Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

4 awesome things about being a freelance journalist and 4 terrible downsides

with 6 comments


The Awesome 

The freedom

Go to North Korea? Sure, why not. Write about entrepreneurs in China just because it interests you and you might learn something and get paid for it? Of course, yes! So take a 20 day trip to Thailand. Take a break. Think about things you want to do, the “bucket list” kinda stuff. Do them. Write about them. Get published; get paid.

The variety

Here are the five most recent articles I’ve had published:

The ability to live vicariously

From doing journalism, I’ve learnt that it’s possible to move abroad to a foreign country and in two years start and sell off a business. I know it’s possible to live on a farm in Wales and just make videogames for a living. I know what it’s like being a tour guide in North Korea. How tough and incredible it is being a British charity worker in Burma. What it’s like to travel southeast Asia first as a freelancer, then as a correspondent. The methods and tactics of how to catapult yourself into becoming a media brand and a TV chef in China. I know all of that simply because I have a good enough reason to search someone out and talk to them.

The ability to give it all up should you want

‘Cause maybe one day you’ll want the opportunity to work in a normal environment. Those jobs don’t come for free though, so you’ll have to be eagle-eyed and work hard at making sure you’re so good they can’t ignore you.

The downsides

The bittiness

A piece there, a feature here, a report there. Freelancing can be piecemeal work and can sometimes leave you frustrated. Where’s my opus? you wonder. Where’s the work that I’ll be known for or at least acclaimed for in the short term? Staff writers have a greater chance of becoming known, to be appreciated and perhaps find fulfillment. But to be honest, the antidote is to start writing books. That’s the ambition, always.

The small-time salaries

It is possible to make a decent salary from freelancing alone, although you’re just as likely to see a shooting star in the morning. I’ve copped out a little bit by having another job which makes me about 40% more than what I earn from freelancing. This gives me leverage in what I want to write about: the freedom. But unless you have a very diversified freelance portfolio, are very productive or a star writer then it’s quite hard to be a wealthy freelance journalist.

The seeming lack of progression

If you work at a newspaper, progression is more obvious. The editor starts you off writing short pieces, nibs, round-ups, before giving you meatier reporting gigs, and then you become better known and start writing weighty features. When you’re freelance, progression is less clear. How do you move up as a freelancer? It’s a question I’m trying to answer. I’ll let you know when I’ve found it.

The overabundance of freedom

If you’re going to be a successful freelance journalist you’d better make damn sure that you’re organized, diligent and disciplined, independent and in possession of a giant’s store of initiative. For every well-chosen break or indulgent stroll in the park you should be working on the weekend pushing out that article or making plans in your “free time” to meet up with sources and always, always trying to make new contacts and rooting out possible stories.

6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Interesting read. I’m just about to start a multimedia jouirnalism undergrad degree this month. Will be following your blog with interest during my free time. Keep up the good work.


    September 2, 2014 at 1:09 pm

  2. Thanks! Are you starting at BU? That’s where I went. Would be great to chat. Do you use Twitter?

    Lu-Hai Liang

    September 2, 2014 at 4:30 pm

  3. Great post Luhai. As to freelancer ‘rank’, I guess being regularly consulted as an authority on something is one measure. The point where paying clients search for you rather than the other way around is another.

    There’s rarely a bad time to write a book, or several. Chances at fiction or non-fiction abound, especially if you’ve an interesting niche like covering little-heard aspects of a place. I don’t know of any freelancer immune to the allure of a passive income.

    Gordon Shure (@GordonShure)

    September 9, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    • Aye, having this website has seemed to help those clients find me, as I get more email from editors rather than the other way around. I always advise freelancers to have their own site.

      You’re right of course. Writing a book is about starting, but I think I still prefer to have a book contract with a publisher rather than going the self-publishing route – less risk! But I know of some who have gone that route and have enjoyed success.

      Lu-Hai Liang

      September 12, 2014 at 1:18 pm

  4. […] Link […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: