Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘abroad

What happened last time I tried to be a freelance foreign correspondent

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I finished university last year. After a busy summer (presenting, Olympics, work exp at The Guardian), I decided to go to Beijing,

I had no definite plan, no accommodation and I knew exactly four people who lived there, one of whom was a stewardess I had met a couple months prior. I had vague ideas about brushing up on my Chinese, exploring new opportunities and freelancing.

The first couple months were kind of miserable to be honest. I had few friends and I was just hemorrhaging money. I made very little progress journalistically and I was aimless and wondering what exactly I should be doing.

I then answered a chance call-out for interns for The Beijinger, a listings magazine aimed at expats that pre-dated Time Out. How wonderful, you might think, being an intern! Great!

But it was an opportunity. I still wasn’t making any money, I made enough just to cover rent. I was in the office three days a week. The managing editor of The Beijinger was a loud, rambunctious 30-year-old Manc, and his deputy was a very tall and louche Scouser. No, I am not making it up.

December came and I chanced upon a publication online called The Gateway. It’s a business newspaper aimed at students. I immediately dashed off an email to the editor asking if she would be interested in business articles focused on the booming economies of China and south-east Asia.

She would.

Meanwhile, a Chinese girl I was courting ended things abruptly. And that stewardess? Well, she was always flying everywhere, that’s the problem with stewardesses.

Anyway, January was my best ever month for freelance journalism, in terms of pure £. It was a grand whopping total of £700. But by then I had been given a full-time role at The Beijinger so I received a modest pay rise. I wrote some of those freelance articles in the office – something I would not recommend.

I spent a total of 7 months in Beijing, going to some great events, learning a lot (about magazines, staff banter, freelancing, women) before my visa ran out. I even got two great big commissions from The New Statesman which I royally fucked up. Lesson there: if you’re working on something ambitious, be sure to have already done some groundwork on it before pitching.

In a future blog, you’ll find out why I’m returning for a second round.

For more about my experience at The Beijinger, see here.

The Beijinger office.

The Beijinger office.

Welcome: misson statement

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The idea of the foreign correspondent still holds a certain pull on the aspiring journalist’s imagination. If you’re of the literary persuasion, you’ll think of Graham Greene gallivanting among the exotica of south-east Asia, or of Ernest Hemingway filing his dispatches from Franco-ridden Spain, braving bullets and swigging Valdepeñas.

Or else you think of crusaders like John Pilger, the Aussie who brought the horrors of the Pol Pot regime to the attention of people around the world.

It’s the most adventurous, intrepid and romantic of journalism’s repertoire.

Hemingway and a small tiger.

Hemingway and a small tiger.

Budgets are tight nowadays and newspapers can ill-afford to maintain many international bureaux and send reporters across the globe as they used to. But some enterprising people decide to head off pretty much on a whim, going it alone.

Deborah Bonello of MexicoReporter.com did it. Graham Holliday of Kigali Wire did it. And Kate Hodal, the Guardian’s south-east Asia correspondent did it.

So perhaps freelance is the best way to do it. You get the freedom to explore what you want to explore. Write what you want to write and travel wherever you want to go.

This blog will track a journey to be an in-demand freelance foreign correspondent. It will be a mixture of journalism tips and tricks, insights and news about the country I’m in and how you can make the most of it, as well as looking at the romance (both of life & love) of a foreign correspondent’s life. Because, let’s face it, that’s part of the fun.