Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Reportage: Veteran journalist offers tips on freelancing

Freelancers need to “know their market”, according to veteran journalist Martin Kelner.

Mr Kelner is a former columnist for The Guardian. Speaking today during Leeds Trinity University Journalism Week he said that the key to becoming a freelance journalist was pitching original ideas to editors. He said: “Magazines will pay for something if it excites them.”

He added: “It important to read magazines, and to know your market.”

Mr Kelner, 60, now a presenter at BBC Radio Leeds, said that it was important for journalists to build up relationships throughout their career. He went on: “You never know where people will end up,” adding: “If I had an idea I’d pitch it. I pitched to people I knew, people who I’d worked with.”

New journalists looking to start their freelance career face a different set of challenges. He said: “Getting a foot in the door can be difficult – magazines can be such a closed shop.” Journalists should take advantage of their geographical location and their specialist knowledge. He added that it was important for freelancers to make themselves known to as many relevant editors as possible.

Martin Kelner

Responding to a question about becoming an arts and culture journalist, Mr Kelner said: “If there’s something going on locally, stories about cultural events may not have a chance to be covered by a London-based journalist. Introduce yourself to arts editors and send samples of work before you try and pitch to them.”

For those interested in writing opinion columns, Mr Kelner said that journalists “need to annoy 50 per cent of the audience”. He said that columnists like Rod Liddle, Richard Littlejohn and Allison Pearson have made a living from being controversial. But he added: “You’ve got to be prepared to take the brickbats if you write opinion pieces.”

And his final piece of advice: “Always keep a notebook next to your bed.”

Video by Shaun Maloney

Martin Kelner’s homepage.
BBC Radio Leeds
Guardian profile
Twitter: @MartinKelner

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