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Fire Buffs and Freelancers.
What do fire buffs and freelancers have in common?
Opportunity to be first on scene!
How so? Freelance writers and photographers often work at their own pace. A freelance schedule is created to suit his or her own needs.
Have you ever known a fire buff? Someone who "chases" fires around for a thrill?
What you don't know is this:
fire buffs are often on scene before rescue crews, responders, and fireman. They capture the first shots on film and sell them to newspapers for a decent amount per photo.
Don't wait for opportunity to come to you.
Becoming a freelance author, writer, or photographer is something you should feel accomplished for. It takes bravery and skill to step out from a 9 to 5 job and realize a dream through hard work and dedication.
Following in the paths of a dear friend who was a fire buff for many years, his secret was very simple.
He would find a good spot where there was known action, and wait.
Grab a cup of coffee, and grab a good book. It's going to be a long wait.
The pet owner I interviewed at the dog park.
Where to start.
My fire buff friend had an eerie knack for knowing exactly where to hunt the perfect scene.
He took his freelance duties very seriously and cashed in big!
The bigger the story, the better. Obviously, the overall higher payout as well.
Where did he start?
For him to have ample opportunity to beat newspaper photographers to a scene, he had to know some things about the fire department.
These are some of the secrets I learned following my friend, the fire buff:
- Volunteer for a local fire department.
- Ask to interview the captain of a fire department.
- Find out statistics in an area that gets a lot of press.
- Start with an area where there are frequent occurrences which are captioned in headlines in the local paper.
- Find a local place to wait.
- It helps to have a network for information of live events such as a scanner.
These are obviously tips on how to become a freelancer when capturing human interest stories about fires.
However, there are many opportunities in other areas, not just fires, in which one can learn to become a freelance detective!
A local businessman I interviewed for a news story.
To do it, one must think of it.
The idea behind of which I speak is that in order to get the top news story, or to beat the newspaper photographer to a scene, is to think of it first.
For example, if you hear of an event happening in your town, not just a human interest crisis story, but anything from a new florist in town to a new pizza restaurant; grab that opportunity and start interviewing!
When I think about all of the opportunities I have in my own town, it's astonishing on what I'm missing out on. Make a list about everyone you know or everything you know. Some of those things might include:
- Interviewing the local pizza restaurant owner who has been in business 50 years.
- Celebrating with an article about how the bowling alley just remodeled and is once again opened for business.
- Hear about a new retail chain coming to town? Now is your chance. Start taking photos of before and after the remodel.
- Is there a once beloved boutique or restaurant re-opening from long ago? Grab your camera and go! Find the owner and start interviewing.
- Is there a new bridal boutique in town? What makes them so unique?
- What about the new bakery! Who doesn't like chocolate mocha deluxe cupcakes?
A lot of new shop owners are looking for good free or cheap marketing campaigns. Over the years, there have been dozens of opportunity for writing articles for magazines and newspapers. If only I had started writing sooner!
Be careful and respect the humans behind the stories.
There are times when finding the best story take advantage of the people that are involved.
For example, there was a beloved resident in a small town where I worked years ago who fell asleep behind the wheel of his convertible Mazda. Somehow his foot got stuck on the gas and he wrapped it around a telephone pole. He passed away before responders got to the scene.
In good judgment, the freelance photographer declined to post the pictures to the morning news. The victim was truly a wonderful person. The family was devastated. To make a fast buck posting pictures at someone else's misfortune was not in the best interest of the photographer.
In fact, he never had the photos developed. This was back at a time where one-hour photo shops were still in business. Instead, he gave the film to the family members of the victim.
Another time, I witnessed a mother weep openly at a popular brunch spot upon opening a Sunday paper showing her son being airlifted out of a high rise apartment because he was too large to fit through the front door on a stretcher after suffering a major heart attack. While the article was honoring the rescue workers who saved the man's life, was it really necessary to glorify the man's misfortune, covered by a measly blanket hanging for dear life hanging by the ropes that dangled from the helicopter?
Stories such as these can be memorialized in better ways than to take advantage of someone who is already suffering.
While these stories often get the big bucks, all I recommend is to consider the feelings behind the scenes before trying to be the first one to photograph it or at least, consider a more gentle approach to a already turbulent topic for the victim.
What makes good stories?
People want facts. They want photos.
Often times, newspapers will pay for freelance photographs and articles when they are good enough to gain attention or attract an audience.
For example, the dress shop down town is having a sale. Is that really a true news story? The dress shop can market themselves by putting an ad in the paper. The dress shop owner is having a sale for their grand opening! Now that is news worthy!
Grab a pen, your camera, and start interviewing.
Here are some sample questions:
- Why did the dress shop close in the first place?
- What's different about this time around?
- Will there be different product lines available?
- Did the owner add anything special or different to the store?
- What's the most unique item sold in the store?
- Why should people go to the grand opening?
- Will there be door prizes?
- Will refreshments be served?
- Are the first 50 customers eligible for a free gift or coupon for a second shopping spree?
Find out all you can about the open house. Readers will be interested in what they will gain from spending their free time at the dress shop instead of at home reading the paper!
Have you ever come upon a scene and did some investigative reporting as a freelancer?
It's a very competitive business. Not everyone can be at the same time and same place.
My friend, the fire buff, once came upon a house fire. An elderly man escaped unharmed. When he walked through the front door amongst the blaze, my friend snapped a photo. Later after being developed, my friend saw something in the photo that he hadn't seen with his eyes. This detail landed him in several award-winning magazines as well as being published in the local newspapers. He earned around $600 for minimal effort. Simply because he was on the scene first and captured the gentleman walking out from among the flames.
How to start
Where comfortable clothing.
Find a location where there are common occurences.
Read the paper to find out specifically what readers are interested by in that area.
Bring snacks and water, plus a good book.
Volunteer at a place to get a leg up in the know how.
I have personally gone out in the field and worked human interest stories. Nothing gives me greater joy than interviewing a real live person with a tale to tell as tall as a redwood tree in a petrified forest.
We can all relate to personal tales of woe, fortune, success, and failure.
We all want to learn something else far greater than our minds can believe.
Human interest stories touch the lives, rule emotions, and create opportunity for freelance writers and photographers! Grab your cameras, start your engines, and go write something!