In March, I will move to Burkina Faso, to work as a freelance journalist and communications consultant. I will go into more detail on why Burkina in another post and will focus here on what am I going to do exactly and how do I plan to make it work. The point of documenting this here is of course to get my plans ripped apart by you, so that I can make better ones!
I want to do two things: bring interesting stories about development, politics and conflict in Africa to a global audience to make them care and to help others do the same with their own stories. Oh, and I want to be able to pay my bills by doing that.
To accomplish this goal, I will set myself up in Burkina Faso (in Ouagadougou to be exact). While Burkina has been a very stable country over the last years, it remains to be one of the poorest in the world. It is also situated in the heart of a region (West Africa) that has every complex problem on offer that one could think of: from environmental degradation over internal conflict to questionable governments.
At the same time, it is also a very energetic environment that some people see likely to have an Arab Spring style wave of democratic protest ahead of it. Also, like everywhere where there a great challenges, there is a lot of interesting and creative local problem-solving going on.
There are two ways which I can take to help bringing these stories to the rest of the world: I can write them down and disseminate them myself, or can help others do so effectively. I see these ways not as competing with one another, but as complementary, which brings me to the next point:
First some ramblings about my journalism plans: I have little formal education in the field of journalism, but I think I outweigh this by having a solid education in and first hand experience (for my age, anyway) with the topics I intend to concentrate on: development, security and politics in Africa. I know that it is hard to make a living from journalism under the best of circumstances and that mine are probably not the best, so I don’t expect it to be a money machine. To make my work as a freelance journalist sustainable nonetheless, I intend to do the following*:
- Build up contacts with editors/fellow journalists while I am still in Germany
- Bring my French up to an acceptable standart before I arrive in the country (very few people in Burkina speak English)
- Go beyond the big brand papers for pitching my stories – I want to try especially pitching stories to development-focused publications, as this is where much of my credentials are
- Use this blog and social media to distribute interesting stories on a daily basis, so that my name is out there
Much of my work will probably be in text with the occasional photo (as this is what I will be able to sell), but I want to make sure that I utilise video and voice as well, as I see these as incredibly effective for creating engaging stories that listeners/viewers will care about. Also, I think that multi-media content will become only more important, so spending time on increasing my media production skills is a valuable investment for me.
I will complement this part of my freelance existence with working as a communications consultant for local and international NGOs (and maybe companies). These often do incredibly important work in very complex environments and often face challenges when trying to communicate with their donors. Many of these organisations are increasingly warming up to the idea that external (and internal) communications management is an important part of being successful at what they do. Consulting for these clients could take the form of producing content, supporting them in managing their communications, or designing homepages, social media profiles and so on.
Again, I don’t expect this to bring in much money at the beginning. But I hope that I will be able to break even relatively fast, so that I won’t be a drain on the pockets of others. My main reason for this hope are not my income expectations though, but the very limited budget I intent to adhere to
Please let me know what you think of these plans. Are they realistic/crap? Do you have any valuable tips from your own experience at going freelance?