Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Freelancing is like learning to play guitar: NCTJ award winning sports journalist Daniel Gallan on the art of pitching and selling your story

Posted on 21 February 2020 by Kiran Tom Sajan

 

For a newbie in the world of journalism, freelancing could seem like a tough gig. The process of spotting a story, developing the idea, finding the resources, pitching it to an editor, writing a masterpiece and finally getting it published may seem like a tedious task.

But, freelancing is an art that can be mastered easily if you are resilient and focused, according to NCTJ award winning sports journalist Daniel Gallan.

The 32-year-old South African who writes for a wide range of publications — CNN, MSN, The Guardian, The Telegraph, London Evening Standard, Firstpost, Wisden and CricBuzz among many others — says half the job is done if you know how to pitch your story.

Pitch Please 

“Pitching to the editor is the most important part,” says Daniel.

“There are millions of award-winning ideas that were never written because they were pitched poorly. And there are many terrible articles that have somehow made it through because they were pitched brilliantly.

A master in planning and writing stories, and pitching them to the crème-de-la-crème in the industry, Daniel says a good pitch does half the job.

“You got to be concise. If you can’t pitch in 10 words, you don’t know what you are writing. It sounds easy, but it’s really hard. Sometimes, even headlines need more than 10 words.

“Be confident when you pitch. You can’t be unsure of what you are going to write.

“Have exhibits lined up. Don’t say you are planning to talk to somebody. The first question would be ‘why haven’t you talked to them yet?’

“If you are yet to talk to your source, say you have scheduled your interview on so-and-so date, and discuss the topics you are going to cover.”

Even if you do a perfect pitch, not everyone may not dig it, says Daniel. It may come down to their budget and space.

“But if they say they can’t take it, ask why! If they say they were not satisfied with the story, improve the style of your pitching.”

Be resilient

Having several years of experience in sports journalism in South Africa and the UK, Daniel says the art of freelancing is like learning to play guitar.

“The first phase is the worst,” he says.

“Your fingers bleed, your hands hurt. But once it starts clicking, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Daniel says it is important to be resilient if you want to go forward on the path of freelancing.

“Keep knocking on the doors. Ask editors to go on lunches with you, get on every mailing list you can.

“Go to cheap fundraisers and have the cheap food and drink from there. You don’t know whom you will meet there. You just have to be relentless.”

Stop worrying about being pigeonholed

An expert on South African cricket and rugby, Daniel is often regarded as the go-to guy when it comes to politics in sports in the rainbow nation.

With the Proteas being in a political turmoil in the recent past, he has been busy bringing out exclusive stories and writing expert opinions.

But the burden that comes with being an expert in a particular topic is getting ‘pigeonholed’.

“I had been worried about it as I didn’t want to be seen as a guy who only writes about South African sports,” Daniel says.

“But even if you get bored of a topic, it’s important to keep hammering and be an expert in it.

“You can’t be a generic writer when you are freelancing. You have to be an expert.

“Bring politics, culture or science into your writing. Pitch a topic that the organisation can’t ask one of their staff to write about.”

Lose your ego

As much as you want to be resilient, it is also important that you lose your ego, says Daniel.

“You have to be comfortable with hearing ‘no’, a lot. Most pitches get rejected even if they are very good. We are probably in one of the worst times of the industry. There’s not enough money.

“When I had ego and heard ‘no,’ it really knocked me. But you have to tell yourself that ‘someone else will take your story’.

“It’s tough. Freelancing is hard. But it’s one of the most rewarding things.”

Ask for payment

Most of all, Daniel adds, it is important to get paid, and get paid on time.

“Whatever stage of the career you are in, or whatever your financial condition is, always ask for payment. You may do it for free once or twice. But ask for your payment the next time, even if it’s only a little bit — for your own sense of self-worth. And because you work hard you need some sort of reward. Don’t let people take you for a ride.

“And also make sure you get paid on time. People don’t pay you not because they don’t have money. They forget because they are busy. So don’t be ashamed to ask for your money.”

Postscript

Even if you enjoy the world of freelancing and love planning your own work, there would be times you hit roadblocks when you are not motivated enough to hunt for stories or an editor fails to pay you a due.

Daniel has a cheat code for that too: “Marry somebody with a stable income.”