Recently, I had the privilege of hosting an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session with Cheryl Winokur Munk, a freelance journalist whose work has graced top-tier outlets such as CNBC and The Wall Street Journal. Cheryl described the freelance role as a “jack of all trades” within the business world. Unlike staff writers who often have specific beats, freelancers cover a broad range of topics based on the needs of the publications. This flexibility means freelancers could write about financial advisors for Barron’s one day and cybersecurity for The Wall Street Journal the next. It also means that pitching them can be challenging. 

Here’s a recap of highlights from the session offering more insight into how to work with freelance journalists.  

Don’t Shy Away From Introductory Briefings 

To better understand technical topics and details, freelancers often approach unfamiliar topics by asking sources to “talk to [me] like I’m stupid”.  It’s not abnormal for freelancers to dive into subjects they may not be as familiar with due to the stretching beats and requirements of the various outlets. This means, they heavily rely on thorough research and expert interviews to gain the necessary understanding. Oftentimes, using these introductory briefings to obtain knowledge will lead to sources being quoted down the road. It also means conversations and interviews that are developing organically can shift the story’s focus. With a goal of making difficult topics more accessible for readers, a conversation may start with one angle in mind, and then quickly adapt as it progresses.

How to Identify and Pitch Subjects

From a PR perspective, pitching to a freelancer can be challenging. Since they don’t always focus on a single beat, predicting what they’re writing about next is difficult. Story subjects usually arise from a combination of editorial direction and the freelancer’s initiative. But they move quickly from one topic to another, which means pitches need to be timely and relevant. Even then, you might miss that perfect window. So, get comfortable with sending information on potential experts and data, rather than fully fleshed story ideas. That way, journalists can file the email away for future reference when they might be pursuing a piece that requires an expert who can be cited for that angle. 

Effective Spokespeople

If sources are the lifeblood of a robust piece, spokespeople who can clearly articulate complex topics in a way that is understandable for readers are key. Sources shouldn’t speak in overly technical terms or insist on off-the-record conversations without clear reasons. A strong spokesperson should be knowledgeable, concise, and have the ability to explain industry topics in layman’s terms.

Preferred Types of Information: Source Credibility and Data Integrity

Data-driven stories are particularly valuable. Most journalists appreciate access to relevant data that can be cited and sourced later because it saves them time on research and enhances the depth of articles. When going that route, opt for pitches that highlight specific sections of reports, rather than overwhelming media with full documents.

Of course, there’s the importance of credible sources and reliable data, but even more are the origins of data and methodology. Data can get skewed or misinterpreted to tell a certain story. Plus the sample size needs to be statistically relevant. For example, when offering data from a survey, larger sample sizes (at least 200 respondents) are better. 

Roundtables and Conferences

While freelancers occasionally cover roundtables for specific assignments, most generally find them inefficient for story gathering. Instead, journalists prefer receiving summaries of roundtable discussions and information about the experts involved, which can be used for follow up as needed. As for conferences, due to time constraints, frequency of pieces, and the overall lack of diverse topics at the event, most freelancers don’t find them worth their time. Again, a recap would be more accepted than an invitation to attend a conference. 

For those looking to work with freelancers like Cheryl, understanding their unique workflow and challenges is key. Providing relevant, credible information in a concise and timely manner can make all the difference in building a productive and mutually beneficial relationship.