I have been a freelancer for many years, with stints in television and radio. As a freelancer, I have often pondered what it would be like to team up with another writer on stories, but I have collaborated only once at the very beginning of my career.
We were all about to be let go from a television program that was closing shop, and I wanted to expand my work experience into print to flesh out my resume. A colleague and friend had previously worked in print and had contacts with editors, and generously offered to collaborate with me on a story so I could get a print byline. We divided up the reporting and wrote the article side by side.
I sometimes reflect back on that experience and wonder if I should try collaborating again to address the isolation of freelancing and share reporting and writing on bigger stories. But I haven’t been sure how to go about it and whether it is worth the trouble. I am particularly concerned about how to divide up the reporting and writing and whether it would work out fairly. Several other freelancers have told me they are also curious about collaborating.
In a new “How We Did It,” AHCJ members and freelance journalists Laura Beil, Fran Kritz and Tara Haelle discuss their experiences working with others on stories and offer tips for fellow independent journalists.
Laura is currently collaborating with a ProPublica staff reporter on an investigative story about a physician that will air as a Wondery podcast in 2023 and run as a shorter ProPublica article. Fran worked with another freelancer to write a story for the Jerusalem Post about an organization that provides disability services, and Tara teamed up with a freelancer and a staff writer at HuffPost for a story about domestic abuse in the military.
They discuss how and why they decided to team up with other reporters, the pros and cons of collaboration, how to divide fees and whether the fee should be larger, who should write the pitch letter, how to divide up the reporting and writing and whether collaborators should have a written agreement amongst themselves.
For example, Tara said of such agreements, “I don’t know how formal it needs to be, but there needs to be a very clear and transparent discussion of division of labor. You are trusting that that person is going to interview the people who need to be interviewed on the deadlines that you both have, so you have to work with someone you trust. One of the things where it gets dicey is bylines, something as simple as whose byline comes first. Make sure that you have that discussion so there are no surprises later.”
Check out the full Q&A in the Pitching, Reporting & Writing section of AHCJ’s Freelance Center. Please don’t hesitate to email me with ideas for future Q&As.