How to commission a freelance journalist

commissioning a journalistHaving been on both sides of the fence as both an editor and now as a freelance journalist, I thought I’d put together a short guide on how to commission a journalist or writer.

First off, there are some essential elements to the commission document – and you should put it on a document, not just deliver it over the phone.

  1. Word count. You’d be surprised how many commissions don’t give this, or just give an imprecise “write what it’s worth”. An exact word count, or at least a “between X & Y”, means the journalist won’t under- or over-write. The result is, you’re less likely to have either a big cutting job on your hands or having to go back and ask for more.
  2. Deadline. A deadline means you get the copy when you want it. But it will also help the freelance journalist schedule their work.
  3. Fee. Agree this beforehand.

These details are clear and unambiguous and mean that should it all go wrong, you’ve got something to go back to.

Covering the subject of the article you want, firstly give a summary. This may also be a working headline.

Next up, give details of what you want the journalist to write. The word ‘details’ is important here. The more details you put into the brief, the more likely you are to get the copy you want.

Details to think about in terms of the content:

  1. Specific topics to cover (or avoid)
  2. People or organisations you want the journalist to talk to and include quotes from in the article
  3. Do you want suggested headlines? (although a good journalist should always give these without being asked)
  4. Do you need any separate panels or information boxes to go with the main story
  5. Do you have a content structure you’d like the journalist to follow, such as cross-headings
  6. Will you be expecting the journalist to source images? If so specify what sort (graphs, charts, pictures) and how many.
  7. Specify the format you want the copy delivered. Odds are it will be a Word document. But it may be helpful to specify which version of Word (especially if you’re not running the latest version).

Setting out all of this to the journalist you’re hiring means less mind-reading, fewer time-sapping follow-up calls and best of all better content.

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