Autonomy is part of the appeal of freelancing. We may or may not work in our pajamas, or from a lawn chair in the backyard. We’re our own bosses. But sometimes, that means bossing yourself around.
“Unless you know exactly what you want, you’re sure not to get it.” I could attempt to diagram that sentence. Instead, I’ll explain how this nugget of advice became a cornerstone of my freelance business — and how it can help yours, too.
Independent journalists work in a constant state of upheaval: We work without roots, often alone. Rewards abound for the risks we take. Yet freelancing through the current upheaval amid Pres. Donald Trump’s transition to the White House has thrown many for a loop.
Without easy narratives that match familiar story schema, policy and regulation are deemed too dull or too dense to fit within a click-driven, deadline-oriented news cycle. And that’s a problem.
Data-driven journalism isn’t always about numbers. Structuring information like data also allows for keen analysis — and may reveal a virtual quarry of stories to mine.
Three and a half years ago, I left self-employment to attend graduate school. The one thing I wanted at the end was a job — a regular paycheck. Now, I’m giving up a regular paycheck to return to my business, Niles Media. And it feels great.
This fall, I am getting the chance to peer in at journalism from outside the newsroom walls. There is no media theory or philosophy of journalism in a public policy class. No distinction between mass media and independent community media. Heck, there’s no distinction between “media” and “journalism.”
Here, framing is about how to structure a policy issue to attract the attention of reporters. Reporters are myopic servants of single-issue beats who simplify messages to fit the format of their media. Media are no more than businesses that lead with what bleeds and profit from conflict. And conflict is the enemy of compromise. Yet compromise is what solutions are made of.
In other words, the media, while essential, are also an intractable obstacle to constructive policy solutions.
I think one criticism, in particular, misses its mark at the same time it points to the greatest potential for journalism’s future.
It’s hard to prepare for the artful dodge of politicians, I suppose, with anything other than practice. I’m hopeful that the experience of being a panelist at the Missouri Press Association’s gubernatorial forum last Friday, combined with my current studies of public policy, will prepare me to craft questions that require more specific responses than I got last week.
I think the format presented part of the challenge to specificity. At first, I confess, I was relieved that there would be no time for follow-up questions. That took a bit of pressure off, as I was nervous to “perform” so publicly. By the end, I decided I would have preferred the risk.
Briefly, the idea is that equilibrium, or status quo, dominates. Not much changes from year to year (or generation to generation), but this relative calm is always interrupted by a flurry of activity in which rapid change occurs. Here’s how I think it applies to reporting:
The New York Times reported recently on a new trend in the cat-and-mouse game that is politics-press relations: quote approval. Want an interview with a high-powered political operative? Only if you run their quotes by them for approval before publication.
It’s absurd, of course. It’s offensive. It’s embarrassing that apparently so many reporters accept it. What I want to point out here, though, is not outrage, but a very important distinction. It’s between “quote approval” and the “accuracy check,” which we are taught at the Missouri School of Journalism.
It is not the same as quote approval, but I fear that in the flurry of outrage about quote approval, one may be mistaken for the other. You are not seeking approval for a quote when you check its accuracy. You are checking its accuracy.