How to get the most out of freelance journalists in Southeast Asia

Internalize these tips to work effectively with freelance journalists in Southeast Asia, beyond just a one-off assignment.

How to get the most out of freelance journalists in Southeast Asia

News publishers in Southeast Asia often lament about working with freelance journalists in the region. They cite issues such as a lack of proactive pitching, freelancers misunderstanding story instructions, and a here-today-gone-tomorrow mentality that keeps media outlets constantly searching for fresh blood.

But if you’re doing it right, there is a way to get the most out of your freelancers in ASEAN. Here are a few key pointers.   

Be specific about what you’re looking for

More often than not, when editors commission a freelance story, they fail to be specific enough about what exactly they need in the piece. They simply give the green light to the journalist who pitched the story — not thinking about all of the potential pitfalls.

To implement a set of editorial guardrails, practice making detailed story briefs for the journalist prior to commissioning the assignment. Have a template and pen down the important things such as the fee, the kill-fee, the expected due date, what kinds of stakeholders would make for great interviewees, how to source stellar images, where the freelancer can find the in-house style guide, key rules to follow, and more.

It seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised by how many editors shoot themselves in the foot by skipping this all-too-simple step.  

See: 17 websites to help you hire freelance journalists

Communicate weekly

A lack of communication can cause stories you commission to spend weeks or even months stuck in the pipeline — as the journalist may not be operating with a true sense of urgency. This is bad for you, as it could mean that the story doesn’t actually come in for several weeks or even months.

If a story arrives in the inbox but is no longer relevant, editors run the risk of losing money via kill fees, but also alienating the freelancer by not publishing their work.

Have a routine and a means of organized communications with all of your freelancers. Pull them all into a private project hub so that you don’t lose track of your conversations. For this, it’ll be important to not have to dig around through emails or text messages.

There are several free editorial management platforms that can help you stay on top of this, and even automate much of the repetitive day-to-day comms. 

Pay on time

To be fair, this is true anywhere in the world. But the simple practice of paying well and paying on time will take you far in Southeast Asia.

Remember, this is a place where many of them are literally counting on your bank transfer to keep the lights on at home. If you’re working with freelancers in several different countries, you’ll want to look into a platform that can help you dole out multi-currency payments in the most affordable way possible. 

Don’t just wait for them to pitch

As an editor, it’s tempting to sit back and wait for freelancers to approach you with story ideas. But just because they’re not in-house doesn’t mean that you can’t ask them to pick up stories that you conceptualize. 

Try making your own briefs based on topic you’d like to see written, then letting your bullpen of go-to freelance journalists claim them on an opt-in basis. In our experience, stories that are thought up by the editors tend to get claimed within a matter of minutes — if not seconds — by contributors on our platform.   

See: Why publishers in Asia are going asset light

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