City In Focus News

Freelancing: It Ain't Easy

The current labour dispute at the Chronicle Herald has made national headlines, with journalists waiting to see what will happen next. The way this strike is resolved could show which way journalism is heading. If resolved well, the newsroom may have hope. If botched, it could feel like watching an outdated model gasp its last breath.
The Chronicle Herald has asked King’s journalism graduates to fill in for the striking workers. Called “scab labour,” it is seen by many journalists as unethical. For young freelancers thirsting for money — not to mention writing experience — the offer can be tempting. After all, freelancing has as many difficulties as it does advantages.

(Photo: Morgan Mullin)
(Photo: Morgan Mullin)

For freelancer Rebecca Dingwell, a 2015 King’s journalism graduate, the new career track is already proving true. Dingwell operates on a full-time schedule writing stories for several publications in Halifax. While it allows her the freedom to write on a wider range of issues than a desk reporter could, which she loves, Dingwell says it does have its challenges.
“I really wish I had somebody that I could just talk to about certain issues and that I could bounce ideas off of,” says Dingwell.
She says since freelancers do everything from finding a story idea to “bringing it to fruition,” having a mentor or boss that she could rely on for expertise would remove a lot of uncertainty from her work.
Newsroom reporters will often be given a story and then be able to knock on an editor’s door if problems arise. As Dingwell explains, however, it isn’t always so clear-cut for freelancers.
Rather than being hired to create content for the publication, they are being paid for a finished piece, a sort of story-writing contractor who receives a flat fee.
King’s journalism student Michelle Pressé also works as a freelancer, balancing writing for various publications with two other part-time jobs. Pressé agrees the job can be difficult, saying key knowledge is something you discover for yourself.
“I wish someone had taught me sooner how to write a query letter and be able to sell yourself and your story… Because that’s really how journalists get their start,” she says.
There are other adjustments that come with the freelancing lifestyle. Pressé says that the lack of a traditional office space can be a challenge, especially in terms of balancing work and home life.
“It can be really hard. I do pretty much everything in my room, whether it’s school work or freelancing or sleeping…you’re not even just taking it home with you, but living in that home of work,” she explains.
Dingwell agrees, saying the need to write as many stories as possible often means she has a hard time putting down her work.
“For me right now, I think if I had a full-time job I’d be asking for some leave because I have a lot going on in my personal life,” says Dingwell.
“But in the freelance world the times when you don’t have work it doesn’t feel like a break. It feels like panic.”
While most other lines of work — including traditional newsroom jobs — give paid leave, time off for a freelancer means going without a paycheque.
While we watch situations like the labour dispute at the Chronicle Herald, these issues could become more commonplace for all journalists.
In the end, both Dingwell and Pressé agree that a passion for writing and the need to find answers to questions will keep writers like them working, regardless of the potential downsides.
As Pressé says, “I love this job…I just think it’s beautiful. Because, you know, no one does this without loving it…they sure as hell aren’t in it for the money.”

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

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