What is the best part about being a freelance journalist?
The best part is that I can choose when and where I work and what stories I want to focus on. I also love the fact that I get to work with both French and English media and with such a vast variety of talented people on multiple platforms. When I do radio or TV, the hours I work are set, but for my freelance writing projects I can start work at 6 a.m. if I feel like it, take a break during the day to go work out or meet friends, or I can work late into the night or even weekends. I love what I do so I rarely have a day off. Everything I read or come across inspires my writing and research so it all kind of bleeds into each other.
Also, as a freelancer I get to work from home most days, which means no longer dealing with rush hour commutes or terrible weather. While others are fighting a blizzard to get to the office, I’m on my second cup of coffee, still in my PJs, and already an hour into my workday.
Of course the downside is that you don’t have the safety net of a full-time job with a steady paycheque, company benefits and medical insurance, and you sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time pitching, trying to explain to someone why a particular story is important to cover, or invoicing, when all you really want to do is write and research.
Everything in life is a trade-off. It’s just a question of what you’re most comfortable with, what you can tolerate, and what’s most important to you. But, ultimately, what I love best about freelancing is that you can cultivate and nourish your own voice and your own loyal readership, and associate with the people and the topics you think are really worth your time.
How would you compare traditional media reporting with reporting for blogs and online-only media?
I spent over a decade in traditional media, and I now pitch to and collaborate with both traditional mainstream media and online-only media.
The main difference is speed. Traditional media continues to be much more slow-moving and the editing/vetting process is sometimes slow because editors are being asked to constantly do more with less. As a result, pitches and interesting stories often fall through the cracks.
As a freelancer it’s frustrating to pitch a story to traditional media, only to have a time-sensitive pitch languish for days in someone’s inbox, or never hear back from them at all. With online media, you usually hear back much quicker and the process can be much faster.
And having your own online website for things that matter to you is a good way not to have to deal with any “gatekeepers” at all. For example, when Jacques Parizeau passed away I had a point of view that absolutely no one had covered in Quebec. Since I knew it was very time sensitive I didn’t even bother pitching to traditional media. I immediately published it on my own blog and my instincts were right. It went extremely viral and within days I was on a very popular French current affairs talk show as a guest. That would have never happened if I had gone the traditional route.
Credible online publications operate the same way as traditional media, when it comes to editing and proofreading. The reader must be wary of the source. Just because you can read something on a blog and it landed in your inbox or on your Twitter feed, doesn’t mean the person who wrote it is credible and did their research as well as they should have. Consumer (of news) beware.
How do you choose stories you cover?
I choose what most appeals to me, what I consider worth covering, and what I believe people need to know more about. I am very committed to women’s issues and feminism, so I write a lot of pieces from that specific perspective. Racism, religious and ethnic discrimination, linguistic divides, the environment, provincial and federal politics are also topics I delve into quite often. If a news story has managed to aggravate me, if I feel the proper angle hasn’t been covered extensively or fairly, that’s where my opinion pieces come in.
If I find it interesting I’m pretty certain others will, as well. I find that over the years as an editor and writer I’ve honed my skills and my instincts are very good at detecting what will quickly go viral. And occasionally I will choose to write about something even if I know it won’t get much attention, simply because I feel it’s too important not to discuss it.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There really is no such thing for a freelancer. No two days are ever alike. The only routine I really have is that I always get up early, check my Twitter feed, make my coffee, start sifting through the latest news and answering my emails.
I’ll usually do research and prepare the topics I’ll be covering for my appearances on TV and radio (if I have any that specific week), write (on my column for Ricochet, or whatever other story I’m working on), read as many news articles and columns as possible, take notes for future pitches, send pitches, spend way too much time on social media arguing whatever issue has come up (which often inspires my next column or pitch), complain that coffee is killing me, drink more of it, make it to the gym (or feel guilty about not going), read a chapter or two of whatever book I happen to be reading at the moment (I don’t believe you can be a good writer without being a good reader first), and then either spend some time as far away as possible from the news or anything that aggravates me (Netflix is my friend) or get out and have a drink with friends and hear another human voice.
What’s your number one tip for PR people?
As a former editor whose inbox was inundated with pitches and press releases daily, my number one tip is this: help them help you. If you make their lives easier by clearly presenting your case in a way that makes it easy for them to see why this pitch is useful, and you present the pitch with all the requisite information and visuals (if available) you’re already ahead of the game.
Editors are busy people being pulled in all directions. They don’t have time to go back and forth with every PR person pitching something. It’s not the bells and whistles that interest them; it’s the substance of the story. Sell it well and sell it quickly. And then make sure to deliver what you promised. Make their lives easier and they, in turn, will want to work with you.
And for heaven’s sake, if you’re addressing them personally, make sure to spell their name correctly. If you can’t get that right, they’ll wonder what else you got wrong.
What was your favourite story to work on?
That’s like asking me to choose my favourite child! It’s almost impossible to do, but if I had to choose one that immediately pops into my head I’d have to say that I’m really proud of a two-part investigative story I did for Ricochet Media on the linguistic and cultural barriers immigrant women face when trying to escape domestic abuse. I interviewed social workers and police officers who work on these cases every day and they blew my mind with their dedication to what they do. The details of some of these cases are horrific, but we need to talk about these things, and we need to let people know that there’s help available.
A rant-type piece I published in the National Post about the way French media reacted after Montreal actor Jay Baruchel left Montreal for Toronto was also one of my favourite snarky stories. It actually led to an unexpected and lengthy phone call from Baruchel’s agent himself who called me from Los Angeles to talk to me, because he loved the piece so much.
What’s the story you’d most like to cover?
I’m not as fascinated by people’s careers and jobs as I am by what ultimately makes them tick as human beings. And while I recognize that the two can often be one and the same, I am most intrigued by people’s influences, their childhoods, their experiences that shaped them into who they are now, what they like to read, eat; listen to on as a podcast. It’s not in the carefully constructed phrase that people are revealed in. All the delicious stuff is in the details, just waiting for you to notice if you’re paying attention. Long-form profiles of people (celebrities, politicians, or ordinary people doing extraordinary things) are my most favourite thing to read. If someone would pay me to do that, I would be ecstatic. Would someone like to pay me to do that?
First website you load in the morning?
I am on Twitter and Facebook before I’m even out of bed. I’m an unapologetic social media addict. I can’t imagine my life without it at this point, and they are a huge part of both my work and my social life. People need to stop being so angst-ridden about their time on them. They’re tools, and like any tool, it’s up to you how you use them. If you use them properly and for the right reasons they educate, inform, entertain, connect, allow you to network and share your work and opinions, and make you laugh. You should still be able to put your phone aside, however, and have a normal face-to-face conversation with another human being. I can talk your face off for hours, so social media hasn’t hampered my human instincts yet. Just don’t call me. I can’t stand the phone. I use it for everything, BUT talking.
Coffee or beer?
Oh, no contest… coffee! I can’t live without it. Now if you had asked me “coffee or wine” we might have had ourselves a dilemma.