Freelance Journalist

August 3, 2022 (Updated )

Rachel Charlton-Dailey is a freelance writer with a penchant for disability and health journalism. She’s also the founder and editor of The Unwritten, an online publication for disabled people by disabled people, which has helped to foster community amongst disabled freelancers on the internet.

It was her work for The Unwritten that won her the Georgina Henry Award for Digital Innovation at the 2021 British Journalism Awards, which she describes as a “career-defining moment”. We caught up with Charlton-Dailey about switching careers, representation, and why her dog is still the one in charge.

My Day Starts At…

I probably work from about half past eight in the morning. Because I’ve got a chronic illness, I work quite a varied schedule, so it always changes. I also work around my dog as well.

I’ll start by looking at my emails […] and just doing basic admin stuff usually, [seeing] if things need uploading to The Unwritten and a little bit of editing. Then, I’ll take my dog for a walk at about half past 10 or 11. He’s the one in charge — he’s a little sausage dog called Rusty!

Journo Resources
“I trained as a nursery nurse, but then my immune system had other ideas and decided that I probably shouldn’t do childcare when I catch every single bug going [around].”
Rachel Charlton-Dailey

I Always Thought I’d Be…

When I left school, I didn’t do writing or journalism; I was actually going to do childcare. I trained as a nursery nurse, but then my immune system had other ideas and decided that I probably shouldn’t do childcare when I catch every single bug going [around] and need to sleep all of the time. I had a mini stroke at 19 that gave me weakness in my left side, and I quickly realised that it wasn’t really safe for me to be left in a massive room full of 20 kids.

So, that made me just completely not know what to do with my life, and I had a bit of a mental breakdown. Following that, I decided I wanted to go into writing, because I [have] always loved writing. At that point, I didn’t know that I was gonna be a journalist. I properly started in journalism about six years ago, [which was] when I started my plan.

The big goal was to have a writing job. It wasn’t a journalism job; it was never to be an editor; it was never to have my own publication. It was just to have a writing job — that would have been enough for me. I could never see myself in this deep. Six-years-ago Rach would never have known.

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Image Credits: Rachel Charlton-Dailey

The Thing Which Surprises Me Most About My Job Is…

I wasn’t expecting to do so many taxes. There are a lot of taxes, there is a lot of admin […] there’s a lot of chasing things up — a lot of chasing.

Because […] I’ve always focused on disability journalism — it’s the sort of stuff that I love — it’s often the people that I meet, all of these different people, that are the most unexpected. I never expected to start pitching an article and then find myself face-to-face with Simon Baron-Cohen. That was the weirdest interview!

The surprising things are, again, the people I get to speak to. I’m the sort of person who adopts the whole “shy bairns get nowt” [mindset]. If I have an idea for a pitch, I will pitch it and I don’t really have any fear about who I pitch to.

This is the actual best moment of my journalistic career: I am a big, huge, obsessed fan of the TV show Ghosts, and I managed to interview Ben Willbond. That was wild!

Journo Resources
“I’ve always worked from home. The pandemic has been no different for me — it’s just everybody else is also catching up with me.”
Rachel Charlton-Dailey

My Typical Day Involves…

A bit of everything, really. I do things like writing articles on a day-to-day basis, I’ll edit and upload things to The Unwritten, check emails for the website, and make sure that things are going up on time. I work a lot on the day-to-day running of The Unwritten, because it’s basically a three-member team, and I’m the one that does most of the stuff because we’re all unpaid. It’s really fun. It’s my freelance work that takes up most of my time.

I’m really lucky that I have a mostly regular gig with Very Well, which is an American health website. I write about disability and health for them. On a daily basis, I could be writing articles, I could be interviewing sources, or I could be reading really boring American government papers. If you thought our government documents were bad, you should read things written by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]!

Honestly, no day is really the same, they’re all very different. I’ve always worked from home. The pandemic has been no different for me — it’s just everybody else is also catching up with me.

a screenshot of The Unwritten website. The top story is about ableism on love island
The Unwritten is run by a small team, which Charlton-Dailey leads.

I’m Most Proud Of…

Winning my [British Journalism] award [was] the proudest moment of my career. Even up until the night I didn’t think I was going to win it. I was shaking. I was pretty much crying to my mum on the train thinking I wasn’t going to win. My best friend, my mum, and my Nana had been promising, “Honestly, Rachel, you’ve got this. You’ve got this in the bag,” and I was convinced they were just being nice because they had to.

The opportunities that I’ve had since I’ve won the award for The Unwritten, and for myself, have been incredible. It was a career-defining moment.

I’d Be Wary Of…

As a disabled journalist, there are sites that want to profit from your trauma. I’d say be wary of [them] and those wanting to profit from the stories that will get them clicks, and get you trolled.

Avoid editors [who] want to change your story or portray your story a certain way. Make sure that you’re true to your voice and stay true to yourself.

Don’t worry about upsetting editors. If an edit comes back and you feel like that it isn’t what you’ve written, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t like that.” You can always send it back to them. You can always say, “No, I didn’t say that.” I wish I’d said that a lot. There have been some stories […] that I wonder why I let editors publish.

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Image Credit: Twitter (L) and Student Publication Association (R)

The Thing I’d Most Like To Change About The Industry Is…

I’d like to see more representation for disabled people, and more representation for all marginalised communities. Better representation of our stories without them having to fit a certain narrative. Better representation not just on a writer’s level, but on every single level of the journalistic model.

You’ve got to have disabled editors to be able to have a good representation of disabled writers and have disabled stories. You’ve got to have stories about Black people and LGBTQ+ people written by those people themselves, instead of getting comments from those people and not paying them. I am fed up with giving comments.

On The Agenda For After Work Today…

I am going to go back to the hotel, [and] have a little nap. I’m coming to the [Student Publication Association] awards tonight so I’m going to gatecrash someone’s table!

Hailie Pentleton Owens
Hailie Pentleton Owens

Hailie Pentleton is a final year student at the University of Glasgow where she is the current Editor-in-Chief of The Glasgow Guardian. Hailie has a particular interest in disability journalism, cultural and creative writing, and all things health and wellbeing.