Becoming a Freelance Reporter: Salary & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a freelance reporter's career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a freelance reporter is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Freelance Reporter

Freelance reporters, also referred to as freelance journalists, work for news agencies and bureaus in various media, and may either be assigned stories or select their own topics to submit for sale. Read on to find out more about the benefits and drawbacks to freelancing in this field.

Pros of Being a Freelance Reporter
Multiple media platforms on which to work and gain exposure*
Freedom from being tied to a single employer*
Opportunities for advancement in other areas of publishing*
Opportunity for travel*

Cons of Being a Freelance Reporter
Continual need to hunt for work*
Income may be inconsistent*
Covering a story may require long hours in the field under adverse conditions*
Hostility from interview subjects or others connected to a story*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Duties

Freelance reporters, also referred to as freelance journalists, work for news agencies and bureaus in TV, newspapers, radio and online. They can be contracted by a media outlet to cover a specific story or they may cover the story on their own and later attempt to sell it. In either scenario, a freelance reporter is responsible for researching a story, obtaining the facts, providing photographs or video, conducting interviews and writing the story.

Freelance reporters must also be comfortable with technology, since part of the job often includes the use of cameras, computers and audio/video equipment. Those who work in television or radio broadcasting may be expected to appear on air, which can require the skills needed to interview people and relate a story live.

Salary and Job Growth Information

According to the BLS, reporters and correspondents earned an average salary of $45,800 as of May 2014. Those working in newspapers and magazines averaged $40,800, while reporters and correspondents in the television and radio industries averaged $49,600.

Employment opportunities for reporters and correspondents were expected to decline by 14% from 2012 to 2022 as many media outlets reduce the number of reporter positions in an effort to consolidate operations, according to the BLS. However, small local newspapers and radio and television stations should have the most opportunities for reporters. Those with experience may still find opportunities with larger media outlets located in metropolitan areas, although competition will be strong for these jobs.

What Do Employers Look For?

Education, Training and Skills

While many media outlets prefer to hire reporters with a four-year degree in a field like journalism or communications, some reporters can find work based on their experience alone. Most employers prefer applicants who have some level of experience in reporting, such as working on a school newspaper or broadcast station. Many educational programs also offer students internship opportunities at local media outlets as a way to gain valuable real world experience.

Skills that employers look for when hiring new reporters include:

  • Verbal and written communication skills
  • Ability for critical thinking
  • Unbiased reporting of the facts
  • Strong interpersonal skills

Jobs From Real Employers

With mergers, acquisitions and the rise of Internet-based publishing platforms, a freelance reporter needs to stay on top of what is going on in the fields of broadcast and publishing. Recent job postings suggest that reporters are expected to take on more active roles in areas such as video editing, HTML/ Web writing and using broadcast equipment. These job postings from April 2012 demonstrate some of the skills that employers are looking for:

  • A media outlet in New York State was looking for a freelance traffic reporter. The reporter would be expected to present traffic information across multiple media platforms in an accurate, informative and visually pleasing way. A four year degree is preferred, and a demo tape is required.
  • An Illinois-based newspaper was seeking freelance reporters to tell stories in a non-traditional way. The newspaper expected freelancers to pursue the use of multimedia formats. A degree in journalism or journalism experience gained in a professional setting was required.
  • A Washington DC media outlet was seeking a freelance reporter/blogger to cover Capitol Hill's softball season. The reporter should be familiar with the congressional (Senate and/or House) softball leagues and have news reporting experience, preferably in sports. This position required evening work hours.

How to Beat the Competition

According to the BLS, reporters wishing to earn top-paying assignments with widely recognized media outlets face stiff competition. As media outlets consolidate and the decline in the readership of newspapers and magazines continues, many reporters are finding fewer employment opportunities in traditional journalism fields. Beating out the competition for the jobs that still exist will require bringing specific skills to the bargaining table.

Specialize

Freelance reporters can specialize in a particular subject area, such as sports, health, education, science, advocacy, environment or politics. Specialization can depend on a reporter's educational background or professional experience within the specialization field. Freelance reporters can also specialize in a particular style of reporting required by specific news outlets, such as broadcast TV, radio, newspapers, magazines or online platforms.

Continue Training

The world of reporting is always changing and adapting to meet the demands of technology and consumers. With Internet-based news outlets, blogs and live streaming reports, freelance reporters have to be tech savvy in order to beat out the competition. As a freelancer, it's likely that you won't be employed by a single media outlet, so it's up to you to gain the skills needed to compete in a variety of media outlets.

Classes in areas typically used by journalists can help hone your skills. For example, courses in using photo editing software or digital photography may help you land a job that requires photographs to be submitted with stories. Knowledge of desktop publishing and word processing software is often required by employers. Many schools offer adult education classes or programs in these areas.

Learn how to use a variety of social media platforms, as well as live conferencing software, in order to create and maintain an online presence. Attending conferences and joining writing workshops is another way to network with other professionals in your field and help build up your resume.

Alternative Fields

If you love the idea of putting together stories for publication, but not the demands of being a freelance reporter, there are several closely related career fields in which you can exercise your creativity, research and writing skills. The educational requirements for these careers are almost identical to those of reporters, and the average pay is typically higher.

Writer

Writers produce fiction and non-fiction written works for publication in a variety of areas, including books, magazines and websites. They rely upon strong research and writing skills to convey an idea, tell a story or sell a product. Although there is no hard and fast rule about the need for a formal degree in this field, many writers take classes in writing and literature and many employers prefer candidates with a degree. According to the BLS, writers earned an average salary of $68,100 in 2011. Like reporters, employment in this field is expected to be slower than average for the 2010-2020 decade.

Editor

Editors are the individuals who are charged with overseeing the content that will make its way into print on broadcast. They plan and revise content, dole out assignments to writers or reporters and ensure that what gets published (or broadcasted) is consistent with the media outlet house style. Education requirements can vary for editors, but many employers require a bachelor's degree in a writing-related field. The average salary for editors in 2011 was $60,500, according to the BLS. Editors can expect to experience little or no employment growth from 2010 to 2020.

Technical Writer

Technical writers translate complex and technical information into easy to understand language for instruction manuals and supporting documents. This job requires working with technical staff, studying products or systems, and determining the needs of those who will be using these products. Most technical writers have four-year degrees in journalism or a writing-related field, as well as experience or knowledge within a technical area. The average pay for technical writers was $67,300 in 2011 and employment was projected to grow at a rate of 17% from 2010 to 2020.

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Featured Schools

The schools and programs listed below are popular educational options, and tuition varies based on program and location

George Mason University

  • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

What is your highest level of education?

Georgetown University

  • Master of Science in Finance
  • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management
  • Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate

What is your highest level of education completed?

American University

  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication
  • Master of Arts in Strategic Communication - Advocacy and Social Impact Concentration
  • Master of Arts in Economics

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • Master: Legal Studies
  • Undergraduate in Legal Studies
  • AASBA in Business
  • Psychology

Which subject are you interested in?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Arts in Communication
  • Master of Liberal Arts
  • Master of Arts in Science Writing

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Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
  • Master of Science in Computer Science
  • B.S. - Psychology
  • Associate of Science in Business Administration

Are you a US citizen?

Saint Leo University

  • BA: Criminal Justice
  • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
  • AA: Criminal Justice
  • AA: Liberal Arts

What is your highest level of education completed?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • BSHS in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management
  • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences

What is your highest level of education?