Can crowdfunding power smarter journalism?

Beacon Crowdfunding journalism

Beacon Crowdfunding journalism

Award-winning freelance journalist Nate Thayer, who has 25 years of experience as a foreign correspondent, is trying to raise $67,500 on his website to self-publish Sympathy for the Devil: Living Dangerously in Cambodia, his book about the Pol Pot regime. Thayer’s efforts to get his reporting published hasn’t been easy. To date, the writer has managed to gather over 800 pages of original research, including photographs and documents, for the book. But the longer struggle to get his story published goes back over a decade, to when he became the first Western journalist to interview Pol Pot since the Cambodian genocide.

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The smart advice on how to be a travel writer: think close to home

Kingsport Church Circle

Kingsport Church CircleFreelancers who dream of writing about travel are lured by the dream of having big-name publications such as Travel + Leisure paying them to take multi-week vacations to exotic locales where they’ll bask in lavish accommodations. If this you, and you’re serious about becoming a travel writer, you’ll soon feel the smack of reality on your forehead: your chances of scoring such plum assignments are pretty much nil. But just because you’re not Rick Steves or Arthur Frommer doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful freelancer who writes about travel as part of a broader portfolio. Here’s a smart way to go about becoming a travel writer: start local.

Are you absorbed by how the Amish cope with the 21st Century or the process of preparing the spongy Ethiopian injera bread you tasted in Chicago or Toronto? Readers elsewhere may well be fascinated by quirky features associated with your hometown. If you live in or near a traditional travel destination, and even if you don’t, your chances of scoring decent travel writing assignments – and being paid for them – are better than you may think.

‘Being there’ is two-thirds of travel writing

If you’re located in a major metropolitan area, you’re in luck. Chicago has a rich architectural history, spectacular lakefront, and lively summer festival season, all of which provide inspiration for travel stories. But dig deeper than typical tourist attractions for your story ideas and you’ll have editors’ ears. The key is giving readers a sense of being immersed in a location, explains WeekAway content editor Eleni Chappen. (Editor’s note: WeekAway is an Ebyline partner.)

“Talk to at least one local to get their perspective on an area,” suggests Chappen. “Blurring the lines between travel and the local experience is happening more and more in the travel industry, and that perspective is something travelers crave now. Writers shouldn’t be afraid to step out of the tourist’s path.”

Adam Rugel, co-founder and CEO of Open Places, agrees. “Describe that one dish in a restaurant that is really special, or that one trail in a park that is really special,” he advises. “Write about things that you can’t do anywhere else.”Downtown Chicago Street Scene

Travel editors: there really is no place like home

If you’re located in “flyover country,” don’t despair. Small towns often boast offbeat and off-the-beaten-track attractions that can provide inspiration for unique travel stories.

“We have a site dedicated to the South Shore of Lake Michigan in Indiana,” says WeekAway’s Chappen. “Not everyone would call this a conventional destination, but it has attractions like the Indiana Dunes National Seashore, which make for a great summer day-trip from Chicago. Now, a person from California is probably not looking to fly here for a week’s vacation, but it’s certainly a viable destination for a Chicago couple looking for something to do on the weekend.”

“Anything can be interesting, whether it’s a traditional vacation spot or someplace that you would never think to travel to,” Rugel agrees.

As a local, you can write about gems that visitors or travel writing veterans parachuting in for a day would otherwise miss. One example: the central business district of Kingsport, Tenn., a city of about 50,000, features buildings that date from the early 1900s. Church Circle District, a prominent feature of downtown Kingsport, is home to four historic church buildings and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but nowhere to be found in many tourist guides for the region. That lack of publicity is one feature that travel editors, inundated with pitches for destinations they’ve published on many times and to which everyone’s been, often crave.

Getting published? Look off the beaten track again.

Unless you’re already known to editors, you’re probably wasting your time pitching major travel publications, warns Tim Leffel, a travel writer and editor and author of Travel Writing 2.0: Earning Money from Your Travels in the New Media Landscape.

“It’s easier to break into trade publications, regional magazines, and those that run some travel articles but aren’t really travel magazines,” Leffel says “Spending some time perusing titles at a good newsstand or library helps, as does using a service like the Wooden Horse Database that supplies contact information for lots of publications you didn’t even know existed. Online is where the clear growth is.”

Knowing your potential audience also makes pitching and writing local and regional travel stories easier, Chappen advises.

“Try to create an ideal profile of those who are most likely to travel to your area. Are they singles in their twenties or families with young children? Do they want the luxury spa or are they the rustic, outdoors type?” she explains. “I’m an optimist and think that any area can be attractive, but not every area is attractive equally to everyone.”

You may even find it easier to get published writing about local attractions than writers pitching stories about world famous travel destinations, says Leffel.

“Everyone wants to go to France or Italy and write about it. Not so many people want to write about Missouri or Idaho,” Leffel explains. “There are plenty of angles in Missouri or Idaho though and good pitches to the right places—including regional publications–can have a high rate of success.”

 Photos by Audrey Henderson

Being a Writer versus Writing

being a writer

“I wish I had your life!” I hear it as I run into a friend on my way to a media dinner. They imagine a glamorous life of being wined and dined.

I usually reply “And I wish I had your paycheck.” No one I know in a “real” job gets paid as little as most any freelance writers I know.

Most people I know also have health insurance, sick days, and someone else to turn to when things go South. Every freelancer I know is just a little crispy around the edges, and their friends and family never understand why. They imagine a life free of cubicles, florescent lighting, and jerky bosses.

But now, the jerky boss is me. And the lighting, when it needs to be replaced, gets replaced by me. And if there’s a problem with the printer, or my computer decides to start eating dates on my calendar and duplicating entries in my contact log, guess who gets to de-bug and troubleshooting? Me.

So the business of being a freelance writer is basically a business just like fill-in-the-blank. Most writers are self-employed and work from home. What this requires is enormous, really inhuman, amounts of discipline. It requires tenacity exceeding that of a terrier with a favorite knotted sock in its teeth. It demands persistence rivaling that of your mother when she was trying to get you to mow the lawn or pick up your room.

The writer’s life makes the work of Sisyphus look like child’s play. We are never done. Never off the clock. And even when a job is done, there’s that damn pipeline to tend to. Nothing is more terrifying than an empty pipeline.

In the end, we muddle through. Most of us because, on balance, it is a still the life we prefer.

It is worth remembering that the glass is both half empty AND half full.

  • Empty: You hate being your own IT guy. 
  • Full: You are learning things that will make you more self-sufficient. You can control how long you spend, when you spend the time on many of these tasks, and you can schedule regular maintenance. You can also choose to barter or set a goal to hire help. If you hate it that much make it into a goal that will motivate you to grow your business!
  • Empty: You’re miserable at sales, marketing and invoicing clients.
  • Full: You can take a class or trade some skills with someone who is a whiz at these things. Do a new marketing one-sheet for a friend who can set you up in Freshbooks, for example.
  • Empty: You never have time to take that class you want to take, to get better at photography, or learn some coding.
  • Full: You, no one else, controls your training and development plan. Schedule it like you would going to the gym or a client meeting. Find and join a professional association. Take an Adult Ed class.
  • Empty: You find the business end of being a writer interferes with writing.
  • Full: You must find a way to do the writing. Early in the morning, late at night, lunch breaks from your day job. Just be sure to do the work, get better, and remind yourself how lucky you are to be doing what you love.

Remember, we can mostly make our own hours, we have easy commutes. We can take a walk on a nice afternoon without asking permission. We get to work in jammies or yoga pants if it pleases. Try doing that in a “real job.”

Resources for writers:

UrbanMuse – Ebyline’s own Susan Johnston publishes this site and newsletter that every writer should build into their weekly reading. I dare you to read it once and not come away with three new ideas or leads.

Workbar – in Boston we have a shared, drop-in workspace. You may find that getting away from your own house, office or desk in a professional space enables you to focus in a certain way that doesn’t happen often enough in your own space.

Beyond the Margins – A site by and for writers where you will find tons of great information and inspiration.

Will Write for Food - Especially for food writers, but applicable to more. There are exercises and it casts an honest light on the business. Dianne Jacob also has a blog that often surprises with the depth and breadth of info.

Grub Street - the original writers’ workshop. Drop in and formal classes. Or try BCAE or other adult ed organizations. You may be able to audit a class somewhere, too. Look around, ask.

Inked-In – a site for creatives. Writers, painters, playwrights.

And, for a laugh:

The Oatmeal - “Why working from home is both awesome and horrible.” (and many other things.)

Image courtesy of photostock /

Blind Ambition: 6 Tools for Journalists with Vision Issues

I always thought it was a medical myth that an individual’s remaining four senses would take over to compensate for the loss of a fifth sense due to illness, injury, or disability. However, when deteriorating optic nerves threatened to sabotage my 25-year career as a print and broadcast journalist, I discovered that my disability ultimately improved my feature writing as I observed more sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, weaving them together to create an authentic sensory experience for my readers.

To put my disability into perspective, being legally blind means that, even with glasses, my maximum visual acuity is 20/200. I had to give up my driver’s license, but I still can read a book, newspaper, or magazine using a hand-held magnifier. Of course, covering breaking news was no longer practical, so I began concentrating on writing features, specializing in in-depth profiles and coverage of medical, social, and legal issues.

Technology has made all the difference in my ability to keep working as a journalist, currently as a feature writer for Naples Daily News, a Scripps-Howard publication.

These are the tools of my trade:

  1. ZoomTest is a screen magnifier computer software program developed and sold by Ai Squared, an innovative company based in Vermont. Zoomtext allows me to view any webpage at triple the normal size and is compatible with Windows 7, Vista, XP, and 2000. The software currently is sold in version 9.1 for $395, and an optional screen reader is available. I use the contrast features to customize my desktop and to enlarge and outline my cursor in bright blue. Zoomtext is available in 20 languages and is now sold in 45 countries. A less expensive version doubles the size of the monitor display. The downside: The Ai Squared tech support department closes at 5pm EDT.
  2. A large print keyboard prevents eyestrain by enlarging the size of the numerals and letters on my computer keyboard to 36 point bold. It costs about $100 from Ai Squared and is sold in a choice of two high-contrast color schemes: white on black or black on yellow.
  3. A hand-held video magnifier is a portable device I can use to read news releases and other printed material away from my home studio. While several manufacturers have entered this market, I use the $495 Pebble, which magnifies print up to ten times, features simple tactile controls, and weighs only 7-1/2 ounces. Its re-chargeable batteries last for at least two hours, depending on the brightness level I set.
  4. A digital camera usually does an adequate job unless my editor wants an artistic rendition of my subject by manually adjusting the lens aperture or shutter speed; in that case, a staff photographer does the shoot. Using the zoom feature to get a closer view, I’m generally able to capture an acceptable image using auto-focus and the largest and brightest LCD display screen possible to compose my shot.
  5. Task lighting helps by aiming a light source directly at my printed material using an OTT lightbulb or one of the others that capture more of the light spectrum. Many people think it’s enough to turn up the overall light in the whole room, but it’s better to concentrate the light source on my paperwork.
  6. My trusty sharpee is the only writing tool I use unless I’m signing legal documents because of its bold high-visibility lines.

While these tools are well-suited to any journalist or content writer challenged by a vision disability, the reality is that anyone over 40 is likely to experience some visual loss due to natural aging of the human eye. For example, presbyopia has probably affected many of you already; it’s a gradual loss in ability to read small print, and it’s normal as you grow older. Reading glasses typically fix the problem.

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom /

Jobs of the Day: Digital Producer APM, Health Reporter Wall St. Journal, Video Producer in Kenya


From Wall Street to the streets of Kenya, today’s job posts go global. We have digital media jobs for American Public Media, as well as health and financial reporting gigs in the Big Apple. For those of you who want to break into foreign reporting, there are several openings at the Nation Media Group in Kenya. Ready for your adventure? This is it.

Here are Ebyline’s Jobs of the day:

Health Reporter – Wall Street Journal

The New York Health & Science group is looking for an experienced news hound to join its corporate reporting team, helping cover the pharmaceutical and medical-device industries. These industries are facing enormous challenges, including looming patent expirations, the need to find growth amid a tough regulatory environment, and increasing pressures to reduce health-care costs while better serving patient needs. The ideal candidate will have a proven ability to get inside companies and break news, and the vision to see events in a larger context and write compelling, enterprising stories that keep us ahead of the curve. The job also requires the ability to translate complex medical and scientific subjects for the lay reader. Prior experience with medicine and science isn’t required, but a fascination with the subject and willingness to learn is essential. Interested parties should contact Stefanie Ilgenfritz, Health & Science bureau chief.

Staff Writer – Daily Comet
Seeking staff writer to cover cops, fire, courts and related topics in Lafourche Parish, La.

We’re looking for someone with enterprise and talent to write both breaking news and in-depth stories. Qualified job applicants will have a strong hard-news background and the ability to dig for hard-hitting stories, root out corruption and other problems and write about solutions.

You must possess the ability to think critically and take on the tough stories while maintaining professionalism and compassion. A sense of humor is a must, as is the ability to learn how to spell names like Boudreaux and Thibodaux. For this beat, we’re looking for someone able to craft stories, not just on the mechanics of public safety and legal justice, but on the people and communities affected.

Feature writers need not apply.

Associate Digital Producer – American Public Media

The Associate Digital Producer is part of a group of Web producers & designers that serves the marketing, corporate communications & revenue-generating areas of the organization including Underwriting, Commerce, & Membership/Development.
At this point the position is temporary with undetermined end date. The position has flexible hours, usually ranging from 20 – 30 hours a week but occasionally more, especially during the fall & holiday seasons.
- Sets up & tracks email campaigns on external email provider systems
- Compiles emailings from provided materials
- Maintains & updates information on a variety of web sites
- Produces online ads within established guidelines
- Maintains presence in external social networking sites
- Checks work for meeting established HTML standards & browser compatibility requirements.
- Identifies & reports production problems & assists with solutions.
- Create digital assets — images & text
- Compile assets from various sources for digital distribution
- Assist in the production of special features & projects

St. Paul, MN

Financial Services Editor – Dow Jones Newswires

Dow Jones Newswires is seeking an experienced editor to manage a dedicated group of U.S. reporters covering the financial services industry . Candidates should have proven experience in real-time financial journalism, strong writing skills and a keen eye for finding news in the investment banks, commercial banks, insurance, hedge funds and consumer finance industries. Experience managing a dynamic group of journalists and article writers is desirable as is the ability to balance breaking news stories with big-picture thematic pieces. The team writes for Dow Jones Newswires as well as the online and print editions of The Wall Street Journal.

Applicants should attach a resume, cover letter and three to five clips to the application. The position is based in New York City.

Online Video Producer -Nation Media Group (Kenya)

These position falls vacant within the Editorial Department. The candidates should have good understanding of new media, proven writing, editing, and web production abilities and sound knowledge of current affairs. He/She should also be innovative, analytical and adaptable to fast-changing news and technology realities and work under tight deadlines.

Key responsibilities and duties:
-Gatekeeper for video standards for multimedia storytelling on web and mobile.
-Checking and correcting editorial products for facts, accuracy, taste, house- style, language use, clarity and balance to conform to NMG Editorial
-Ensure NMG content is properly projected on digital platforms, including SEO.
-Ensuring timely publishing to digital platforms;
-Social media engagement.

Via Journalism Jobs, International Journalists’ Network