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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

Get editors to open a pitch email

Remember, they’re getting a whole onslaught of PR pitches that you're trying to distinguish yourself from. 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 »

New Shared Wisdom

Ideas worth pursuing

Sit with the idea and figure out if it is something that you can be married to for at least a month, maybe longer. 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 freelance@healthjournalism.org.

  • 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.

    Pitching

    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 2020 PitchFest, which will be held in person at the annual conference planned for Austin, Texas.

    Here is what participants in this 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!!"

     
    7 Fatal Flaws of Story Pitches: How to identify common mistakes that get in the way of landing that big idea
    Nieman Storyboard Editor Jacqui Banaszynski discusses the most fundamental ways that writers fail at pitching stories.

    Be wary of assignment scams by email
    Freelance journalist and author Carolyn Crist offers tips for avoiding assignment scams.

    Tips on selling related stories to multiple markets
    Panelists at a Health Journalism conference offered advice for turning a story idea into multiple articles.

    Reporting

    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.

    Freelance investigative reporting may not be easy, but it's possible
    A Health Journalism session on investigative reporting for freelancers highlights tips, resources and success stories.

    Freelancers, editors explore ethics, integrity and transparency
    Many freelancers take on additional writing assignments to make ends meet. But when do these non-journalistic jobs present real or potential conflicts of interest? How should writers and their editors address ethical questions that may arise?

    Writing

    How narrative moments can elevate a non-narrative story
    Nieman Storyboard Editor Jacqui Banaszynski explains how journalists can use character, dialogue, description and scene to make explanatory journalism more compelling.

    Tips on writing for trade publications
    Top trade publication editors discuss how to write for a professional audience.

    Cinematic techniques can add pop to stories, says Pulitzer winner
    Jacqui Banaszynski offers tips on using techniques from television and movies to make stories stand out.


     

  • Running a business

    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.

    Contracts

    Create a custom contract
    Use this template from Freelancers Union to create a custom contract. Must be a member.

    The good, the bad and the ugly contract clauses
    Columbia University Law School dissects the different clauses in typical freelance journalism contracts and ranks them.

    Keys to negotiating fair contracts
    Tips for handling unfair clauses and requirements.

    Copyright, work for hire, and other rights issues
    Blog post from Writers and Editors.

    Copyright forms
    Forms for filing copyrights. From the U.S. Library of Congress.

    Insurance

    Focus on freelancing: Tips for buying liability insurance
    Exploring affordable options for liability insurance.

    Making sure you're covered for liability
    Are you protected against libel litigation?

    NerdWallet: Affordable Health Insurance for Freelance Writers
    Guide to finding health insurance for freelancers.

    Finance and business plans

    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.

    Four ways to deal with late payments
    Independent journalist Wudan Yan points out some proactive steps freelancers can take to protect themselves from late or missing payments.

    These resources can help meet your freelance business goals
    However you approach your review and planning process — annually, quarterly, monthly or weekly — it’s helpful to understand how others approach their work. Check out these references, depending on your preferences.

    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.

    Networking and branding

    Journalism organizations that offer networking, training and more
    Here is a list of other journalism organizations that AHCJ members might want to join or follow. They offer an assortment of training, networking, educational opportunities and job listings.

    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.

     

  • Tools & apps

    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. 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 freelance@healthjournalism.org so AHCJ can include them in its periodic update of this resource list.

    Recording / Transcribing

    Audacity
    An app for recording, editing and mixing audio. This app may be overkill if all you want to do is record audio, but it is useful for editing audio and layering multiple tracks for radio or podcast production.

    Cogi
    This app records the highlights of phone conversations by buffering and then recording and stopping at a tap of a button. With membership, Cogi will professionally transcribe these highlights in 24 hours.

    Google PinPoint
    This app is part of Google Journalist Studio, a collection of tools for journalists. You can upload audio files for transcription that uses voice recognition software. 

    NCH Software
    This company offers a suite of software applications for recording, editing and mixing audio. These apps probably are most useful for people who need to edit and layer multiple audio tracks.

    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 on your phone or web browser. 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.

    TapeACall
    An app for recording calls on iPhones.

    Temi
    This app transcribes your uploaded audio within five minutes using voice recognition software.  It time-stamps the transcript and identifies speakers.

    Ubiqus On Demand, formerly Verbal Ink
    This service uses humans to transcribe uploaded audio files. It also offers a new automated transcription tool using voice recognition software.

    Time trackers / Bookkeeping

    Billings Pro
    Track projects and create invoices. Includes a timer.

    Clockify
    Free time tracking tool that can be used on a desktop or mobile phone. Paid versions offer more functions.

    Freshbooks
    Bookkeeping software that includes a timer for billing by the hour.

    Harvest
    Time tracking site and app with a free trial.

    Hours
    To track time. It’s free but for Apple only.

    Insight Timer
    A free app for tracking work-life balance.

    QuickBooks
    Personal bookkeeping software.

    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.

    Organization

    Evernote
    Keep notes, tasks, and schedule for projects in one place. Use it to scan documents and save web pages.

    Habitica
    It makes keeping and using a to-do list like a game.

    Mendeley
    Useful for organizing citations.

    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.




  • 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 is interested in pitches from health care reporters and 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 of the BMA. It is read by physicians and scientists, mostly in the U.K. and U.S., with a growing audience in India and China. We want great stories that keep the medical audience in mind and refer back to the evidence. See the market guide...
     

    Brain & Life is published on behalf of the American Academy of Neurology. The publication pays experienced writers $1 per word for print and digital articles. 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. Editors are interested in pitches about science and research, family and financial matters, lifestyle choices, and quality of life. See the market guide...
     


    This women’s magazine, with a large social media presence, caters to women ages 18-35. Lifestyle editor Ashley Oerman 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, and most stories must have some connection to Costco suppliers, services or members. See the market guide...
     


    Discover magazine is a publication educating readers on the newest issues in science, medicine and technology. Its readership is likely individuals in their early 40s looking for cutting-edge information. One thing that differentiates Discover from other science publications is its format: the stories are not so much news focused as they are narrative. See the market guide...
     


    Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News goes out free to every gastroenterologist in the United States, as well as to colorectal surgeons, GI nurses and other related health care providers. Feature articles typically run from 900 to 1,200 words. The editors are always looking for good stories across the gamut of GI practice, from endoscopy to hepatology. 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, including profiles, Q&As, longer narratives and investigative reports. See the market guide...
     


    Nature Medicine publishes original research on a wide range of topics relevant to medicine, including gene therapies, clinical genomics and aging, and has a magazine section for features and news. The journal pays $1.25 a word to freelancers. Readers are biomedical and clinical researchers. See the market guide...
     


    The Well section of The New York Times publishes service journalism with science-based guidance. The focus is on health and wellness. The editors are looking for pitches that are timely or have a clear news hook, and they occasionally run profiles. 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, part of the PBS system, 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. Stories should offer readers actionable advice. See the market guide...

     


    The Philadelphia Inquirer is looking for pitches for the health section of its Sunday print edition. Any health topic is fair game but must have a local angle. Photo opportunities are a plus. See the market guide...
     


    The digital platform is looking for three types of stories from freelancers: evergreen topics that show up frequently in online searches; longer feature stories that are “innovative, forward thinking and really intriguing,” Editor in Chief Sarah Smith said; and personal essays or as-told-to profiles of people living with a particular health condition or of someone who was misdiagnosed. See the market guide...
     


    With a readership made up of lay people and scientists, this publication is looking for pitches that are "novel, clear and concise." SciAm is a daily, online news operation that focuses on more 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. Freelancers pitching Spectrum should keep in mind that the target audience is autism researchers, although articles should be written so that families can understand. See the market guide...
     


    Undark’s audience is college-educated Americans who want to know how science intersects – and sometimes collides – with politics, economics and culture. The relatively young publication is on the web and has a regular need for freelance work: about five to six smaller pieces per week and one long-form article each month. See the market guide...

     

     

     

  • Webcasts

     

    What solutions journalism has to offer health care reporters

    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.

    Contracts and legal issues

    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.

  • Shared wisdom

    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.”

    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.


    As a freelancer, how do you compensate for the lack of interaction that you would normally get if you went to work in an office or newsroom every day?

    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.

    — Linda Marsa, independent journalist

     

     

     

Freelancing news — from Covering Health