Screenshot of freelance journalists map
Being a freelancer is challenging at the best of times, let alone when there's a widespread economic downturn with the journalism industry enduring a credit crunch all of its own.

For some freelance journalists the surviving has always meant diversifying, taking on unusual commissions or resurrecting old talents – a skill that comes into sharp focus during a recession.

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Freelance travel writer and editor Carlton Reid has turned to self-publishing and is writing and producing a book on his specialist subject – bikes.

"I've had to diversify to protect my income. Travel writing doesn't pay terribly well and I have three kids and a mortgage to feed," he tells

"Publishing is the obvious route for me because it allows me to stay wholly independent, including being able to keep working from home. I can make my own decisions, make my own mistakes, and reap my own rewards without any third-party cuts."

There was too little money on offer from a mainstream publisher, adds Reid, but being 'a micro-publisher in a niche market' has brought in revenue from the book before it's even been published.

Using Twitter, podcast hosting services like Libsyn and online publishing platforms and, he can 'look, act, and feel like a mainstream publisher'.

Spreading his book through social media and by publishing free samples online has generated readers and revenue.

Former travel writer Verité Reilly Collins also saw a personal niche for diversifying and used her background as a journalist coupled with her personal experience of breast cancer to create the website, through which she has generated new story leads and commissions.

Collins and Reid are just two of the many freelancers embracing online tools and services to help them diversify.

Videographer and photographer Christian Payne says 95 per cent of his work now comes from Twitter after he began to branch into video and distributing his work online and through social media.

"After doing this video [see below] I realised that photographers were going to take a massive hit [during the downturn] and embraced social media," he says.

"I feel as an early adopter I am still diversifying."

Freelance 'writer/editor/blogger' Fiona Cullinan claims signing up to the microblogging service is the best thing she's done in 2008.

"I'm becoming a social media joiner and digital mentor, which I enjoy and see as a way forward during the recession," she says.

After setting up her own website to showcase work back in 2005, the then freelance sub-editor devoted around 90 per cent of her time to subbing and 10 per cent to writing.

Market forces of supply and demand have now driven her towards a 25-75 per cent split, as she currently writes editorial and advertorial, for print and online, blogs and attracts subbing commissions through 'traditional casual bookings'.

"In some areas, journalism is sounding like a dirty word, in that it's associated with old-school media and broadcasting rather than new social media and conversation. I'm still hoping there is a way for both to co-exist in a business model that works, but still values that old sub-editor quality," says Cullinan.

Her online presence has also diversified and she now runs two blogs, mirroring the different facets of her career: on sub-editing and best practice; and, for which an ad-revenue sharing deal is currently being negotiated with Lonely Planet.

Sub-editing and copywriting skills could be transferred to paid-for blogging for businesses, says Cullinan.

"I'm also having ideas for new blogs all the time in the same way as I used to get a lightbulb over my head with a feature idea. Now I ask, 'is it a blog with legs' rather than 'is it a story with legs'," she adds.

While Cullinan is an enthusiastic adopter of new technology to change how she works, she's also aware that blogging, for example, is 'risky and no quick fix'.

"You need a blog with legs and commercial potential, and an average development time of around three years (according to ProBlogger), to reach any kind of decent salary level," she says.

Euphrosene Labon, author and a freelance journalist who focuses on mind, body and spirit, is currently developing a range of motivational merchandise in addition to her writing.

"My model was and remains to diversify, without losing focus. When I wrote my business plan it was always to have a portfolio career,” says Labon.

Too much diversification and this focus can be lost, she warns. will be publishing the full comments made by the freelancers featured in this piece and will post links to them here as they go up. Read Carlton Reid's responses here, Fiona Cullinan's advice here and responses from Nicci Talbot and Verite Reilly Collins.

Freelancer Euphrosene Labon gives her answers on diversifying here.

For more tips for freelancer's read 'How to: get a book deal', 'How to: handle your tax and legal affairs so they don't come back and bite you' and much more in our 'How to' section. Plus Rosie Birkett's blog series 'Mad to start freelancing in a recession?'

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