Lindsay Gibbs on freelancing: ‘Be unique and passionate’

I told you earlier that I was “teaching” a post-grad “class” this summer. (The quotation marks are my way of indicating that I’m not teaching it and it’s not a class. It’s more of a collection of newly graduated journalists looking for work. I’m hosting them via Zoom.)

Last week, Lindsay Gibbs came in to talk about freelancing. Lindsay is an accomplished writer, podcaster and freelancer. As she says, she “writes about the intersection of sports, culture, and politics. In other words, I’m a sports reporter who never sticks to sports.”

She was exceptional. Here are some edited excerpts of what she told us.

“You need to be really good and really unique at one thing. You need to have one thing that you can do better than anyone else. That’s always the best place to start when you’re freelancing stories. Do you have access to stories that nobody else does?

“What are the stories you want to be reading about how the current virus is impacting your community or what other stories that are getting completely overshadowed that you have unique connections to that nobody else does? 

“The point of freelancing is, what can you bring to the table stories that other people aren’t already? And once you establish relationships with editors, they’ll come to you.

“I would notice these big sports sites that I would read and they didn’t have any tennis coverage during like Wimbledon or the U.S. Open and so I would pitch them, I would say, “hey, you don’t have this and I can do this. And here the clips that prove that I can do this. And would you like this addition to your site? That’s kind of how I got in.

“Once I decided to go fulltime freelance, I started being more proactive about looking for stories. I set up Google alerts for all these different sports, and I would spend my time  scanning through them looking for things, taking notes, figuring out what the leagues were looking for stories and then pitching them whenever I saw openings.

My editor, you know, he’d say, can you do college basketball for us right now? Can you write this column? Can you do like ’10 NASCAR drivers to watch’? I never watched NASCAR, but I needed the $200 or whatever it was, they’re paying me for article. And so I just said yes. And then I figured it out. So I think it’s always a mix between being able to figure things out quickly and being able to do a little bit of everything because you’re definitely going to be thrown in.

“You need to be nimble. You need to be able to kind of work on the fly, and it has to be  breaking news stories and whatever your specific publication needs at the time.

“I still do think that the best advice is to be unique and to be looking for stories that you’re really passionate about.”