Should I Become A Freelance Journalist?

"I am thinking of majoring in journalism next year in college. I’ve been researching journalism schools and I am very excited to get started, but I feel like I need some guidance as far as my career direction goes. I know that a lot of journalists work directly for newspapers and magazines and websites, but don’t a lot of other journalists work directly for themselves, taking jobs where they find them? That kind of life sounds awfully scary. How would I know where my next job was coming from? I’ve heard though that salaried positions are seriously competitive. I don’t know which route sounds more challenging. Do you think I should freelance or not?"

asked by Stephanie from Nashville, TN

Congratulations on deciding you want to become a journalist. A lot of students entering into college have a lot less certainty about what they want to do when they graduate. As far as the freelancing question is concerned, you are right that there are benefits and drawbacks either way. Ultimately your decision will probably rest on a number of factors. Neither choice is really “better.” It’s just a question of what is best for you.

If you work for a newspaper, magazine, or online site, the benefit is of course an increased feeling of security which comes with knowing where your next job is coming from. Salary can vary a good deal. Some of these positions are grossly underpaid, while others are highly paid. News rooms are often fast-paced, frantic environments, with long hours and hard deadlines. Some people thrive in that climate while others do not.

As you mentioned, there are a lot more job candidates after these positions than there are openings, so you may have a hard time getting a job in this field.

Freelancing is often considered less desirable by candidates for the precise reason you mentioned—the concern about where the next job is coming from. Consider however that there is perhaps more opportunity in freelancing since there are fewer candidates competing for freelance gigs than full time positions on newspaper or magazine staffs.

You also get to determine your own work environment, choose the assignments you want, and set your own pay grade based on what you are willing to accept. So there are many benefits which go with freelancing too.

Ask yourself what you are looking for in a job. What is most important to you? The quality of your work environment? Your hours? Job security? Variety? These lifestyle factors can help you choose the work which is best for you based on your needs. A lot of job candidates choose a job first, a lifestyle second, but studies have demonstrated that choosing your lifestyle first, a job second, can result in greater satisfaction all around.

While you are in college you can try out an internship to see if you like working for a company. You can also try taking on some freelance assignments to see whether you prefer working for yourself.

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