So in my quest to get my hustle on, I began cold-calling sports editors of papers whose college and pro teams were coming to my town, in case they needed freelancers. Aside from showing up to something and doing your job, using the phone is part of the industry, because there’s a personal connection that’s immediately made through the spoken word. I’ll have a blog on that some day – a PR maven calls it “giving good phone.”
Working the phone four days after I got laid off, I reached the sports editor of a smaller newspaper about 350 miles away. I explained that I was a freelance reporter and I knew one of the teams in his coverage area was going to be in my area, so I gave him a quick rundown of my professional experience and I offered to freelance the game for him.
“We do that on our own,” he told me.
“Do you travel with the team?”
“Do you write up the releases from the sports information office?”
“No, we don’t.”
“How do you report on the road games?”
“We watch the web casts and write those up.”
“Don’t you think you’re doing your readers a disservice by doing this, by not having a correspondent help you out?”
No answer from said sports editor. He knew.
Because you are.
You are cheating your readers by having your reporters sit in the office and struggle with a web feed. You are contributing to an absence on your paper’s beat and on your reporter’s beat.
Furthermore, you’re contributing to a domino effect of small problems … which almost always tend to amount to bigger problems. Your reporter watches a shoddy Web feed which is blurry and probably craps out 10 times during the course of a game, and your reporter is probably missing a key moment in the game whenever that feed dies.
After the game, you are creating more work for the sports information director who travels with the team. He or she most likely is in the bowels of an arena or on the sidelines on a windy day, and calling you on a shoddy cell phone signal, trying to deal with other reporters and dot-commers who need post-game interviews and are facing a deadline in 14 minutes or less.
And chances are, as your reporter or clerk is trying to do this phone interview, there are phones ringing around you with people calling in local high school sports results.
Susan Powter said it best: “Stop the madness.”
Start using freelancers. There’s an entire network of people across the country to call on, or who are calling you – reporters at other newspapers, college students looking for clips, online folks who still like seeing their name in the paper every so often … or, like me, a freelance sports reporter who’s just trying to get her (or his) groove on.
Your publication will have a presence in that post-game scrum. Chances are, you will have someone who cares about the product they’re filing for you. And you may have a future contact – or a future employee, if you’re impressed by this person’s work and style.
Here’s a complaint I’ve found about not hiring freelancers: “How do we know if they’re worth their salt? We don’t want to spend time cleaning up their work.”
Vet potential freelancers. Have an assistant sports editor or a trusted staffer read through their clips. Ask them to send three links to their published work via email. Be impressed if they ask you if they need to do this for you.
But if you adhere to the status quo, you’re disrespecting your readers. You’re disrespecting your staff. And you’re disrespecting the athletes and the teams and the programs you cover by not having any presence at an event, even if it’s a stringer you’re paying 50 bucks to write 12 inches about the game.
And you’re better than that.
So, my small-newspaper peeps, drop me an e-mail at email@example.com and tell me what your newspaper does as far as out-of-town coverage goes. Or what your newspaper doesn’t do. And don’t worry, whatever you tell me is completely confidential.