Shona Martyn

Freelancers need to better understand the publications they are pitching to, to maximise their chances of being commissioned for work, the chief executive of the Walkley Foundation has said.

Giving the key note speech at Launceston’s biannual Freelance Festival earlier today, Shona Martyn said freelance journalists had to target editors more effectively while pitching their stories.

“It’s extraordinary when you’re an editor that a lot of people pitch stories to you that you think ‘have you even looked at what we do?’, much less done the research to find out my name?,” she added.

“‘Dear editor’ is not a good opening.”

Martyn, who has over a decade and-a-half of experience editing for newspapers and magazines including Good Weekend, HQ and Spectrum, the Sydney Morning Herald‘s arts publication, also spoke on post-publication etiquette for freelancers, and how to deal with critiques and negative comments in response to a story.

“Do not respond to any abuse or criticism online, share these with the editor,” she said.

“You are not the voice of the publication. Now, people say terrible things online, and how can you not take them personally. But you absolutely should not respond.”

She added: “If someone raises a potential error, or something that could be considered defamation. Make sure that you screenshot it and send it over to the editor.”

On the topic of pay, Martyn provided further insight into how to ask to be compensated for more work.

“Only charge for costs you’ve agreed in advance, for example if you needed to travel to the location of the interview or if the story became incredibly complicated, talk to the editor,” she said. “Don’t just send them an invoice where you tacked on an extra $500.”

During the Q&A section of the presentation, one member of the audience asked Martyn how many organisations were using freelance journalists, and what the current state of freelancers was within the industry.

She said there were always opportunities for good freelance writers, especially at a time when permanent workforces had been cut back.

“One of the problems for most organisations is budgets are tight, if you’ve got reliable freelancers who you know are going to do a good job then people will tend to recommission them again; most publications don’t have many writers,” she added.

Martyn finished her answer with an observation on the amount that freelancers are currently making in the industry. “As someone who left journalism for 20 years and then came back, the pay rates [for freelancers] have deteriorated over 20 years. Which is very depressing.”

Main image of Shona Martyn by Fred Pawle.

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