Every few months or so, I get an email or Facebook message from the younger brother of a long-disconnected friend, or a former colleague who worked down the hall from me three gigs or so back. It goes something like this:
Hi! it’s been a while… [insert chit-chat preamble] So I’m reaching out because I’m thinking of making some changes to my professional life, and I’m wondering about possibly getting into freelance writing. I’ve always been a total magazine junkie, and I’m wondering if I could buy you a coffee and pick your brain about how to break into the biz?
I’ve never been sure how best to answer these emails; “career” isn’t a word I would even tuck into the same paragraph as “freelance magazine journalism.” To best guide positive personal growth among such correspondents, I have developed the following eight-point checklist. Please feel free to share, modify, and adapt this for your own use.
Freelance Journalist Aptitude Self-Assessment Tool
Please check all that apply.
- Do you have a trust fund?
- Are you married or engaged to a lawyer, airline pilot, surgeon, petroleum or mining engineer, dentist, or pharmaceutical executive?
- If not, can you grow hydroponic marijuana?
- If none of the above apply, are you at least married or engaged to an individual with a “real job”?
- Are you are childless, or monastic, or both?
- Do you suffer from low self-esteem?
- Are you comfortable waiting six to eight months to be paid for two months of work even though your mortgage lender or landlord may not exhibit the same flexibility?
- Are you Malcolm Gladwell?
If you answer “yes” to at least three of these questions, then congratulations! You may be a candidate for a career in the glamorous and rewarding field of freelance journalism. You are prequalified to play a critical oversight role in our democracy. Please contact me to book a coffee meeting at your nearest convenience!
In the media world, a reporter who transitions to the world of public relations strategy—as I have done this year—is “going over to the dark side.” To be honest, it sure doesn’t feel that way. Instead, it feels like I have stepped into the light. I’m exercising new parts of my brain. I’m finally able to take a stand on issues that matter to me (journalists aren’t technically supposed to “join” causes). I’ve helped bootstrap a smart-growth advocacy group in my community. I’m presently working with a team of incredibly smart people, and pitching in on projects that support my values and passions. Even better: When they say my check is “in the mail,” it actually is.
If this is the dark side, then I’m here to stay. Wishing all my friends near and far a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2010!