If you are a freelance journalist in MENA, then worry no more. There is tons of work for you and a lot of opportunities to become a fully-established reporter in your area. The Arab Spring has brought a lot of change and dynamics to the region. And, most importantly, the world is still hooked to our news. The demand is virtually high, and you are the supplier.
Here are 8 useful tips to become the next legitimate source on Middle Eastern affairs.
The purpose of this post is to help freelance journalists position themselves both financially and professionally in the MENA media industry, and also improve your status as a freelance journalist.
1) Know your priorities
It is important to establish some priorities before getting into journalism. Journalism is a very demanding job. It can be both frustrating and exhausting if you don’t prepare or, as I call it, strategize enough for the job. Your career might not even pick up if you are not sure what you are trying to accomplish with this new job.
Therefore, it is useful to ask yourself some of these relevant questions before starting writing, filming, photographing, etc.: How many hours will you allocate to this new job? Is it going to be your main job? Are you mentally prepared to follow news around the clock in different countries and languages? Do you have the necessary technical skills to make it on top of the market? Are you ready to do it without pay?
Basically, you want to know where you are headed with this profession when you decide to take a stab at it.
2) Make the right investments
The word investments, here, could be interpreted literally and loosely as it could a more expensive phone plan, a tablet, your own website, a better camera, a better sound recorder, a video/sound editing software – you name it.
Basically, you want to make sure that you’ll be using your time and strategic location more efficiently through these assets to help you make the most of your experience as a journalist.
Internet on the go or a mobile device will help you stay connected with people and actions wherever you go if mobility is part of your reporting activity. A better camera will help you deliver better quality photos that will sell more in the market or attract more clients.
3) Get online
This is beyond obvious. It is the most efficient way to interact with your community, larger community, and also engage your audience with the kind of journalistic content that you produce.
4) Seek out an internship
Just like any other profession, you will need job credentials in journalism in order to be taken seriously by other publishers. Therefore, whether you live in a small or bigger city, try to find any media outlet that is hiring a new member in their team. This could be paid or unpaid, but it is really up to you to establish your priorities and must’s in your new career.
Preferably, you want to choose a media organization that focuses on your topics of interests be it a specific city or country, a “region”, foreign affairs, culture, etc. When you do start this new job, you want to absolutely make sure that your organization is completely onboard with staff writing or producing for other outlets. Otherwise, abstain, because it is not professional.
You will also need to quantify your experience at this new job so that you can display it nicely in numbers on your CV/portfolio. For example: I have worked x hours a week. I wrote x many articles with x thousands in unique views and social media shares. I covered x political/cultural/social demonstration events on the ground. I produced multimedia content (video, photos, sound bites) for my organization, etc.
5) Build up a portfolio
Do not limit yourself to your CV. Portfolios can make a difference when a media outlet is hiring a freelancer in the region. Your employer wants to look easily and quickly through your proven publishing, photographing or video experience and a portfolio is the best fit platform for that.
This is why you do also want to make an online portfolio. One of the most famous free portfolio hosts are Carbonmade.com. If you do believe that you even need your own website with more content to yourself, then you may also want to try breezie.com. It allows you a more aesthetic web presence that potential employers can scroll through easily.
6) Take initiative
You have got to take the initiative and go cover breaking news or any other interest of yours even if you don’t have any client yet on the line. You could always find people who would be interested in your work later. This really depends on your ability to market yourself and present your work, but that wouldn’t happen at all if you don’t have the necessary content.
Even if nobody reaches out to you personally and ask you to write or produce any media piece about a particular event, you can literally go to knock on other editors’ doors. Ask them if they would be interested to have this or that. Be creative and authentic with your coverage. This might or might not work. But, you will get some interesting contacts that you will keep for future uses and dates.
7) Narrow your breadth of coverage
This is something to keep in mind as long as you’re doing journalism. You do not want to be the kind of person who does everything. Editors will not take you seriously if you present yourself with a minimal experience – let’s say – and an alleged expertise in 10 different topics. You have got to pick one or two or three depending on what your experience is.
If you are Palestinian and have grown in the West Bank or Gaza, then you might know about the subject legitimately more than other fellow MENA freelancers. Topic expertise could be anything such as Arab Spring, war, Hezbollah, Palestine, business in the Gulf, culture, human rights, Iran, etc.
Pay is perhaps the trickiest subject among the other aforementioned tips. Excessive pay demands or expectations might draw some employers off especially that there are also many competitors in the media industry in MENA. Typical pay for more renowned international media organizations is often in the xxx dollars, but beware that these media companies do also know their way around the region as much as you do. Do not think of robbing anybody off. Never.
It’s hard to determine how much you should ask for pay i.e. your profit margin, as it really depends on your line of coverage, technical skills and experience. Therefore, it is best recommended to talk to peers and try to assess quantitatively and qualitatively the work expected to finish the job.
You have to send out the message clearly enough, though, at the beginning that you are expecting to be paid. You should keep some kind of leverage so that you can guarantee that you won’t be robbed off. However, in case you do agree to waive your rights to a fair compensation of your efforts, please make sure that you will commit your employer into health insurance if you know that you will be risking your life or any other legal liability of that sort.