “publishes one incredible true story every month,” according to its website. This pioneer of digital storytelling pays a baseline fee of $6,000 for stories that start at 8,000 words. See the market guide...
This publication is owned by the British Medical Association but is is editorially independent. It is read by physicians and scientists, mostly in the U.K. and U.S., with a growing audience in India and China. See the market guide...
Brain & Life is published on behalf of the American Academy of Neurology. Most story ideas are generated internally. Freelancers should introduce themselves through email. See the market guide...
Cancer Today is both a quarterly magazine and an online publication updated at least twice a week. Its articles are targeted to cancer patients, survivors, and their family members and friends. See the market guide...
This women’s magazine, with a large social media presence, caters to women ages 18-35. It is looking for health pitches targeted to this demographic for both the digital platform and the print magazine. See the market guide...
Costco Connection is a print and online publication. The magazine comes out monthly and each issue reaches an estimated 30 million people. The editors are looking for pitches for features and short articles. See the market guide...
Discover magazine educates readers on the newest issues in science, medicine and technology. Its readership is likely individuals in their early 40s looking for cutting-edge information. See the market guide...
Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News is free to every gastroenterologist in the United States. Features typically run from 900 to 1,200 words. The editors are looking for stories about GI practice. See the market guide...
This digital publication wants pitches about the collision of science and medicine and policy. It pays $2 per word. See the market guide...
Medical innovation is the heart of Leaps' coverage. The nonprofit's articles range in length from 750 to 1,500 words, and the fee is $1 per word, more for experienced writers. See the market guide...
MedPage Today covers clinical news, health policy and announcements that directly affect the lives and practices of U.S. health care professionals. See the market guide...
Online publisher Medscape is looking for feature and news pitches tailored to its audience of physicians and health care providers worldwide. The publication is interested in all forms of features. See the market guide...
This digital publication, launched in September 2021, covers mental health and pays between $1 and $1.50 per word for feature and investigative stories. See the market guide...
Monitor on Psychology, from the American Psychological Association, is published eight times a year and pays freelancers $1 per word. See the market guide...
Features at this online magazine are typically between 1,000 and 3,500 words in length and cover how digital tools are being used to understand and engineer human biology. See the market guide...
NPR's "Shots" blog on domestic health and its Goats & Soda blog on global health and development take work from freelancers. See the market guide...
Nature Medicine publishes original research on a wide range of topics relevant to medicine and has a magazine section for features and news. The journal pays $1.25 a word to freelancers. See the market guide...
The Well section of The New York Times publishes service journalism with a focus on health and wellness. The editors are looking for pitches that are timely or have a clear news hook. See the market guide...
New Scientist accepts pitches for news stories and features. The editors are looking for news stories that will surprise and features with a narrative flow that will sustain reader interest for several pages. See the market guide...
Next Avenue is an online news platform that caters to older readers, from Gen Xers through Baby Boomers. It has five channels: health; money & policy; work & purpose; living; and caregiving. See the market guide...
The digital platform is looking for three types of stories from freelancers: evergreen stories; longer features; and personal essays or as-told-to profiles. See the market guide...
Science, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publishes scientific research and news and pays freelancers between $0.75 to $1.25 per word. See the market guide...
Science News covers advances in science, medicine and technology for the general public through its print magazine and website. Fees range from $300 to $500 for news stories and $3,500 for features. See the market guide...
SciAm is a daily, online news operation that focuses on timely developments and analyses, and a monthly print publication that takes deeper looks and runs longer features. See the market guide...
This digital platform is the leading source of news and expert opinion on autism research. The target audience is autism researchers, although articles should be written so that families can understand. See the market guide...
This digital publication’s audience is readers who want to know how science intersects – and sometimes collides – with politics, economics and culture. It regularly works with freelancers. See the market guide...
This digital publisher of consumer health and medical content offers a range of assignments that pay anywhere from $500 to $2,000 per story. See the market guide...
Wired is a publication about the ways science and technology are reshaping the world. Every story has technology, science, or innovation as one of its key variables. See the market guide...
Awards, grants & fellowships
Ambitious freelancers who want to tackle an in-depth reporting project often find that the fee from a potential publisher doesn’t come close to covering their costs and time. Grants and fellowships can fill that gap, but freelancers have to know about them in order to apply. In this section, the Freelance Center is compiling a list of non-AHCJ grants, fellowships and awards (for when the hard work is done). Click on the links for more details, including applications deadlines. This section will be updated regularly. For information about AHCJ fellowships and its annual Awards for Excellence in Journalism, visit the fellowship and awards pages of the website.
Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute: The Reporting Award This award from the journalism institute at New York University provides up to $12,500 for a significant work of journalism, in any medium, on an under-reported subject in the public interest. The award is especially tailored to freelancers and journalists from media outlets that cannot afford to fund this kind of journalism project.
Excellence in Science Communication Given by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in partnership with Schmidt Futures, this award is for science journalists and research scientists who have developed creative, original work that addresses issues and advances in science, engineering, and/or medicine for the general public. The there submissions categories for journalists are freelance journalists, early career journalists, and reporting at the local/regional level.
Gerald Loeb Awards for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism Calling all AHCJ members who have written compelling stories about the business of healthcare. The Gerald Loeb Awards from the UCLA Anderson School of Management are the most prestigious honor in business journalism in the United States. Individual journalists and media outlets can submit entries in 12 competition categories.
National Institute for Health Care Management Awards These journalism awards recognize excellence in health care reporting and writing on the financing and delivery of health care in four categories: general circulation; trade journalism, television and radio; and digital media.
New York Press Club Awards Members of the New York Press Club are eligible for these prestigious awards, which are divided into awards for stories covering the NYC metro area and national awards. Entries are considered in 30 categories.
Online Journalism Awards The Online News Association sponsors these awards, which recognize innovative work in digital storytelling. There are 17 categories, and five awards come with a total of $40,000 in prize money. There is an entrance fee, which is discounted for members.
Sigma Delta Chi Awards These awards from the Society of Professional Journalists recognize the best in professional journalism in categories covering print/online, audio, television, and more. There are also Spanish-language awards in seven categories. Work published or broadcast by a U.S. or international media outlet is eligible, including freelance stories.
Sunshine Award This award from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) “recognizes people and groups making important contributions in the area of open government.” Winners are selected from nominees; self-nomination is allowed. There is no set number of winners.
Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting This prize from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing honors a writer for a body of work published or broadcast within the past five years that “has made a profound and lasting contribution to public awareness and understanding of critical advances in medical science and their impact on human health and well-being.” The honoree receives an award of $3,000.
Grants and fellowships
The Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship Fellows receive a $20,000 stipend for six months or $40,000 for twelve months and are expected to work full time on their projects, which are expected to result in four print articles. Freelancers are eligible to apply.
The Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism Grants The fund provides grants of up to $10,000 for ambitious investigative and explanatory journalism projects on critical health issues facing underserved communities. Both freelancers and news outlet employees are eligible to apply.
Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellowship The institute at the University of Missouri is taking proposals from people and organizations to develop innovative strategies for local news. The fellowship lasts eight months and comes with a $10,000 a month stipend for fellows living on campus or a $5,000 a quarter stipend for the nonresidential fellowship.
Fund for Investigative Journalism Grants These grants of up to $10,000 are to defray the expenses of an investigation that uncovers wrongdoing by powerful people or institutions. The fund reviews applications three or four times a year. Applicants must include a letter of commitment from a news outlet to run the articles.
The Knight Science Journalism Program Fellowship The Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT offers academic-year fellowships to 10 science journalists. Living on campus or in the area, fellows explore science, technology, and the craft of journalism and are required to complete a research project. Fellows receive a $70,000 stipend, a $2,500 relocation allowance and other benefits.
Knight-Wallace Fellowships Up to 20 experienced journalists are selected for an eight-month program of immersive study at the University of Michigan. Fellows receive a $75,000 stipend and audit courses, participate in private seminars and workshops and work on an individual journalism project.
The Pulitzer Center Global Reporting Grants These grants support reporting on critical issues from global health to climate change. The stories of grant winners address the root causes of crises from around the world, including the United States. Awards cover reporting costs and can be $10,000 or more. There is no deadline; grants are awarded on a rolling basis.
There is a whole world of potential clients for freelancers to tap beyond newspapers, general interest science and health magazines, women's magazines and other traditional consumer publications. Trade groups publish magazines for members, companies for customers and universities for alums. Media conglomerates may have a stable of specialized publications targeting various professional groups.
Solutions journalism goes beyond reporting on problems and explores the ways organizations and communities are trying to solve them. Learn what solutions journalism is, what it is not, and why it is so relevant to health care reporting. Get tips for generating and pitching great story ideas and for crafting a compelling narrative. Julia Hotz of the Solutions Journalism Network and Meryl Davids Landau and Sarah Kwon, two freelance reporters who have written solutions-focused stories, will guide the way. AHCJ's freelance community correspondent Barbara Mantel will moderate.
Independent journalist Linda Marsa interviewed attorney Jonathan Kirsch about legal issues that affect journalists, such as indemnity clauses, work-for-hire agreements, the Dynamex case, carrying insurance and much more.
Sometimes our freelancer peers have a quick suggestion that will help us solve a puzzle at work. Here we turn to front-line freelancers for some simple insight to add to our repository of “shared wisdom.”
What should writers interested in ghostwriting look for in a collaborator?
Find a collaborator who is committed to producing a book. Even though you are doing the heavy lifting of writing, you will need their time and participation. Ideally, you want to find someone who has new insight. I’m speaking about conventional publishing. There may be health experts who have garnered a niche, but for some reason, they can’t get commercial publications and might want to invest in self-publishing. For commercial publishing, the expert has to have the “dreaded” platform. If they are in a public-facing position, and they’re going to be interacting with a lot of people and helping people, then chances are stronger of there being a market for the book. Once you find people you want to collaborate with, be sure you get a collaboration agreement in writing before looking for literary representation. You don’t want to go through all the work of developing this project and then the agent decides that you’re not the writer for the project.
Wendy Lyons Sunshine is an award-winning writer, editor and collaborator based in Sarasota, Florida, whose byline is in scores of publications including Scientific American and Psychology Today. She co-wrote her first book, “The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family” (McGraw-Hill), with two child development experts.
How can freelancers start and nurture a local writers’ group?
Lytle: Try to meet some like-minded people and say, “Hey, let’s meet for coffee or a glass of wine.” Once you get a core, the group grows organically. It’s very helpful to have some basic parameters. If you’re going to feel comfortable talking about whether $2,000 to do this piece is worth it or ask advice about where to pitch a story idea, you don’t want to deal with people who will steal your story idea or blab about your finances. You have to establish an agreement on what the limits of confidentiality are and how you treat each other.
Fauteux: I think Tammy is absolutely right. It is good to know upfront what the expectations are. We used to have rules about attendance. I think you had to show up four times a year at a minimum. Since the pandemic, that’s kind of fallen by the wayside.
Independent writer Nicole Fauteux and writer and editor Tammy Lytle belong to a Washington, D.C., writers’ group that members call the D.C. Guild.
How can freelancers get editors to open a pitch email and keep reading?
Remember, they’re getting a whole onslaught of PR pitches that you're trying to distinguish yourself from. So I will put in the subject line ‘Pitch from journalist Laura Beil’ just so they know, if they're skimming it, this is not a PR pitch. And then try to get a catchy subject line. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the subject lines of emails more than you might imagine, because you're trying, again, to make your pitch stand out. And you’re trying to help this editor. Don't make them work for your idea. Why is this a good story? Why is this right for you? Why am I the right person to do it? Why now? Try to answer those questions right away. You might not be able to do all these but try to do as many as you can, again, because you’re trying to help the editor really understand why the story is good for their publication.
Laura Beil is an award-winning health and science journalist and podcast host whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Men’s Health, Texas Monthly and many other publications. She is a member of ACHJ’s Freelance Committee. These comments are drawn from her presentation during AHCJ’s Oct. 21 webinar in advance of the 2021 virtual PitchFest.
How difficult is it to file a Freedom of Information request?
It’s basically just sending an email that takes a little bit longer to write. I use tools like FOIA Machine to very quickly streamline my FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests and to find the FOIA representative for whatever agency I’m trying to FOIA. If you make it a practice, it just feels like you’re going fishing.
The secret to any complicated FOIA request is knowing the records retention schedule, which is a public record for any agency, except maybe the CIA! And then you know exactly what records they keep, how long they keep them for, and what they’re called. I’ll just call them and ask for it. I have dealt with some agencies that are kind of hostile to FOIA, and they will make you submit a FOIA request for that records schedule. But if it’s a big story and you have the patience, I highly recommend doing that.
Katy Boss is a former journalist and a subject librarian at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Boss helps journalism students file Freedom of Information requests to federal, state and local government agencies.
How do you know whether your idea for a long feature is worth pursuing?
Let the idea simmer: I'm someone who absolutely has to be passionate about something if I want to write about it. If I’m not, then I find writing very difficult. So the biggest piece of advice I have for writers is to sit with the idea and figure out if it is something that you can be married to for at least a month, maybe longer.
Run your idea past friends: Sometimes we can get into our own little rabbit holes and think something is super fascinating. But then you talk to other people and their eyes glaze over. So I think testing your idea in that way is important.
Read this book: Roy Peter Clark is someone who everybody in the writing world should follow. He is an instructor with the Poynter Institute and has written several books. His book “Writing Tools” was particularly influential for me. He talks about strategies for long-form writers, and he's so succinct that you just get it.
— Dr. Amitha Kalaichandran is a physician and writer and AHCJ member. Her award-winning work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Magazine, Wired, The Atlantic, The Atavist (optioned for a film) and other publications.
How do you make the most of journalism fellowship programs?
Journalism fellowships tend to be either reporting or residential. The intent is to make you a better journalist either by providing funding and other assistance for reporting projects, or the space to explore and create your own learning experience.
Whether you’re just starting out or have been in the game for a while, fellowships are a great way to build on the work you’ve already done and enhance your knowledge and leadership skills for whatever comes next. Each fellowship taught me something and opened my eyes.
• Finding fellowship opportunities:
ProFellow’s free-to-use database lists more than 1,300 global fellowship and funding award programs, and application deadlines and requirements. Google “journalism fellowships” and you’ll find many more.
• Application tips:
Ask other fellows what gave them the edge.
Discern the guiding principle of the fellowships that interest you. Studying the site and learning about past projects they’ve funded will give you a window into what they’re looking for.
Craft an essay that shows your uniqueness, experience and passion for your proposed project.
Think ambitious but doable. Your application should show that your project will stretch you as a journalist but can definitely be achieved in the allotted time.
— Melba Newsome is an award-winning freelance writer. Her work has appeared in Time, O Magazine, ESPN Magazine, National Geographic, Wired and The New York Times. She is an AHCJ 2021 Health Performance Reporting fellow.
How can freelancers avoid isolation?
I have found my niche writing about medicine, health, science and the environment. Formerly, I was a reporter for The Los Angeles Times and I am now a contributing editor at Discover, which means I can work from home, which can be isolating. My advice to others is to take classes and workshops and go to as many conferences every year as your time and budget allow. Always look into whether conferences you want to attend will cover your travel costs. Also, apply for fellowships. One of the benefits of winning fellowships is that they can make you more marketable because you can become an expert of sorts in some areas in which you might not have had any prior experience.
Get involved with professional organizations such as AHCJ. Usually, these organizations would welcome your help; it's important to give back, you can connect with colleagues and expand your network of contacts, and doing so increases your visibility in the journalism community.
Are you a freelancer needing affiliation credentials to cover a medical meeting, media briefing or similar “credentialed-press only” event? If you are a professional-category member, AHCJ may be able to help.
Send an email to email@example.com asking for a PDF letter from us attesting to your current AHCJ membership in the professional category. We will send a copy for your use to your email of record. Make sure to keep your membership up to date.