“You can survive and you can thrive as a freelancer,” says veteran investigative reporter and Ryerson instructor Robert Osborne. “And you can be pretty happy about it because you will direct your own life, to a large extent.”

Osborne, now a freelance journalist and producer, offered RSJ students guidance on how to navigate a career as a freelancer. “You can have the best story in the world and if you take it to the wrong place, you are going to get a lot of No’s,” he said.

During his March workshop at the Venn, sponsored by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, Osborne outlined two key strategies for freelancers: how students can ensure that they are focusing their pitches to the right people and how they can maximize what he calls “sweat equity.”

At the start of their journalistic careers, Osborne reminded students, they will be doing a lot of work for free. But there are ways to take the ideas that they develop and capitalize on them multiple times. “You’re going to invest a lot of time into your ideas it may take a couple of days or a couple of weeks, and during that time you are not getting paid,” said Osborne. “As freelancers, you can’t afford to do that without maximizing your work.”

Research is essential, not just on the story, but about the publication you’re pitching to, he said. Osborne advised journalists to analyze the publication’s articles, watch its shows and research its webpages. Take some time to understand what kind of content they may be looking for.

For freelancers interested in broadcast, it’s important to develop basic skills in both shooting and editing. “You may never be a gifted cinematographer. You may never be a gifted editor. But you have to know how to string together something for a minute-thirty,” said Osborne.

Second-year master’s of journalism student Yasmine Mathurin said she was most struck by Osborne’s advice that groups of freelancers band together to form a multi-skilled team. The idea that you can “create a team within your own network and create a production and pitch it somewhere, I’d never thought about [that] … So, that was helpful,” Mathurin said.

Freelancing can be a stepping stone in the world of journalism, helping students create a name for themselves. Osborne recommends that students build a body of work outside of journalism school. In his own experience, which includes stints at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., CTV and Global Television, Osborne worked for years as a freelancer before and after holding full-time positions at news organizations.

“You may not have [another] option if you want to work as a journalist,” Osborne said. ” And yes, you can make a living. But you’ve got to be smart about it. You’ve got to be effective. You can’t waste a lot of time.”