freelance journalismA report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism estimates that newspaper employment is down by 30 percent since 2000. By comparison, The American Society of News Editors states that the number of newspaper reporters and editors was at its highest in 1990. I certainly felt the decline walking through the rows of empty desks on a recent tour of the Los Angeles Times. As newsrooms continue to consolidate and cut costs, the need for editorial content still remains and anecdotally, editorial departments have turned to freelance writers for help as a result.

In today’s evolving media climate, what does that mean for the PR professional and the brands, services and products we represent?

One thought could be that building and maintaining relationships with media continues to be critical, and the thoughtfulness invested in relationships with the editorial department should apply to freelance writers as well. Just because a freelance writer isn’t listed on the masthead (yet, or at the time), doesn’t mean he or she is any less valuable than full-time staffers. For example, a story idea that may not be the best fit or appropriate timing for one publication a freelancer writes for may be better for another.

magazine coversWith that said, there are nuances to working with freelance writers of which media relations professionals should be mindful. Below are some general tips for how to work best with freelance writers, courtesy of several who graciously took the time to share their thoughts with me for this post.

  1. Be specific: As noted above, freelance writers often contribute to multiple outlets and your pitch should note the outlet for which you’d like your story idea to be considered. Help them out and provide all of the information they might need to make a decision about the opportunity you’re offering, including the section you’re interested in and whether you’re requesting inclusion in the print or online edition.
  2. Give them more time: Just like us, freelance writers need to do some pitching of their own. One writer explains, “Please don’t send me a release about a great event/offering taking place tomorrow…I need time to identify an outlet, craft a pitch and wait for an editor to get to my email.”
  3. Check in periodically: Media relations professionals need to be mindful that a freelance writer’s outlets and the interests of their editors are constantly in flux. Similarly, a freelance writer’s own interests may change at will or by necessity and may impact the type of opportunities you reach out to them for.
  4. Have credentials, will travel: One former full-time editor turned freelancer notes, “When you’re on staff, you rarely have time to travel.” Consider the freelance writer when planning your next press event.
  5. What goes around comes around: Relationships work both ways and the golden rule certainly applies to your freelance contacts. One writer shared, “I like to believe that I’ve invested in a relationship with the PR person, not necessarily the account.” On that note, you never know when that freelance writer will land a big assignment at the outlet you’ve been chasing or update her LinkedIn profile to a full-time editorial staffer. When that happens, who will she call to help write the story?

To the PR and editorial community reading this, what else would you add? Do you agree?