AHCJ has a vibrant freelance community. While working as an independent journalist can be rewarding, it is also a tremendous amount of work to run a small business. AHCJ is here to help. Our resources include market guides for pitching dozens of publications, advice articles, freelancer profiles, lists of resources, monthly online meetings for freelancer members and webinars. We also have an active Freelance Committee interested in pursuing more services. For instance, the committee created a mentoring program that took place at Health Journalism 2023 in St. Louis.
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.
Choose someone whose style fits with your style of writing. I don't know how it would work without doing sections. See it now »
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 »
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 make up a significant portion of journalism in this era of bare-bones operations, niche websites and nonprofit startups. Independent journalists require assistance in finding assignments, establishing personal ethical guidelines, negotiating contracts, branding themselves and otherwise running their operations as working businesses.
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 AHCJ to pay for the costs associated with collecting, writing, editing and presenting valuable resources.
Please send us your ideas, questions and suggestions so that we can make these pages as useful as possible.
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.
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.
Tips for collaborating with other journalists AHCJ members and freelance journalists Laura Beil, Fran Kritz and Tara Haelle discuss their experiences working with others on stories and offer tips for fellow independent journalists.
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 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?
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.
Lunch and Learns
December 14 (second Thursday to avoid holidays): Finding patient stories.
November 16, 2023: Tapping medical journals for story ideas
October 19, 2023: Using AI for reporting
September 21, 2023: Using social media to find freelance discussion groups and editors calling for pitches.
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.
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.
Digital.com This website has reviews of web hosting and web building services.
PC Magazine In this article, the magazine lists its top 11 picks for website builders.
CNET This online magazine rates 12 website builders.
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.
This website publishes stories that help people 50 years old and up make informed decisions about their health. It pays freelancers $1 per word. See the market guide...
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 online, multimedia magazine features stories from around the world “about the wonder of the natural world, the most pressing threats to biodiversity and the most promising sustainability solutions,” according to its website. 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...
Capital & Main is a California-based digital publication that reports on economic, environmental and social issues, including health. It is updated daily, and freelance fees are set on a case-by-case basis. 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 and print publication is looking for freelancers who want to write science and technology stories of interest to engineers. See the market guide...
Juvenile Justice Information Exchange / Youth Today: These nonprofit sister publications are looking for pitches about stories around children, youth and young adults. Most stories get $1 per word. See the market guide...
This digital publication pays flat fees and is looking for pitches for stories ranging in length from 800 to 2,500 words. 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...
This digital platform and print magazine pays between $1 and $2 per word for articles ranging in length from 300 word front-of-the book articles to 4,000 word features. 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 print and digital magazine is actively looking for freelance pitches and pays between $1 and $2 per word. 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...
This print magazine and website assigns freelancers to write stories linked to its awards and recognition programs. 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...
NBC News is a general news website. Rates range from $400 for a 500 to 800 word article about a new study to $700 for an enterprise feature from 800 to 1,500 words in length. 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...
The standard fee for digital stories is $1 per word, and editors are looking for two to three strong science stories every week. See the market guide...
This publication pays competitive rates for features between 2,500 and 3,000 words and news stories of 1,200 words or less. 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...
This monthly print magazine pays $1/word for features stories that range from 2,000 to 5,000 words in length. 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...
Features at this online magazine, formerly NEO.LIFE, 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...
This weekly radio program is looking for off-the-beaten path stories about health and science. 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...
STAT has a general audience plus lab scientists, health professionals, business leaders and policymakers. Pay starts at $1 per word for features that range in length from 800 to 1,500 words, depending on the topic. 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 in the fall. Applicants must include a letter of commitment from a news outlet to run the articles.
The Impact Fund for Reporting on Health Equity and Health Systems This program from the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism supports ambitious investigative or explanatory projects on systemic racism in public health, health care policy and the practice of medicine. Grantees receive professional mentorship and a $2,000-$10,000 grant to help with reporting costs. They also participate in monthly online development and brainstorming sessions with other reporters.
Investigative Reporters & Editors fellowships The nonprofit Investigative Reporters & Editors offers two fellowships that might be of interest to AHCJ members, including one specifically for freelancers. The Freelance Fellowship provides as much as $2,500 to help independent journalists conduct investigative projects. The Journalist of Color Investigative Reporting Fellowship provides assistance for qualifying journalists to attend various IRE conferences.
The Journalists in Aging Fellows Program The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and the Journalists Network on Generations run this fellowship, with financial support from various foundations. Fellows will attend GSA’s annual scientific meeting, with travel and hotel paid, and commit to completing one short-term story and one long-term in-depth project about any research-based aspect of aging. Each fellow also will receive a stipend of $1,500.
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 McGraw Fellowship for Business Journalism Fellows receive grants up to $15,000 and editorial support needed to produce deeply reported stories that delve into critical economic, financial or business issues across an array of subjects, including health care. Applications are accepted twice a year.
Nova Institute Media Fellowship This full-time, 12-month fellowship supports journalists who wish to complete media projects that explore the many factors that promote well-being, prevent disease, contribute to healing and increase an individual’s ability to flourish and live a fulfilling life. Fellows receive an award of $105,000.
The Open Notebook Early-Career Fellowship Program This part-time, ten-month fellowship program is for early-career science journalists. Fellows, who receive a $5,500 stipend, work remotely with a mentor to plan, report and write five articles for publication at The Open Notebook. There are several rounds of edits. This fellowship is ideally suited for freelancers because it requires a significant weekly time commitment.
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.
USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism National Fellowship This one-week fellowship in July prepares accepted journalists to report a major enterprise health or social well-being project. The project should focus on social and economic inequities and systemic racism and exclusion and their impact on health. Fellows receive reporting grants of $2,000-$10,000 and five months of professional mentorship following the five day in-person learning intensive.
Wake Forest Mellon Environmental Justice Journalism Fellows Fellows attend the 2023 Summer Institute hosted by Wake Forest University’s Environmental and Epistemic Justice Initiative. The June 26-30 program will highlight issues of race, racialization and the environment at the local and regional level. Each fellow will receive a $2,500 stipend plus travel and accommodations expenses.
Great narrative journalism takes readers on a journey by telling stories with scenes and characters as well developed as those you would find in a good novel. It's gratifying to write, but the research, reporting and pitching of the idea to an outlet take time and determination. In this webinar, seasoned editors and reporters offer tips for breaking into narrative journalism, including knowing what editors want, crafting pitches and figuring out whether the pay will be worth the effort.
Freelance contracts can be short, simple easy-to-understand agreements, multi-page documents full of legalese or anything in between. They can contain clauses that will cost you money, take away your future rights to the story, delay payment and saddle you with legal responsibilities best avoided.
In this webinar, former journalist and media lawyer Charles Glasser will answer your questions about why contracts are important, language to include and avoid, and how to negotiate the contract you want.
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.
Crafting a successful pitch is a job in itself for freelancers. In this webinar, two editors — Ingrid Wickelgren, former features editor of Spectrum, and Kyung Song, managing editor of WebMD — explain what they’re looking for, and award-winning independent journalist Laura Beil discusses her approach to pitching. The take-home message: Figure out what kind of stories your editor wants/needs and target your pitches. That might be a fresh angle on news, a trend piece or an “explainer.” If an editor rejects your pitch, don’t despair. Reframe it and pitch again!
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.
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 reporters gauge the quality of surveys they want to quote?
I encourage people to look at transparency. Does the poll tell you how it was conducted? One red flag and, in my mind, a disqualifier is if all that is disclosed is that the poll was done online. That's a signal that the pollster is really trying to avoid the conversation about how they drew the sample and how it was done. The better pollsters will tell you, 'This survey was done online. And here is where the sample came from. And here is what I did to make that sample as nationally representative as possible, and here is what I did to weight the data.' You are going to get better data in the long run by looking at polls done by a neutral, nonpartisan source, whether that's a news outlet or a nonprofit like Kaiser Family Foundation, something like that. Really pay attention to who is the sponsor and do they have a conflict of interest.
Courtney Kennedy is vice president of survey research and innovation at the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank that conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research.
Should freelancers agree to an assignment without a contract?
It depends on what you are covering. It depends on the publication. If you are working with an organization with whom you have worked in the past and never had a problem, and — this is the key thing — the subject matter is really anodyne — then sure, go ahead. But if you do get a contract, read the whole thing. Never sign any contract without reading it. You have no idea how many reporters do that. If you are overwhelmed by the legalese and small print, FIRE ((Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors) offers free services to reporters to go over this stuff. Or if you have a friend or someone within your circle who is a lawyer, that's fine too.
Former journalist and attorney Charles Glasser spent 12 years as the global media counsel for Bloomberg News, where he trained more than 2,200 reporters on legal issues and journalism fundamentals. He is now a private legal consultant and teaches law and ethics for investigative journalism at New York University's Arthur Carter Journalism Center.
Should collaborating journalists each take a section of the article to write?
More often than not, I think it's probably easier to split [the article] into sections. You do want to make sure your styles match. That is one of the reasons you look over their work because you might tweak little syntactical things. That is also why you choose someone initially whose style fits with your style of writing. I don't know how it would work without doing sections. I guess one person would have to write the initial draft, and then the other would have to go in there, but then one person is doing more of the work.
Independent journalist Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader. She recently collaborated with two other journalists for a HuffPost story about domestic abuse in the military.
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.