Writers and photographers who prefer a freelance lifestyle and don’t need the financial security of a contract have an option that applies to small-town newspapers covering Friday night football, or big-time news magazines that need international news coverage. Stringers are freelancers who write or provide photos as needed to print publications, and sometimes even television and radio. They decide what they cover and when, and they’re paid for each individual contribution.
Focus on a High-Need Area to Get Started
Newspapers in the South – particularly in Texas – have one season in which stringers are invaluable. High school football season begins around mid-August, so if you’re going to try to land a spot as a football stringer, it’s a good idea to pitch yourself and set up an interview by early August. A newspaper generally will call in all the troops to cover Friday night football, but even the entire staff isn’t enough to cover games, take photos and take stat calls when the games end, usually at or just after press time. Stringers can market their specific skills for football season, which is a great time to get a foot in the door with your local paper. If you provide fast, reliable coverage and hit lots of games, you’ll earn some credibility with the staff and the chance to continue stringing, but you don’t have to limit yourself to one news outlet.
Bylines Earn More Work
Building a portfolio of your stringing work is the best way to being marketing yourself to local magazines and other newspapers. Seasoned reporters and photographers who have specific beat experience have a better shot at landing coveted domestic and international assignments for heavy-hitters like the New York Times and Newsweek. But, all stringers have to start somewhere.
Knowing where you want to work will help you develop leads to find work. If your small town is the height of your ambition, approach the local paper with some samples of what you can do, and ask for a couple of small assignments to get started and prove your mettle. If you’d rather head for the big cities, develop your portfolio with your target market in mind. An international news magazine won’t be interested in someone who has only covered high school football and local street festivals. But, throw in a few great investigative journalism or disaster pieces, and you may have a better chance at getting the freelance job you want, when you want it, right where you want to be.
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