Freelance Journalist

July 21, 2023 (Updated )

Making the transition from campaign management to freelance journalism is no easy task, especially without any formal journalistic training. But now, working for the likes of the Guardian, BBC Newsnight, and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Eve Livingston is living proof that it can be done — even if it did involve dropping a few hot takes on Twitter along the way.

My Typical Day Looks Like…

There is no typical day — it really varies depending on who I’m working with at the time. I don’t always do very news-driven stuff. Recently, I’ve been working with Newsnight, so that’s [being] much more responsive to things as they happen. So I wake up and I don’t necessarily know what I’m going to be doing that day.

Typically, I try to keep fairly regular working hours, but obviously with being a freelancer, if I’m a bit tired I can start a bit later or finish a bit earlier. I get up, have breakfast, looking through emails. If I’ve got a commission I’m working on, I’ll get cracking on that. If I’ve got an interview, it might be phoning them up or nipping out to talk to them in person. Sometimes, it might be going to an event.

Then I like to block out writing time, [as] I’m not one of those people that’s good at fits and starts. I need to block out a good couple hours with nothing else going on to hammer something out from start to finish.

I Got Into Journalism Because…

I was a student journalist. I did student radio rather than print: FreshAir at Edinburgh Uni.

When I graduated, I didn’t go straight into journalism — I went into campaigns management and [other] things, but I was writing a blog alongside those. It sounds quite old-fashioned now but at the time that was the thing to do. Twitter was having its heyday — I was doing a lot more hammering out hot takes than I do now!

It got picked up by some editors; they emailed saying we’ve seen your blog, we’ve seen your tweets, would you write a column for us? So I was doing that freelance alongside the other stuff, and it just kind of snowballed from there. I got enough experience and contacts and bylines that I could then pitch other stuff. I went part-time with my other job and then after three years I quit my job and went freelance completely.

Luckily it worked out! At the start there were definitely cash flow issues but, touch wood, I’ve gotten over that now. It’s quite a non-traditional route in, but it’s also good because people always [ask] “Do you need to know someone in the industry to get in?”, but that’s not how I did it.

journalist eve livingston on a boat in orkney
Eve Livingston in Orkney, visiting the world’s most powerful tidal turbine for the Guardian. (Image: @eve_rebecca / Twitter)

My Favourite Part Of The Job Is…

Everyone says this, but speaking to people — getting to speak to all different kinds of people! I like that you can ask really silly, basic questions because that’s the job.

In lots of situations you’d be scared to ask things you want to know in case it makes you look silly, but being a journalist, you can just be like, “Tell me about this thing”, and someone will tell you, which is kind of an amazing privilege.

When it comes to freelancing, I like doing all different things, managing my own time, and being my own job.

An Interesting Aspect Of My Job Is…

I usually cover social affairs, so all of that’s really interesting. We’d call it “case studies” — although I don’t really like that term — but speaking to these people and getting to hear their stories is such a privilege. They’re not speaking to you to plug something; they’re speaking to you because they really care about something.

I’ve done all kinds of random features, like one about why the clocks change. You pick up little bits of trivia [that] you can drop into conversations.

It’s amazing to speak to a politician one day, a campaigner the next, then someone who knows about Daylight Savings Time! It’s super varied and interesting.

Journo Resources
“I’ve developed all that stuff through experience, but in the early days I wish I’d been less reluctant to ask for help, ask for advice, ask those silly questions.”
Eve Livingston, freelance social affairs journalist and author

To People Who Want To Follow In My Footsteps, I’d Say…

Put yourself out there. As with any job, they all ask for experience and it’s like, “Well, how do I get that experience?” But I think you can self-generate bylines, whether that is a blog or newsletters — they’re quite a big thing now — or writing for your student publication, or doing student radio.

Build up your own portfolio so when you’re speaking to editors they can see that you’ve got stuff out there. That’s the number one most important thing. It doesn’t matter where it is, they just have to be able to look at it and think, they can deliver the work that they say they can.

That’s quite hard because you have to be self-motivated, but just keep plugging away and doing the work, even if no one’s asking for it!

If I Was Starting Again…

I didn’t study journalism so I felt like I was learning on the job, and if I didn’t understand what something meant, I was maybe reluctant to ask questions in case I looked stupid.

But I wish I’d done more of that, absorbing the information around me, rather than pretending that I knew exactly what I was doing all the time.

I feel like I’m at the point now where I’ve developed all that stuff through experience, but in the early days I wish I’d been less reluctant to ask for help, ask for advice, ask those silly questions.

After Work, I…

Being freelance, managing your own time, and also being someone who works from home most of the time, it’s quite hard to have that division. I try really hard not to work on weekends or in the evenings, but obviously stuff happens, so I try to have that as a baseline.

But I read books, and I watch TV shows and movies — all the normal things that people say they do. I’m really excited about Succession being back. My comfort show is Grey’s Anatomy. I’ve just started to watch that again from the start. It’s the ultimate have-in-the-background, switch-your-brain-off show. So when I’m really stressed, I have that on.

[Some people] want to be workaholics and their work is their passion, and that’s really good for them — but I’m not one of those people! I definitely need to be able to switch off, because I get burnt out by covering all of this stuff. I’m not one of those people who prides myself on working from 6am to 11pm every night.

I think to be able to do good work, I need [boundaries] to be productive and successful. Not everyone needs that kind of grind culture, which I think is important.

Kit Sinclair
Kit Sinclair

Kit Sinclair is a final year Modern Languages undergraduate at The University of Nottingham, as well as a veteran student journalist, having been involved with the student magazine Impact for coming up on four years. A freelance journalist, her work has also appeared in magazine Are We Europe and the What IF? podcast.

She has been awarded the SPA Regional Award for Best Journalist in 2023 and attended her first ever SPA Conference in Glasgow.

Header image courtesy of @eve__rebecca via Instagram