Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

6 things I learned about the freelance journalism market while I was in China

with 4 comments

There is still a massive demand for information, news and stories

Publications are hungry, starving for new and exciting information and stories. If you are placed in a niche or location that’s in demand, then you could be hot property. Say you’ve taken an interest in computer hacking, or maybe the latest developments in south-east Asian fashion. And generate even a casual expertise and a few contacts in this area, and dig around for stories and news unknown to others (and trust me, there is a lot of stuff that is unknown to editors), then editors will be clamoring for your attention.

If you’re a freelancer based in Latin American, South Africa or South Korea, say, then you’ll have access to stories that lots and lots of publications will want. Make sure you roam around topics and subject areas and find suitable publications accordingly.

There are holes and niches to be filled even at the biggest and most renowned publications

One regret I have is that I didn’t try to pitch more publications while China-bound. The areas I’m most interested in – culture and society means a lot of my potential markets are high-brow magazines like Prospect, New Statesman and broadsheet newspapers. Hard markets you may think. But because I was on the ground and had the balls to pitch them meant my potential for commissions was higher. The fact that you are there in a foreign locale (and China is massively in demand as a news source) and have ‘local’ knowledge makes you immediately sexier to editors.

You have to make the best use of your location and specificity

Simply because I was based in China, I felt like I had the access and privilege to write about the whole Asian continent. I wrote an article for The Guardian about job prospects in Asia, I wrote about India’s economics and entrepreneurs and of course about China. I did not have to be in China or Asia to have had written these articles. But simply by being there, my authority  to write about them increases.

Specificity? That means making the most of your skills and potential. For example, writing about politics, technology and business is quite difficult unless you have sufficient contacts and experience. Certainly you could try – for smaller magazines, websites and B2B papers, but the bigger papers will be harder to entice.

What subjects interest you? And what about those subjects could you write that is feasible? Will you be able to get access to interviewees and enough information? Think small to begin with – insights, observations about trends, culture, little aspects of society of the country you’re in before jumping into 2000-word features about the sex trade in Brazil for example.

Money is and probably always will be an issue

When you’re young and starting out, don’t expect to be making lots of money. By all means, please please don’t write for free. But don’t expect to be living comfortably off your earnings. Being based in China helps. Most things are dirt cheap, but I still ended up in debt once I got back to England. You are making a name for yourself – writing about a different country, translating that foreign news to an audience is massively impressive. You will be read by thousands, or even if it’s just hundreds – foreign news is consumed by elites and influential people. It’s about the kudos and the glamour, not the money.

Having journalist friends opens an exponential amount of doors

While in Beijing, I befriended several journalists. I used LinkedIn, personal recommendations and events to connect with my fellow journos. I’ll write about how easy it is to do this in a future blogpost. One contact was particularly helpful – he gave me advice, introduced me to a news agency journo (who emailed me potential freelance opportunities) and also put me in touch with editors looking for more China stories. It’s a knock-on effect. Be generous, be helpful, connect people.

Freelancing is super f-ing fun and empowering

I had a blast. I’d have 2000 words to write in a day. The anxiety and pressure was…uncomfortable. But I felt awesome. The freedom to write articles you’ve come up with, to delve into topics you’re fascinated by and to talk to and meet people whose experiences outweigh your own is like the crack-addiction of a cocaine fiend.

It’s exciting, free and opens doors to experiences that you could never pay for. Enjoy the ride.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

September 27, 2013 at 8:00 am

4 Responses

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  1. […] And here are the following two: What happened last time I tried to be a freelance foreign correspondent and 6 things I learnt about the freelance journalism market while I was in China. […]

  2. […] And here are the following two: What happened last time I tried to be a freelance foreign correspondent and 6 things I learnt about the freelance journalism market while I was in China. […]

  3. […] Link […]

  4. […] Six things I learnt about the freelance journalism market while I was in China […]


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