How to (Successfully) Work With Freelance Journalists

By Andie Levine 

Since 2008, newsroom employment in the United States has dropped by 26%. Public relations has always been competitive, but as newsrooms shrink, PR pros need to use every tool in their tool belt to secure articles. One of those crucial tools is freelance journalists. 

Working with freelancers takes a different set of skills compared to working with staff reporters. Still, they are a valuable relationship to maintain because they are often more flexible, have a wider network, and can take on all kinds of projects. 


Who Are Freelance Journalists?

Freelance reporters typically write for a variety of publications on various topics. Historically, freelancers focused on one or two subject matters, but a recent shift in the industry has required them to be a “jack of all trades.”  What you might not know about freelancers is that in addition to writing stories and meeting deadlines, they also spend time pitching stories to editors, sourcing stories and experts, fielding edits and feedback from editors, and promoting their content on social media. 


Where Do Their Stories Come From?

Freelance stories can come from PR pitches but are also developed by the freelancer or given to them by an editor. Once a story is assigned or approved by the outlet that wants to publish it, a freelancer’s first job is to search for appropriate sources. They may turn to resources like HARO or ProfNet and request experts to weigh in on the topic at hand. Some count on social media platforms like Twitter to identify thought leaders. For freelancers who focus on a specific field or industry, their existing relationships can be helpful, or they may search their inboxes for related pitches. 


What Are Freelancers Looking For?

These days, freelancers write about almost anything! But unlike staff reporters, a freelancer’s “beat” may vary from outlet to outlet. Like pitching staff reporters, it’s critical to research a freelancer’s most recent articles to determine what they most frequently cover. 

Freelancers are looking for a unique story angle and are typically not interested in covering hard news like a product launch. They would likely be interested in the story behind that new product. Where did the idea come from? Was it developed using a new technique or technology? What is different about the process? 


How to Get Freelancers to Notice Your Pitch

Now that you have a great story idea for a freelance journalist, you must make your pitch stand out. It’s not uncommon for freelancers to receive over 500 PR pitches in just one day. To ensure your email doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, here are a few key elements that can help you get a response.   

  • Include keywords in the subject line. Freelancers use their inboxes like a Rolodex for sources. While they might not be able to cover your story on a breakthrough early education testing technology, they may be looking for sources for a different early ed story a few months later. Packing the subject line with keywords helps freelancers find your email when needed.  
  • Add links! Include links to provide background on the story or expert that helps qualify them as a source. Have they been published in a reputable journal? Have they been featured on a podcast? Including links to other content identifies the source as a respected leader and adds information to support the story. 
  • Make it easy to read. A freelancer’s time is valuable, so using bullets and bolding to simplify scanning the email rather than reading through entire paragraphs is a big help. And it’s a good pitching best practice! 
  • Offer more story angles. Provide the freelancer with more than one story option. While the lead-in might be that breakthrough early education testing technology, offering two or three additional angles shows that you deeply understand the topic and can be a valuable source for future stories. 

Building solid relationships with freelance journalists can be challenging but worth it. Especially for those of us at PR agencies working with multiple clients, having a freelance journalist you can pitch numerous stories to at once is a huge asset.