In theory, freelancing is a good way to bolster your resume and make some extra money. In practice, it’s the most effective way to have your confidence shattered on a regular basis.
Until this spring, I’ve had some decent success with freelancing. I had some scintillating articles published in the Central Maine Morning Sentinel about a summer music camp and a senior volunteer corps, and then during the Olympics, I wrote four pieces about Torin Koos for the Wenatchee World. The articles for the World were sweet, because they paid me well, put me on the front page or the front of the sports page, and gave me a sweet byline: “By Nathaniel Herz/For the World”. Darn right, for the World!
However, ever since I returned home in April, I’ve had fewer positive experiences. First, my overtures to cycling publications to go hang out and report on the mountain biking world championships in Quebec late this summer were rejected (“At present, we are already set for coverage of the Windham World Cup and Worlds in Quebec, but if anything changes, I’ll be in touch.”). This was bad enough. But then I tried to find a place to publish a more mainstream account of the Northug-Hellner Vegas spectacle. Below, you can read what I thought was an EXTREMELY meticulous pitch to an editor at a relatively well-known sports outlet:
My name is Nat Herz, and I’m the assistant editor of the cross-country skiing news Web site FasterSkier.com. _______ gave me your contact information.
I’m e-mailing to propose a story for _____ on one of the strangest events I’ve ever encountered on this beat. In early July, Petter Northug and Marcus Hellner–two of the best cross-country skiers in the world, and both winners of individual golds in Vancouver—are coming to Las Vegas to compete in the World Series of Poker and a
rollerski race. Rollerskiing is what cross-country skiers do to train during the summer–it’s kind of like roller blading with poles. The two are both major celebrities in Scandinavia. Northug, especially, has a huge following–he was on the front page of all of
the major Norwegian newspapers’ websites today after bouncing out of a tune-up poker tournament this morning. He’s brash and cocky, loves to trash-talk, and has a rivalry with Hellner (who is Swedish) that the press goes crazy about.
The rollerski race should be quite a spectacle–two of the best athletes in the world duking it out in the desert, where average high in July are 104 (I checked). In all likelihood, there will be no more than a handful of people in Vegas who have any idea who they are. And the poker aspect makes the whole culture-clash even better.
I’ve spoken with Alexander Oysta, the editor of the Norwegian magazine that is sponsoring the trip, and he’s willing to help me set up interviews with Northug and Hellner. They also may recruit a few top Americans for the race like Billy Demong, who just won gold in nordic combined, and I’m in touch with those guys regularly as part of my beat.
I know that this e-mail is fairly straight and humorless, but I’d obviously approach the story with the style and wit that is ____’s trademark. The majority of my work for FasterSkier is straight reporting, but in my blog on the site, I take a lighter approach. I’m happy to send you clips, a resume, or more information on myself or the event–just let me know.
Thanks very much,
So, decent pitch, right? Clear that I’d thought about it, tailored it to this specific media outlet, made it clear that I could make the story accessible to a mainstream audience? This is the e-mail I get in response:
“are you there already?
Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.”
I don’t think that I really need to say anything about the audacity of someone telling me to consider the effing environment when they’ve just responded to my elaborate and well-constructed pitch with a one-liner, without even the decency to give me a gosh darn capital letter.
I swallow my pride and answer, and we go back and forth for a few e-mails. The guy refuses to give me any guarantee ahead of time that he will publish anything, and we end with this exchange:
Me: “Can I get back in touch with you just beforehand to discuss details like angle, length, etc.? Or would you just want a draft, whenever it’s done?”
Editor: “draft when you’re done.” (if you’re going to give me a period, can’t you give me A GOSH DARN CAPITAL LETTER?!?!)
So I go to Vegas. Then I come back, and spend four hours the other night putting together what I felt like was a relatively entertaining and accessible piece (for the general public) on the whole trip, replete with clever metaphors about how Petter Northug is kind of the Lady Gaga of Norway. I send it to him the next morning, all 988 words, along with this greeting:
“Hi Mr. ______–
So I did end up going to Las Vegas for this event with the Scandinavian cross-country skiers, and I’ve attached a draft of an account. Let me know what you think–and I’d be happy to provide you with some pictures, if necessary.
Response in its entirety, two hours and 10 minutes later:
“why is there only 1 quote?”
Not only are there no capital letters, but this time I don’t even get a f—king reminder to consider the environment before printing this e-mail.
How I want to respond:
“Why is there only 1 quote? WHY IS THERE ONLY 1 QUOTE?! BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T GIVE ME ANY FU—KING INSTRUCTIONS FOR HOW TO WRITE THIS THING, A—HOLE, AND I DID IT THE WAY THAT I THOUGHT WOULD MAKE FOR THE BEST STORY!”
How I actually respond:
“I’m happy to work some more in–do you just want more from the skiers?”
“it needs to be written as a news story with color and quotes. not observation.”
How I want to respond:
“All right, jerk, maybe if you’d told me to do that in the first place, as opposed to just giving you a complete draft, I would have done it with enthusiasm. But now you can shove it—I’m taking my polished work to the scores of other media outlets that are breaking down my door for in-depth coverage of cross-country skiing.”
How I actually respond:
Does this work? Reworked it a bunch–let me know… [attached file representing two more hours of work]
“did someone shoot photos?”
My (hopeful) response:
“Yup–I did. I have a few decent ones from the race and the poker tournament. I’m out at the moment, but I can send some a little later this evening. Is there a particular format that would be best?
“i need to see whether there is anything there. the story doesn’t do much. but maybe the photos could help.
the story is too long.”
I send along photos. That was six days ago, and I have heard nothing since.
In addition to the above media outlet, I also sent a pitch to the magazine that I worked for last fall, and also heard nothing. I am beginning to think that perhaps I should stick with FasterSkier for the rest of my life—my superiors are all kind and respectful, and I can prolong the conceit that I am actually a huge baller.
If anyone has any freelance assignments for huge baller international ski journalists, I’m taking them.