freelance writer vs. entrepreneurial journalist

At last weekend’s We Make the Media conference, business writer Michelle Rafter said she preferred the term “entrepreneurial journalist” to “freelance writer,” and within a short space of time, nearly all the other freelancers I encountered at the conference (including yours truly) had adopted the new description as well.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the definition of journalist is “a writer or editor for a news medium” — with “news medium” including traditional publications like magazines and newspapers as well as electronic media like television, podcasts and websites.

Previously, I’d be hesitant to adopt the professional title of journalist. I did not study journalism in school — undergrad or graduate. Instead, I studied religion. (Yeah, I know; real practical.) I’ve not been on staff for a regular newspaper, but have written regularly as a freelancer for a number of newspapers, magazines and trades. I’ve earned local, regional, national and even international by-lines.

But I always called myself a freelancer, simply because I wasn’t on staff — though freelancers do the same (and often more*) work than staff writers/journalists — and I’ve patiently dealt with the blank expressions and questions from interview sources and folks at cocktail parties who honestly didn’t know what a “freelance writer” was.

(* Staff journalists have traditionally, but not always, had access to in-house resources that freelancers don’t — like researchers, transcriptionists and fixers — though with many publications tightening their belts to survive the economic downturn, I imagine staff writers are increasingly doing more grunt work, too.)

I like Michelle’s suggestion of “entrepreneurial journalist.” It captures the essence of what I and my fellow freelance writers do for a living, using vocabulary that’s more immediately understood by non-media folks. I may start off calling myself a freelance or independent journalist — very often, the last thing I feel like is an entrepreneur, though in the end, that’s precisely what all freelancers are, regardless of industry.

It took a simple suggestion from a fellow professional for me to acknowledge that I can call myself a journalist without fear that I’m putting on airs.

Thanks, Michelle!

Posted in thoughts from the spiral.


  1. Bravo Jennifer.

    I must confess though, the term didn't originate with me, though I've definitely adopted it in my own writing business. The Online News Association used the expression as the title of one of the sessions at their annual conference in October. And the Soceity of American Business Editors and Writers, the professional organization for business reporters and editors, recently changed the name of their freelance committee to the entrepreneurial journalist committee. It's a trend. But it's more than that. It's a mind set. It's a way of seeing yourself as the active driver of what you do v. the passive recipient of whatever work you can get. Entrepreneurs make their own way v. accept what's given them. In this time of such flux in our industry, I'd rather be in the driver's seat than risk being road kill, wouldn't you?

    Michelle Rafter

  2. Thanks for sharing this your experience.
    I just took part in webinars geared toward this trend. Looking forward to learning more. However, I agree entrepreneurial journalist is mindset not sure if its a title though.

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