What’s in the Bag of a Freelance Radio Reporter?

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Friends have asked me why I’ve invested so much time and expense in radio gear since I mostly write for print. Simply put, I love turning in fully produced, turnkey stories and radio shows pay more for the effort. Piecing together music, interviews and sound effects is like creating an editorial illustration, which is something that I’ve done for years and enjoy. Both are very visual and conceptual mediums.

Of course, you don’t need as much gear as shown in the photo to freelance in radio, but I plan on doing more in the near future – an eye-opening experience for any freelance writers who want to do more.

A: Marantz PMD670 digital, two-track audio recorder – Marantz makes smaller, lighter recorders now (PMD 660, 661) but they don’t have as many features as the full-sized recorders, and their preamps are a bit noisy. Oade Brothers offers a nice retrofit that really improves noise on all Marantz digital recorders

B: Sennheiser MD46 cardioid dynamic microphone – Great interview mic with low handling noise and a heart-shaped pickup pattern that records from the front and sides. Durable, too. It’s survived a few drops

C: Gooseneck mic stand – Heavy but solid. Cast iron base isn’t easily knocked over

D: Audio-Technica microphone shock mount with hotshoe adapter for use on my DSLR camera

E: Audio-Technica AT835b condenser microphone – Directional mic that’s useful for noisy rooms or to record sound from afar. Very sensitive to handling noise

E: 2 XLR mic cables 5-foot/15-foot for use with the Marantz recorder

F: Sony MDR-7502 field headphones

H: Church Audio preamp – Gives my small recorders a pickup boost when using less sensitive dynamic mics. Also improves the sound on my DSLR when recording video

I: JK Audio Quick Tap – Allows me to record decent quality telephone interview sound for broadcast use

J: Audio-Technica ATR-3350 wired lavalier mic – Great way to get clean and consistent sound from a subject that’s either moving or in a loud room. I’ll use this lav mic with the Olympus LS10 clipped to the subject’s belt or in a pouch

K: Olympus WS-300M digital recorder – It’s small and can plug directly into the
computer like a USB thumb drive. I still use it to record ambient sounds or sound effects like a closing door, footsteps, restaurant noises. A single AAA battery doesn’t give you much recording time

L: Olympus LS10 digital recorder – Great small recorder that I use for all of my print story interviews. It has good preamps so also works very well for radio

M: JVC earbuds – Low profile way to monitor sound

N: Church Audio 1/8” plug-in omnidirectional dynamic mic – Cheapest way to drastically improve recording quality on a small recorder

O: Sony MDR-V6 studio headphones – I use these “cans” while doing sound editing on my desktop computer at home

Not Shown:
1 XLR to 1/8” mic cable for small recorders

Bogen monopod – I use this if I need a boom for the mic. Works alright but heavy. I’ll eventually buy a Rode Boompole

Asus 15” laptop and desktop with Sony Sound Forge and Audacity. Ideally, Pro
Tools is the standard software editor in radio but it’s expensive and has a steep learning curve.

Audacity is free, feature rich and Sound Forge allows me to clean up the work

Sennheiser G3 wireless lav mic – Great wireless system but pricey. I borrow this from a friend when needed

Utilizing New Media to Find Article Ideas

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The very first thing you learned as a freelance writer and journalist is advice on how to come up with article ideas. Look within, they say. Sounds almost yen like, but what it really means is to look at your experience, your interests and your hobbies. We learn the old tricks, come up with our own and yet at times, we end up with the same thought, I can’t think of a darn thing. If recently you’re running through your list of previous tried methods, but still coming up short, then try these methods, which can help you truly utilize the new media available today.

1. Social media Even if you’re new to social media, don’t sweat it. Even as a beginner you can make the most out of it. Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin all have community pages, groups and forums of various sorts that you can like, join and follow. Constantly review these groups’ pages and check for regular updates on local community events or potential story ideas. Likewise, you can also join community forums on these social media sites that are listed under your specific subject area. For example, you specialize in health and business articles; follow groups or forums of such subjects. Post on them regularly to introduce yourself and inquire about story ideas.

2. More Social media Follow or friend enough informed people and you end up with a world of resources. Facebook and Twitter members love posting articles, videos and websites all the time. Routinely check these pages and see what you can find, one, two or three articles might come out of it.

3. Subscribe to various newsletters. You can follow a plethora of them online these days on multiple topics, such as health, business, entertainment, political, food or gardening. You can subscribe to blogs, magazines and organizations. Business newsletter topics can lead to various ideas, such as financing a business or bankruptcy mistakes.

4. Convert national stories to local articles. Read national magazines and newspapers as well as watch network and cable news for how a national story has relevance locally. Likewise you can convert local stories into national trends. Doing a series of health article on women’s health for a local newspaper? Find out how that issue can affect women, nationally or globally. Review websites such as http://Orato.com, which bills itself as a “citizen journalism” site and The Women’s International Perspective. These sites can help you rethink aspects of a story idea.

5. Plan and focus on holiday topics or national awareness months. Keep track of the List of National Awareness Months, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and November is Diabetes and Family Caregiver Awareness Month. You can prepare and pitch articles for both local and national publications well in advance.

6. Review your email folders. If your emails are organized in a fashion where you keep certain messages saved in folders, this can help lead to ideas. Say, you keep all local business email contacts in one specified folder? You can review those emails and see if you missed something from a few months or a maybe a year ago. An article idea that might just work today. A helpful hint: create an email address just for email newsletters. Saves space on your main email address, which should only be used for those favorite editors you can’t live without.

How To Deal With Late Payments on Freelance Gigs

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If you’re a freelance writer, you’re also a small business owner. And that means you’ll deal with cash-flow issues. You not only have to be a journalist, but also director of receivables.Almost every article writer has horror stories about being paid months after he handed in his story or project. In the most extreme cases, the poor scribe never got paid at all, caught up in a bankruptcy or scam.You are thus warned. But there are some smart steps that can be taken before any payment problems crop up. It’s the same concept as prevention when disease is considered.And some skillful politics via e-mail or phone can move along a tardy check if you get surprised despite all your due diligence.

Scout out your employer
If you’re the good reporter you claim you are, you’ll not only scout out your employer’s trends in assigning projects, but also its payment policies. Ask others who have worked for the employer – that’s often how you get their work anyway, through references or connections.A good rule of thumb is an employer paying 30 days after they receive your invoice or an internal request for payment is made. Be wary of any employer who pays more than 60 days after receipt of the project. That’s an indication of their own cash-flow issues or inability to pay promptly. You should be paid in real time.  I recently left an employer that paid very modestly – and only quarterly. That’s not real-time pay. They’re holding onto their money at your expense.

Arrange for direct deposit into your checking account or PayPal
We’ve all heard “the check is in the mail” explanation of a tardy payment. Well, snail-mail does not work that inefficiently. Ninety-eight percent of the time, if a check hasn’t arrived within four days after an employer said it has been sent, it hasn’t been mailed. If possible, request that your check be direct-deposited into your account. Most legit employers prefer that system to save on labor, paper and postage. That means funds will be available quicker and the slow mail cannot be used as an excuse. If the employer uses PayPal or another intermediate system for payment, that’s just as good.

Re-confirm when you hand in project when payment is expected
Any good employer will not take offense if you ask when payment can be expected when you hand in your work. At the same time, you double-check if the employer makes the payment request or whether you need to send an invoice, and to whom.If the editor himself is not handling payment requests, find out what individual in the company processes payments. Obtain their contact information, including their availability to respond to phone calls or e-mails.
If payment is late, don’t delay your inquiries
Should you arrange direct deposit or a PayPal-type system, monitor the account on the day the payment is supposed to be made. If no pay shows up that day or two days beyond, contact the payment person to report the lack of deposit. Give four days for a check in the mail, but no more. Be diplomatic. Sugar works far better than vinegar. In some cases, there was an oversight. An individual may not have been working the day the day the deposit should have been made or the check was cut. Sometimes there’s a processing foul-up. It’s happened to me. If it’s a legitimate, financially-healthy company, they won’t take offense with business-like requests for payment and will take corrective action.

Take firm action in serious delinquencies
If repeated requests don’t yield action and payment becomes weeks or months late, do not hand in additional work if you’ve got a regular, ongoing relationship with the employer. You’re only putting yourself more at risk. If they’re depending on you, withholding your work can prompt action. And if that strategy still doesn’t work, you won’t want to continue to work for this employer.Still try to practice diplomacy until the last possible second. Attempt to reach a higher-up executive. If you are owed a lot of money and it is seriously delinquent, contact an attorney to determine your options. Don’t let the issue fester. I’ve continued handing in work for one employer for months without being paid, with promises of checks continually being made. The company eventually went bankrupt, and I never collected some $2,000 owed. The employer then re-incorporated under another name, and was never liable for the debts he incurred. Such are the loopholes and unfairness in bankruptcy laws. You don’t want to be on that kind of hook.

 

From Coffee Shop To Office: Professionalizing a Highly Caffeinated Environment

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One of the first thing you’ll realize as a freelancer is that home and work oftentimes don’t mix. Of course, you’ll try to make yourself a productive writer at the homestead — and for the rare few this is a doable — but oftentimes the amount of distraction inside your apartment can be overwhelming. This is where the coffee shop journalist is born, thanks to the plentiful caffeine available and quiet working environment. But even out of the house and away from your flat-screen TV and streaming Netflix set- up, there are ways working at the local java hut can still be an inefficient work zone. Here are a few suggestions on just what you’ll need to make a day at the local coffee shop a truly beneficial work environment and not just a way to surf the internet in public.

1. Find a coffee shop that has free or cheap wireless internet.
While this might sound sort of “duh,” there are still a surprising number of coffee shops, including the big mamma-jamma of them all, Starbucks, that charge for internet usage. And, in some cases, they want an astronomical amount for a day’s worth of use. This is usually avoidable as plenty of mom and pop coffee joints will usually let you use their wireless for a full day, provided you purchase at least a cup of coffee and/or something small to eat. Given how nice that is, it feels awfully fair to throw a few bucks their way and enjoy their free internet for the day.

2. Bring a nice pair of headphones along with all your supplies.
One of the hardest parts of working from a coffee shop is keeping yourself completely tuned into what you’re working on, even if that means transcribing a never-ending interview with the most monotone person alive. If you don’t already own a nice pair of headphones that can allow you to do this, it’s time to invest. While you can plop down hundreds of dollars, there are plenty of nice ones for under $100 that will allow you to be completely absorbed in what you’re listening to and drown out the clatter and chatter of the coffee shop. Pop it in your work bag along with a notepad, pens, dictaphone, and anything else you might need while out.

3. Face away from windows or any busy entry way.
Along the same lines as the headphones, the name of the game with working in public is staying focused on numero uno and your impending deadline, not what the two people across the coffee shop from you are catching up on. Being observant and interested in strangers is an inherent part of being a journalist, so don’t feel bad that you’re eavesdropping left and right, but do limit the distraction by isolating yourself as much as possible in the coffee shop. This means facing away from busy walkways, large social groups, and the entrance, where you’ll be tempted to peek at everyone coming and going throughout the day.

4. Don’t meet up with friends/work together.
While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, being a freelancer isn’t usually about teamwork. It’s tough enough to be a productive worker on your own and, while it can be a bundle of fun to work with fellow freelance writers or friends at the coffee shop, the distraction is usually more than you’d like to admit. Just like studying for exams back in college, it’s usually easiest to just hunker down and stay focused by yourself.

5. Make your work station feel as professional as an office desk would.
Just because you’re sitting at a cramped table in a coffee shop doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it as a professional work space. Keep the clutter to a minimum and avoid big, messy dishes of food just as you would at your cubicle. It can be helpful to replicate a work desk as much as possible, including having your supplies out in front of you and keeping anything distracting, like magazines or books, away from your sight.

6.  Reward yourself with “fun” computer time
The hardest part about a day of work at your computer for people that are interested in the world and pop culture is not becoming lost in a k-hole of web surfing and video watching. While checking news and entertainment sites throughout the day is absolutely reasonable, do yourself the favor of limiting the guilt by just acknowledging that you’ll probably lose a serious chunk of any work day to clicking around websites that are 100% not related to what you’re working on. But if 20 minutes of online shopping or watching videos of kittens falling asleep gets you back in the groove, don’t deny yourself. Just keep an eye on the clock and set a time when you’ll get back to meeting your deadline.

 

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