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Finding Support — and Community — Online as an Early Career Journalist
A guide to freelancing in a digital world, with resources for those just getting started.
I was sitting in front of a laptop alone in my room, sending out my first ever story pitch with a cup of my morning chai in hand. I’d just moved to a new city and, that morning, in unfamiliar settings — and two months into a global pandemic that had left me stuck inside and confused about the future — I had no idea whether what I was doing was remotely correct.
If you Google “how to pitch,” “how to write a pitch,” or some combination of keywords to get a sense of what editors are looking for, you’ll get a lot of results. I remember scrolling endlessly, feeling so overwhelmed with all of the information on my screen that I accidentally let my tea go cold. My mother asked me what I was up to and and I played it off as if I was just calmly browsing without an agenda. I didn’t know how to answer her; at that point, I wasn’t sure how to even describe the path I was trying to go down.
Sometimes, even with so much information at your fingertips, it can still feel like something is missing. That first day wasn’t the only day that I went down a rabbit hole. In the beginning, most of my work days would feel exhausting; when they ended, I felt that I had found out so much and yet understood so little.
I made the decision to start freelancing in July of 2020, two months after finishing my exams and right after moving from my hometown in Karachi, Pakistan, to Lahore to be with my family. Over the previous two months, with my parents’ insistent that I take a break and worry about the future after I had some time to relax, I had been selling bookmarks I painted — a way of raising charity for some causes close to my heart — before chancing upon freelance journalism.
I use that verb because it was a field no one around me knew anything about. I had been looking for opportunities in research in my country, hoping I could do something that would make a difference, but opportunities were limited, and most were based in Islamabad, where I was unable to relocate.
It was at this point that I started considering writing more seriously. I was already working on my own platform, called Perspective, which I had started in September of 2019 as a way of filling a gap I saw in Pakistani media, a way of putting forward a feminist lens on local affairs for a younger audience. Transitioning from research to reporting was alluring: I wanted to do something I had control over, and create constructive work. And that’s how I found myself working on story pitches. But there were no clear guidelines, and no one to ask for help.
Twitter became my go-to resource — I could work anywhere and reach anyone from Lahore. I slowly started building a network of people all across the industry, and I found myself gravitating toward accounts of student or early career journalists who seemed to be following the same path as me. During these early attempts at networking, I came across a tweet calling for the creation of a place for young women in journalism looking to feel supported, and soon became part of the Tangent, an informal group chat named after an inside joke among its members. Started by student, freelancer, and editorial assistant Imogen Brighty-Potts, the Tangent provides a relaxed space for early career journalists to share thoughts, vent, and ask for advice.
“I felt so out of the loop and alone. I turned to social media for reassurance and support,” says Brighty-Potts, who may have felt alone but was anything but. “My only work previously was in a bar or restaurant so I was around loads of people,” Brighty-Potts says. “Turning to desk work at home was a really weird experience.” And so the Tangent was born, when Brighty-Potts put out a call on Twitter to see if anyone feeling the same way was interested in creating a mutual support space. “Hundreds of people wanted one,” she says, “so I made a group chat and now when any of us need support or have a question, bearing in mind we are all at different stages in our career, we have somewhere.”
Even after the Tangent was established we often had new members join. So many people wanted to be a part of such a community that it was clear others likely felt the same way I had in those first days of freelancing. Many members of the group also had their own projects they were working on, such as magazines or podcasts, aimed at being inclusive and supportive to early career journalists seeking guidance. And it was through these networks that I started coming across other social media-based spaces, like Gals in Journalism and the Young Journalist Community.
The Young Journalist Community stands out for being so interactive. A Facebook group with more than 5,000 members, the YJC provides early career journalists with a supportive space to share queries, find resources, and even interact with editors in a relaxed, casual setting. It’s nothing like cold-emailing a pitch to someone you’ve never worked with before.
“I could see that there were other people who felt the same [as I did] but there didn’t seem to be a cohesive space for people to ask questions and vent their problems,” says the YJC’s founder, Asyia Iftikhar, who is also a freelance journalist. “Especially since on Twitter and social media in general there seems to be this image that everything has to be perfect and everyone knows what they are doing.” Like the Tangent, the YJC started with a single tweet, a public call for support: “I put out a tweet that went viral in the journalism community and thus YJC was born,” Iftikhar says.
I remember attending one of the Young Journalist Community’s first sessions with Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, then the editor-in-chief at Gal-dem. I marveled at how easy to talk to she seemed, and how accessible the YJC had made that session.
Iftikhar shares how she, too, has benefited from what she has created. “Without places like the YJC and Twitter community spaces I don’t know if I would have gotten as far as I have today,” she says. “They have been invaluable to undoing a lot of the gatekeeping in this industry, and I have seen, even over this past year, how these spaces have been usefully developed to support anyone who needs it. It has supported me in finding paid work, gaining experience in writing,” and more, she says.
Finding support in groups like the YJC has motivated Yasmin Al-Najar, a freelance journalist based in Manchester, England, to pay it forward. She maintains a spreadsheet with contacts of editors and publications that she is open to sharing with other journalists who may be looking to add to their own lists. “These groups are really supportive, and it’s a lovely feeling when people celebrate your work and send messages about how your article made them think about [a subject] in a different way or how they enjoy reading your work or can resonate with it,” says Al-Najar, whose desire to give back as much as she gets from the group is shared by many of the YJC’s members.
While many of these groups are defined by their membership and serve primarily as a means of networking, they often provide additional avenues for professional development. Like the YJC’s session with Brinkhurst-Cuff was for me, workshops can be very beneficial, particularly for those who may not be getting access to other developmental resources due to not being affiliated with a traditional employer.
“I have found two main types of support that are key for your career. One focused on building or strengthening skills through continuing education and workshops, and the other centered around creating a support system of like-minded professionals that could be a cheerleader squad and provide advice for career and personal development,” says Alex Menendez, the press and communications lead at LMF Network, a social enterprise focusing on workshops, mentorship, and career development. The LMF Network isn’t limited to journalists, but does work on providing access to the skill development, mentors, and industry experts that early career journalists can benefit from.
And many are taking advantage of these resources. “Our second cohort had more than 600 participants from 14 countries; most of them were women or identified as gender-fluid from [Black, Asian, and minority ethnic] backgrounds,” says Menendez. With so much interest, it’s clear that the more informal Facebook groups and text communities are crucial for providing ongoing support. That so many of these spaces are still being created by early career journalists themselves speaks to their need, and how much more is likely needed.
Individuals like Brighty-Potts or Iftikhar, who have taken the leap to go out of their way and create their own spaces, have now set a precedent within the journalism industry. Groups like theirs will continue to inspire people to reach out when they need support — and to extend it to others. “Support is out there. Just ask, start conversations, and reach out to people you think are cool — in a non-creepy way,” Brighty-Potts says.
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Explore: Online Communities for Early Career Journalists
Gals in Journalism: Focusing mainly on marginalized genders entering the world of journalism, GIJ highlights opportunities, events, and articles the group enjoys.
Young Journalist Community: A discussion group for early career journalists, including reporters, writers, and editors. The group shares a number of opportunities to find pitching leads, discusses ideas, and promotes student journalism jobs.
Freelancing for Journalists: Set up by the hosts of the podcast Freelancing for Journalists, this Facebook group is a place where new journalists can learn the ins and outs of freelancing and ask questions freely.
Learn: An Introduction to Freelancing
There are so many resources available for early career journalists that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Here are just a few of my favorites, the ones that helped me to get started in the business.
Journo Resources: Started by Jem Collins in 2016, JR focuses on sharing job opportunities, advice articles, and personal experiences by those in the journalism industry. It also offers much-needed guidance on pitching, invoicing, and managing finances as a journalist.
Empoword Journalism: A publication with content geared toward uplifting and supporting journalists, especially those newer to the business.
The Freelance Sessions: The Freelance Sessions provides opportunities for anyone wanting to participate in tailored workshops and pitching clinics; it targets different topics and categories in journalism that can be very helpful for anyone looking to find and develop their beat.
Meet: About the Author
Anmol Irfan is a Muslim-Pakistani freelance journalist and the founder of Perspective. She writes about gender, identity, and global politics with a focus on South Asia.