Despite the importance of building a proven track record, the narrative of “it’s who you know and not what you know” has in many cases been an accurate one. One that can really kickstart and elevate a career.
I spoke to Daniel Brett – a man who is local to Harlow and is 13-years deep into his career as a freelance journalist. He’s someone who is a strong believer and benefiter of having industry links and getting their work out there. He said “You need to acquire a proven track record, I would never advise anyone to jump out into freelance if they did not have the work to come in straight away”.
He previously worked as a managing editor for a publishing company, but he managed to retain clients who knew how valuable his work could be to them and who are still giving him work years later. Nowadays, he specialises in developing countries and emerging markets. His focus is the industries, politics and economies of oil- and gas-producing countries.
Something that is often assumed with freelance journalists is that they have a lot of free time on their hands. Daniel stresses that it isn’t the case, especially for himself saying, “I never really find myself to be short of work as I have two main clients to supply me with daily work. I’m particularly busy around this time of year.”
I also spoke to Dr Pamela Jenner, a university lecturer working in both Harlow and Cambridge and someone who has over 30 years of experience in journalism. She told me, “Without a good set of contacts, it is impossible to succeed in journalism. I have managed to write very exclusive stories that I would have never been able to write if I didn’t have the correct contacts”.
Both of them have had massive benefits from knowing the right people and building levels of trust. Daniel has built his livelihood and is able t work for himself, while Pamela has managed to cover national and exclusive stories that she would never have been able to normally. Towards the culmination of her career in journalism, Pamela – whilst working on a local paper – spoke to a woman who’s husband and son had just died. Pamela really got to know the woman and she then would only speak to her and her only in future; dismissing any national-newspaper journalists who were eager to interview her.
In my opinion, if you are eager to get into any field of work, you must seek to involve yourself with those already in the industry to build a collection of useful contacts. On top of this, you should have a portfolio of what you can do and offer to employers when it is eventually needed. There are no risks involved and it very may well land you on the career path you always wanted to be on. Also, never delete any contacts that you have already made; you never know when you might need them.