What its like to be a Freelance Journalist

David Wilson - Freelance Journalist

This is the first in a series of intermittent interviews on this blog with people who have interesting or unique jobs/life experience.

Interview #1 – What it’s like to be a Freelance Journalist

David Wilson (see photo) has written for the South China Morning Post, the International Herald Tribune, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Sun Herald, the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, the London Review of Books and New Statesman among other papers.

You can contact him at wilscoop@yahoo.com. He has covered most areas but vaguely specialises in the Internet, books, travel and the weird and wonderful. He also had a poem accepted for broadcast on Radio 4 but the Gulf War intervened.

Neerav Bhatt: Hi David.

I’ll start by asking What did you work as before you were a Journalist?

David Wilson: I was basically a whore. I would do pretty much anything for money. Usually the work was dull, poorly paid and unglamorous. It often revolved around lifting heavy weights. Typically my tenure was short – a matter of days.

Neerav Bhatt: What’s the best thing about being a Journalist?

David Wilson: I have a low boredom threshold. Journalism caters to this. Commissions are usually over in a month and a good laugh to write. Also, I enjoy the tricky, mend-bending crossword-solving dimension that appeals to my Asperger’s side. Plus you get to meet strange and brilliant people then dis them.


Neerav Bhatt: What’s your #1 tip for aspiring freelance Journalists?

David Wilson: Don’t give up the day job. Editors will happily fail even to acknowledge receiving an article that has taken you a month of labour. Also, don’t be precious. Revise. Writing is revising. If you want to write better, write tighter. I subject some of my stories to as much as 30 drafts. Finally, you need to get the basics right: grammar, spelling, punctuation. If you fail to, that will erode your credibility. But, again, don’t be precious. There’s no law against using the word “get”.

Neerav Bhatt: How much does an experienced freelance journalist get paid? (eg: per word/per article/monthly retainer for a column etc. Ballpark figures of course)

David Wilson: Maybe 50 cents a word. There’s plenty of variation. If a publication pays more, expect more hassle – requests for an infinite number of rewrites.

Neerav Bhatt: Should prospective Journalists get a university degree in Media/Communications?

David Wilson: It helps, I reckon. I have a BA in writing studies from Middlesex University in London. Middlesex no longer exists. I’m doubtful about whether the course does either. But it gave me a bit more stylistic breadth and depth. You cannot beat just banging out stories day after day though. If you can get a job on a local paper, good. The money will suck, however.

Neerav Bhatt: What do you think the future is like for prospective Journalists?

David Wilson: Dark. Thanks to competition from publications such as this one.

Neerav Bhatt: Surely you jest David! I’m certain there are far fewer people earning a living by blogging like myself, than by being freelance journalists like yourself.

However in the long term you may be right especially when you consider remarks from people like former Fairfax CEO Fred Hilmer who has stated: I don’t believe they [quality journalists] can generate earnings growth and described the profession of journalism as simply content providers for advertisers.

Thanks for making yourself available for this interview.

To show just how good he is at writing, David answered all the interview questions within 20 minutes of receiving my email request!

If you’d like David to write a story for your publication feel free to contact him at wilscoop@yahoo.com

Some examples of articles he’s written for the Sydney Morning Herald include: Careful, they might hear you , Mind the shy trap, Riding with the hearse men, Weekday warriors.

What do you think about David’s answers and the future of Journalism as a career? Feel free to make a comment.


24 responses to “What its like to be a Freelance Journalist”

  1. I admire those who can put ideas into words. Blogging is a great income for some and a great hobby for others. Surely David Wilson can turn his hand to blogging and build up an extra income this way.

  2. Arrrree!! this David man paints a bleak bleak picture for us aspiring student journalists **dreams of running around like the next Christiana Amanpour dissolve unceremoniously into the sunset**

    how dare you crush my hopes and dreams in this way Neerav!!

  3. Great interview. That sounds like a typical progression into journalism. Write and write and let your writing prove itself. That, and make sure people who make decisions are reading it.

  4. You scored with this interview! Very interesting and some good information for those who want to become a journalist. Everything is not as glamorous as some in the business would make it seem.


  5. Good interview. I always wished that I could write better and make a living off of writing.

  6. Honestly, I envy people who has talent for writing. David is one of them tho like he said “basically I was a wh*re” :). Keep up good work!

  7. Nice interview! I have always wanted to be a journalist but it’s the rewrites that would kill me! lol!! And the fact that you put so much into a piece and then it’s not recognized..sheesh…that would be very hard for me!

  8. Good interview. It sounds like journalism is a tough field to get into.

  9. People can do practically any profession without even liking it. In journalism, you really have to love the job. It’s really hard work and the pay is usually not lucrative. Also wanted to say this was an awesome interview.

  10. Very good interview. Never knew you guys had it so rough! Wow! Keep up the good work!

  11. You scored with this interview! Very interesting and some good information for those who want to become a journalist. Everything is not as glamorous as some in the business would make it seem.


  12. I think that he was only semi-joking at the end when he said the future was dark. It’s true that the internet is shaking traditional media outlets to their foundations.

    However anyone who can write has an immediate advantage in this new world because Google loves “content” — particularly the original kind. I think that the trick is to think like a publisher as well as a writer.

  13. I just read an interesting story in the UK Guardian newspaper: “Are reporters doomed? Citizen journalism is here to stay. But in the rush to embrace new media we risk destroying the soul of traditional reporting”

  14. I followed a similar path of working jobs that I didn’t like at all. I’m very new to the whole internet marketing and writing. So far, I’m loving every minute of it. I was surfing all day anyway. Might as well get paid.


  15. ausphotowriter

    David has things about right, but it has always been this way and isn’t really a new thing.

    Papers are awash with applicants for every vacant job and it has only been made worse by increasing numbers of new BJ grads turned out each year. The only way to soak up these guys is to set up the myriad of `New Media’ outlets, be they Blogs or online paper sites.

    Journalism is just like any other trade or profession, requiring training and skill development. Only sons/daughters/wives/husbands of MPs, TV celebs or gangland personalities seem to make it unless of course you’re another Samantha Fox with appropriate assets.

    Even with a degree, writing skills and news sense are still needed, can’t be taught, and can only be acquired from experience and working up the ladder from the bottom rung.

    Good journalists though, will probably always be in demand, whatever medium they work in.

    Radio broadcasting, which began in the UK in 1923, was going to be the death of print; almost 90 years later, it hasn’t yet happened. The same was predicted when TV came along, then Teletext News services and more recently e-mail and the Internet. Commercial Radio was going to soak up the papers advertising revenue.

    Newspapers have survived them all by a process of continuous reinvention.

    If there is a new threat to papers now, it is the increasing cost of newsprint due to dwindling paper pulp sources and costs of transporting finished papers around the country, along with all that printing ink upsetting the green lobby.

    EDITOR: Thanks for your insights, are you a freelancer, staff writer, blogger etc?

    I hadn’t heard of the cost of newsprint angle until you mentioned it, IMHO the main threat is the continuous job cuts at newspapers so the best and most experienced writers go elsewhere and setup their own publications like http://www.businessspectator.com.au, http://www.eurekareport.com.au etc and the remaining newspaper content becomes more shallow and less authoritative.

  16. Well, To Write is not to impress but to put a message across. Your message should be based on your own reality of your own being, your own vision, your own perception in relation to everyone else’s point of view. The message is to capture the image and imagination and inside of anyone who requires that particular information or understanding. In how something is or presents itself to be.
    anyway thats enough from me.

  17. Fifty cents a word hey? That means to get my current salary in my dull desk job I’d only need to bang out 2000 words a week… Jeez I could do that in a day if I was on it full-time. I reckon those major media journo’s have it so easy. They plod out such long-winded tiresome articles every week. Watch out fella’s cause the bloggers are snapping at your ankles.
    Insightful interview though guys, keep up the blogging Neerav.

  18. You scored with this interview! Very interesting and some good information for those who want to become a journalist. Everything is not as glamorous as some in the business would make it seem.

  19. Spot on on the answer about the future of journalism. I am not a journalist and in fairness I’d never like to become one, for the very reason that Dave mentioned.

    On the other hand, what really strikes me is how few of them decide to start their blogs and use their talent to make money online. Sure, they may not make as much straight away but at least there is a prospect, unlike in freelance journalism.

  20. 50 cents a word? To many, that’s a lot already.

  21. Sophia Bronkhorst

    Mr Neerav Bhatt, I REALLY enjoyed the interview with David Wilson…..thanks for the journalistic insight and the “dark” humour (hee,hee). I’ve been contemplating the throes of Journalism and am assured it will be all about application and re-writes….I was hoping for the glamour and bucks! Thing is though, writing is a drug, so we prostitute ourselves for it, don’t we!

  22. Veronica Marme

    Being a professional Journalist working with great career politicians and Prime Ministers in Papua New Guinea, with private companies as a freelancer and with various media organisations and now I’m with the National Broadcasting Corporation of PNG, its a powerful job. I can describe my job as a Journalist as we can make or break government, make or break Prime Ministers using the media and public in any democratic society, you don’t need money to do that. Being a Journalist is a powerful career so don’t give up on your dreams. Right now I’m more into Church and Ministry work and I’m writing on my first BOOK, my Autobiography but I have so many books to write for my experiences for the last 17 years as a Journalist. Thank you.

  23. Veronica Marme

    I need informations and help here. How do I become a blog writer as I’m interested as I have a column in one of the dailies and weeklies in Papua New Guinea but I also want to have my own blog????? I want to be paid as a blog writer???? Thanks………

  24. Interesting interview Neerav – how does he get his foot in the door? Who does he approach first and is it with a pre-written article or a conceptual idea?

    EDITOR: Initially getting your foot in the door relies on preparedness and luck

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