I’m a big fan of the blog Editor on the Verge, and I took Yoni Greenbaum’s post about office hours to heart. I held my first public office hours meetup today.
The office hours concept is for local reporters, but since I’m unaffiliated and starting my career, I decided it would be a good idea to take baby steps to starting my own routine. I think it’s a great idea, even though only one person showed up for my office hours.
Right now, I’m searching for a location people will want to meet me at. I started at a Panera Bread close to my home; next week I plan to be at a location in Downtown Tampa, where more people might be likely to come. As soon as I find a location that works, I’ll settle there permanently.
Here are my own tips for freelancers considering starting their own office hours (I took the general template from Greenbaum’s tips).
1. Pick a location.
A location close to a population center is best, but know where your potential subjects are comfortable if you tend to write about a specific topic. I.e. don’t pick a country diner if you write about suburban moms, and don’t pick the basement of a Baptist church if you write about the LGBT community.
2. Select a time.
Once again, know the people you want to talk to. Don’t schedule during regular business hours if you want to talk to office workers, and don’t schedule during dinner time if you want to talk to stay-at-home moms.
3. Tell people.
Tell your family. Tell your friends. Post bulletins on Myspace and notes on Facebook. Why not tell the people you network with on LinkedIn and in chatrooms. Leave comments on blogs and posts in your own blogs with your location. However, don’t expect many takers, especially early on. Just go with the flow, you can only do so much.
4. Bring supplies.
Bring a notebook, pens, and a tape recorder. Greenbaum says to bring copies of your newspaper, but if you’re a freelancer, you don’t have a paper, so what to do? Why not bring writing samples? Something to let people know you’re serious about this writing thing and give them an idea of what can you do. Make a lot of copies and hand them out, but don’t expect to get them back. And, have your own cards printed out with your name, the title you want to go by, your company name (if you have one), your cell number, your email address, and your social networking info. I brought a paper to read while I was waiting for people to arrive.
5. Either be consistent or make sure people know in advance where you’ll be.
Freelancers don’t have the same constraints professional reporters have. We don’t have beats, and we don’t have anyone telling us what to write. Since I’m searching for a place where people will come to talk to me, I can’t be consistent yet. It’s like marketing; I’m looking for feedback right now. A set place might not be the best thing, depending on what you’re focusing on. Just make sure to let people know where to find you a few weeks to a few days in advance.
Greenbaum makes the point that many reporters show signs of agoraphobia and like to hole themselves up in the newsroom. I’ve seen the same problem with journalism students who say they are desperately trying to jumpstart their careers. They say they’re serious, but they don’t write, they don’t care about trivial things like spelling or grammar (I was horrified when a classmate sent in a draft of our group project filled with horrible writing; it had my name on it, too!!!) and don’t make a point of getting out into the world and looking for stories.
For anyone out there who is actually serious about writing for a living, keeping office hours out in the midst of real people is a good start.