As more professionals join the "Great Resignation” or “The Big Quit,” what options are available for journalists who want to be their own boss?
In the past, self-employed journalists primarily became freelancers for bigger publications. However, there are now ample options online for journalists to choose from if they want to work independently.
Founded in 2017, the platform Substack has gained popularity among journalists. It’s an all-in-one service that allows writers to design, publish, and send digital newsletters directly to paid subscribers.
In the past year or so, a number of influential independent journalists flocked to Substack in hopes of gaining more editorial freedom. Among them were Rolling Stones contributor and former New York Times journalist Bari Weiss and former Vox contributor Matthew Yglesias.
“I feel like I have more control over my destiny. I own an asset that can grow in value over time. And I love working directly on behalf of readers and interacting with them daily.”
Casey also listed some challenges: “Having to do bookkeeping and accounting — there is so much more paperwork than there used to be. Not having a copyeditor for the daily newsletter — thanks to all of you who point out typos, which I endeavor to fix as quickly as possible.”
Helena Fitzgerald, a New York-based freelance writer, is another example. In an interview with NPR, Fitzgerald said her primary source of income now comes from writing her Substack newsletter "Griefbacon", which offers a mix of free and subscriber-only posts, a common Substack strategy.
Selling online courses
On Udemy, journalist and former war reporter Julian Gearing is selling a course titled “Journalism skills for beginners”, where he teaches prospective journalists how to publish feature stories. His educational materials include on-demand videos, articles, and downloadable resources that learners can follow along with at their own pace.
Offering more personalized instruction to budding journalists and other writers is another way for journalists to diversify their income streams. For example, narrative journalist Wudan Yan offers freelance writing and grant writing coaching services.
Yan’s journalistic background gave her a unique edge as a coach. She writes on her website: “My training as a journalist means that I come to each client with an open mind. I don’t hold any ideas of what your business should look like for you - I’m a lot more excited to hear you tell me what it is that you want.”
Selling digital products
Professionals can sell their expertise in the form of e-books or PDFs on sites like Gumroad, a self-publishing and digital marketplace platform.
Robb Montgomery, a mobile journalist and consultant, is selling an e-book on mobile journalism on the site that also includes illustrations and a companion website with videos.
“I wanted to offer a personalized PDF version of [the e-book] because many of my readers told me that they prefer that format,” Montgomery told IJNet. “Gumroad is a super platform and the team behind it operates with integrity. By self-publishing, I am able to earn the highest return.”
Asked about what advice he can give to journalists who want to publish their own digital products, Montgomery said: “What I advise them is to truly become experts in a topic that they can then build their reputation around,” adding that for multi-skilled journalists there is always a palette of new opportunities to earn money from non-fiction storytelling.
A number of journalists use Patreon, a membership platform that allows content creators to run a subscription service. Users pay a monthly fee to gain access to exclusive perks or other content.
Among the journalists that utilize this service is UK-based investigative journalist Vicky Smith, who describes her Patreon as the reason she can write the journalism she really wants to write. “I can break down big topics and tell you what the experts are saying. I can provide analysis on the big news stories of the week plus write features about interesting people or issues.”
Some journalists opt for asking their audience and loyal fans for support directly so that they can continue to work independently and offer the content their audience likes. American freelance journalist Kaitlyn Arford used the service Buy Me A Coffee to ask for support. The site, much like Patreon, allows supporters to give monthly donations to a creator in exchange for access to exclusive materials or opportunities. Arford writes: “If you know me, you know I run on coffee. In between deadlines, I share freelancing advice, knowledge, and rate transparency…If you love what I'm doing, I hope you'll consider buying me a cup of coffee.”
With more journalists than ever opting to work independently, these resources are essential to allow reporters to publish the stories that matter without worrying about what will get them their next paycheck.