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Checklist for freelance reporters: 'Fortune favors the bold, especially those with a sound plan'

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Checklist for freelance reporters: 'Fortune favors the bold, especially those with a sound plan'

Sherry Ricchiardi | December 19, 2016

When we talked in late November, veteran foreign correspondent Jason Motlagh was preparing for a month-long assignment in Myanmar for National Geographic. He sees opportunities for journalists expanding in today’s global media market. His advice: Form a strategy and have a solid plan before you go.

“Staying the course is really an important part of successful freelancing,” said Motlagh, 35, who began his career 10 years ago in West Africa.

“The longer you stick around, the more familiar you become with the story, the more confident you become as a journalist, and the more connections you have to facilitate your work and find new opportunities. All of this begins to coalesce, but you need to give yourself time to for this to happen.”

Conducting research and laying groundwork is a vital part of the process and success in the field, he explained. So is versatility. Motlagh quickly branched out from writing to photography, filmmaking and multimedia documentaries.

IJNet asked the award-winning journalist for his best freelancing tips. Here is the checklist he provided:

Laptop: Find a lightweight, durable model that can take a beating on the road. Go with reputable brands that are serviceable abroad. Photoshop software is good for editing stills; Adobe Premier is essential for editing video.

Hard drive: Bring a couple of external drives to back up your work, transport story research files and more. USB sticks are also useful to transfer data.

Digital recorder: Pick up a pocket-sized digital recorder for all-purpose audio. They’re worth having in case your smartphone breaks, and grabbing ambient sound for radio pieces and/or multimedia.  

Digital camera: Unless you’re primarily a photographer, no need to spend big bucks on a top-shelf DSLR camera. For less than US$1,500, you can pick up one up that shoots sharp stills and hi-definition video. On a leaner budget, Canon G-series cameras do the trick, as does the new twin lens iPhone 7 Plus. Be sure to buy extra memory cards and a card reader.

Notebooks: Smaller is preferable for easy back-pocket storage. I prefer Rhodia and leather-bound Moleskines.

A good bag: If you’re a digital one-person-band on the go, invest in the right bag (AKA your mobile office). My backpack holds a slim laptop, DSLR camera, extra batteries/cables, notebooks, snacks and other accessories. Critically, it’s light and lean enough to carry-on when flying. Your livelihood tools are in that bag and you can’t afford to lose it.

Phones: Bring an unlocked smartphone with SIM card slot so you can swap in local SIMs as you travel. Always carry a cheap back-up phone with you. These have longer battery life and aren’t as tempting to thieves.

Money: Credit cards are becoming handier but not always accepted. Bring a diverse assortment of hard currency (dollars and Euros) in medium to small denominations. These are easier to exchange and should be stashed in hidden pockets, boots or lining of backpack. I still use a hidden money belt.

Dummy wallet: Always carry limited funds and old credit cards in a cheap pocket wallet that you can hand over if you are mugged.

Kindle or big book: Journalism is 10 percent sprinting, 90 percent waiting. Bring some serious reading material for the latter.

Adapters: Necessary for all electronic gear. Take your pick of universal voltage adapters and buy two of them.

Business cards: Order high-quality ones. A good card leaves a strong impression and can be the difference between getting through the door and getting left out in the cold.

Motlagh also recommends safety training for those headed to risky environments. The two he mentioned: Rory Peck Trust, a U.K. organization “dedicated to the safety and welfare of freelancers.” The Trust offers grants to journalists who need help paying for training. He took training with Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC), which offers classes in emergency medical treatment.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via i.gunawan

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