Tips on Becoming an Independent Journalist

Independent Journalist

Independent journalism is your chance to focus on the stories you think matter, not just the stories you’re getting paid to work on. The fact is, there isn’t money to publish every story until you have a finished product and can state why your story matters. If you have an idea only, it can be hard to prove the concept. That’s why many top journalists work independently and then sell their stories to the right publication.

Some journalists work exclusively with one company, others will get their work published across the board. Though it may seem like these independent journalists get paid infrequently, that’s not actually true. Yes, they don’t get a wage the same way that a staff writer would, but there are more ways that one to get paid when you establish yourself and build an engaged audience—especially online.

What’s an Independent Journalist? 

An independent journalist is, simply, a journalist who does not have strict affiliation to any single news agency or company. They instead work for themselves, which means they take on a lot more hats than just a writer. They essentially work as a full media platform on their own. When you get big enough you can even start to sell your stories directly to your audience, or even have media publications bid on your story so you can increase the price.

Independent journalists are usually multi-media experts. A lot of them, for example, have their own podcast so that they can truly get in-depth. Journalism doesn’t have to be current, after all. Journalists can do deep dives into old stories and unearth new information that audiences may find exciting.

It isn’t just the platform they use to tell their stories, either. Independent journalists also need to know how to market themselves so that they can establish an audience that gives them true freedom to pursue their interests in ways that most journalists will never have working on staff.

How Do Independent Journalists Make Money? 

If not through a wage, how do independent journalists make money? The answer is, in a lot of ways. Independent journalists operate entertainment channels of their own, and as they grow their audience they can expand their monetization options and earn a very healthy wage while remaining in charge of their work and themselves.

Though not extensive, an independent journalist will typically make money with these methods:

Selling Their Stories 

One of the most popular ways that an independent journalist can make money, increase their reputation, and get their name out there is by selling their stories to media publications. There are many news outlets and journals that are happy to accept submissions. These submissions are vetted and fact-checked, so if you have a good story that’s worth reading, you can earn money by selling the publication rights to a company.

Just as authors need to find the right agent and even publisher that will sell their book based on their niche, so too do journalists. Understand the content, the audience, and then get in touch with the relevant publishers to sell your story and make some money.

Creating Premium Content 

You won’t just want to sell stories to news outlets. The 24/7 news cycle means that any story you sell will, ultimately, have a short life. If you want to continue to make money passively, it’s a good idea to create premium content that your audience can buy whenever they feel like it. The prime example of this is a book. Creating a book, either based on your own experiences or on a story you are following, is a great way to establish yourself in your niche, earn a passive income, and boost your reputation.

With Direct Donations 

There are many different platforms that will let your audience pay a small monthly fee (even one of their choosing) to help support you. While most will do this just to help you continue to create content that they enjoy, some may do it for special perks. Early access to your content, a chat, and access to members-only content are a few of the common perks that people have used to encourage monthly donations.

Through Merchandising

Think an independent journalist can’t have merchandise? Think again. Merchandising is a simple and effective way to bring in money, advertise yourself, and give your fans a way of showing their support. Journalists can create a logo, or pull quotes from their work to create eye-catching clothes, mugs, pencils, and so on. There are many print-on-demand companies that will create this merchandise as necessary, so you don’t even need to manage the stock.

So long as the merchandise you offer looks good, it doesn’t matter what your niche is. It’s simply a smart way to get your audience to support you.

Creating Passive Income Streams 

Anything digital is considered a passive income stream. You can create worksheets or an online course, for example, to help others become independent journalists and then sell the access to these courses for a small fee. If you’re a photojournalist, you can sell the rights to your photos on sites like Shutterstock or Getty Images.

A passive income stream is, quite simply, one that you set up once that then brings in money over and over. You don’t have to think about it, and can even enjoy a healthy regular income once you start selling enough.

Advertising and Sponsorships 

As soon as you have an audience, you have the ability to advertise and accept sponsorships. There are minor differences between the two. Advertising can be as simple as having an ad banner on the bottom of your website. If you earn money through the various social media channels, then this is because of ad revenue that the company earned thanks to you.

The big money options come from sponsorships. Sponsorships don’t mean that you’ve sold out your integrity. You can actually help your audience by partnering with compatible companies. So long as your audience knows when you’re talking about a paticular object or concept because it’s a sponsorship and when it’s a genuine recommendation, you’ll be good to go.

You could advertise food services, VPN services, and so on. So long as you approve of the product or company, there’s only benefits to be had with accepting a brand partnership.

How Do I Become an Independent Journalist? 

There are a lot of different ways that you can establish yourself and get paid as an independent journalist. Making it, however, is going to feel like a constant uphill battle. That’s why you’ll want to follow these tips to help you succeed:

Develop the Necessary Skills 

First of all, you need to be a good journalist. One of the best ways for aspiring journalists to not only establish the skills they’ll need as a journalist, but as an independent digital journalist is to earn a degree in digital journalism.

An online masters in digital journalism goes beyond the traditional skills like writing, reporting, and editing. With such a degree, you’ll not only know how to conduct yourself as a professional journalist, you’ll also know how to code so you can create impactful multi-media elements. You’ll learn how to use social media to report in real time, and you’ll also learn how to create a digital platform and use analytics to increase engagement.

It’s an all-in-one degree that helps you establish yourself as an independent journalist. The skills, however, are just the start. You’ll then want to follow up by establishing yourself, growing your platform, and then doing it all over again when you need to reinvent yourself or your approach.

Establish Yourself in a Niche

The best way to make a name for yourself as quickly as possible is by establishing a niche. Most journalists work in a niche, because you simply need to have an in-depth understanding of what you’re talking about. This can be in sports, fashion, business (even industry-specific businesses), finance, politics, foreign affairs, and so on. The niche you choose should be what you’re most excited about, and you need that passion in order to continuously learn more about that field. Journalists are academics in that sense, because they need to be experts in what they’re talking about.

Journalism isn’t just reporting what happened, it’s helping people understand what happened. That’s why you need to adopt a lifelong learning approach so that you can become an expert not just in journalism, but in the niche you’ve chosen for yourself.

Create a Thriving Digital Platform 

A thriving digital platform takes time and effort, so start today. Even if you haven’t started a journalism degree and have no idea where to start, there’s no harm in jumping in. For the time being, follow journalists and influencers in your niche, and start creating content that helps summarize or builds off of the content that’s currently there. This can help you develop your own voice and help you create the multi-media content expected out of journalists today.

When it comes to growing your platform your best bet in the beginning is to engage with other platforms. Comment on others’ posts, start discussions, share content, and be active in that community. This is how you’ll get your account out there and start to naturally build up your own audience.

Follow up with great content, use analytics to understand what’s landing and what isn’t (and try to understand why) and use that information to improve your approach. As you get bigger you can then even look into marketing your platform to grow your reach further.

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Get Your Work Published

Getting published is a great way to improve your reputation and build your audience. When it comes to getting content published, who you go to matters. You won’t take a think piece on the cultural impact of a certain fashion designer to the Financial Times, for example. Understand who your audience is every time you create content, and work to find the publisher that most accurately reflects this.

It may be hard to get the ball rolling with this one, but once you start getting published you’ll find it much easier as time goes on. This is because you’ll have established yourself as a credible journalist, and one with an audience to boot.

Collaborate and Integrate Yourself in Your Community 

Engaging with your niche’s community is useful for more than just getting more people to follow you. Think of them as your network. Actively work to collaborate with key figures in your network so that you can introduce yourself to new audiences and truly establish yourself as someone noteworthy and worthwhile in your field. When you first start out, this may just be amongst other influencers, but as you grow you’ll find you can partner up with other journalists and leading figures.

Not only will this help you grow, it’s great practice. Interviewing requires rapport and charm, and working with others from the get-go is a great way to work on those skills and establish a baseline that future interviewees can look to when you ask them for a quote or even an in-depth interview.

Reinvent Your Approach 

Times change, tools change, and society changes. If you think you can work as a journalist and stick with the tried and true, you’re wrong. If you aren’t careful your established approach will become outdated. Just look at print media that refused to adapt to the times: it’s gone. Online completely overshadowed print media and media in general has struggled to find a new place in the massive world that is the internet.

You need to constantly try new approaches so that you can keep your audience engaged and growing. Not only is this how you’ll stay relevant, it’s actually how you’ll better monetize your platform.

To reinvent your approach stay updated on the latest marketing trends. There are reports out there that can help you improve your social media strategy so that you can continue to connect with your audience in ways they find fresh, fun, and informative.

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