Worried about working in a newsroom and being under the constant pressure of deadlines? Why don’t you look into becoming a freelancer? Read this inside look at the life of a freelance journalist.
Words: Jason John, Subeditor: Lauren Burgess
Yesterday, freelance journalist Stefan Pape visited the University of Westminster’s journalism undergraduates to tell them the story of how he became a freelancer and what they could do to follow in his footsteps.
Stefan studied at the UoW and was on the road to becoming a sports journalist. He was happy at first being invited to matches and interviewing notable athletes, but felt he wanted to do reports on his long-time interest, films. Fortunately, Stefan was given the chance to cover a film premiere. This was the first step to becoming who he is today: a freelance film journalist who works with many notable publishers, such as Cosmopolitan magazine, and the reviews editor of film news website HeyUGuys.
Stefan has done numerous interviews with Hollywood stars, (one of which was a full six minutes with Jake Gyllenhaal for which he had to fly to the US and then be on a plane home after just 14 hours) and even visited several film sets during production on the next blockbuster. Stefan describes each day as a new adventure. His editors give him the task of watching exclusive film screenings and reviewing them. He also tells of the time he has to relax and write his own reviews; rating Netflix’s programs all from the comfort of his own home.
It may be an exciting and fulfilling life that Stefan has now, but it wasn’t always that way. When he first started freelancing, he mostly did unpaid work as he was new to publishers. Because of this, he sometimes worried about whether or not he could pay the rent on time. There was even more stress when one editor gave him the impression that he was about to be cut loose.
I had the chance to speak with Stefan yesterday to ask him about his life story and what a young journalist should do if they want to pursue a career in freelance film journalism.
What are the advantages working as a freelance journalist?
Stefan Pape: Well, I guess it’s the freedom to say yes or no on what jobs to do. Most of my editors give me a range of reports, interviews or screenings to watch that I write about in the week. Every day is a different job for me to do; one day I’m on the set of an upcoming film, the next I’m watching a screening in Soho [laughs]. Other than that, I get to meet a lot of cool people, some are my childhood idols or people that soon become my friends. I also have the freedom to work at home or anywhere, sometimes after I do an interview with someone, I go to the pub. Not to drink though but to start on my report.
What inspired you to become a freelance journalist?
SP: My inspiration mostly came from journalists I’ve idolized while I was studying like the late film critic Philip French. But I was also inspired from an early age. Most of my family friends were freelance journalists that lived a comfortable and wealthy life, and I wanted that for myself. Sally Hughes was also an inspiration for me to become a freelance journalist. She’s a big inspiration for anyone who wants to work in the media industry. Maybe one day, I hope to inspire young journalists into the industry.
What were your struggles when you first started out as a freelance journalist?
SP: Oh boy. There were a lot when I first started doing unpaid work. I was doing it so I would be recognised for all the different media firms I worked for and hopefully get employed. One struggle I had was paying the rent on time as I didn’t receive any pay at the start of month, luckily I had my parents to help me out and also stay with whenever I was in a spot of trouble. Then later I did get employed and started to get paid for my work.
What can you say to young journalists working as freelancers as it is such a competitive industry?
SP: Its hard to pinpoint what’s really good and bad working as a freelancer. the pros and cons outweigh each other. Sometime you’ll find a publisher that will employ you and give you a decent amount of pay for your work, but their structure and stability may be terrible and can affect your work. Several times I’ve been in situations where I have to wonder if I want to continue in this industry. Not to sound selfish, but I continue because I love working as a freelancer. There is so much for me to see and do. But for those who want to pursue this career, you have to be sure you really want to get into freelancing.
What advice can you give to journalism students?
SP: When I was studying, I built up a portfolio of all the names I worked for. When they see that, they’ll know to put you on their team for all the work you’ve done. You’ve got to see yourself as a brand image. You represent what kind of journalist you are. To be recognised, go to events and network with people in the media industry. Twitter is a really helpful site to communicate with people in the industry and tell them about the website you’ve made. It’s also good to have communication skills when networking, however, I’m not saying being talkative makes you a better journalist. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian is a really quiet man and keeps to himself, but he is an excellent writer.
Any last words of wisdom to give to those wanting to be a freelance journalist?
SP: Yeah, do as much work as you can, even if it’s unpaid. If you want to get into the industry, you have to make sacrifices for the greater good. Good things will come after your perseverance, doing a job that will lead you into a better career is more important than doing one job and getting paid.
Follow Stefan: @