Freelance technology, science and business reporter
Interview by Stefanie Phillips (RSJ ’18)
Matthew Braga, RSJ’12, is a freelance science, technology and business reporter. This interview was conducted when he was also the Project Manager/Security Planner for Citizen Lab.
How has having a niche beat helped you build your career?
I always wanted to go more narrow, more niche. I always admired reporters who were able to build beats around subsets of technology. So you know the New York Times has reporters who just focus on Uber and Facebook, or reporters who just write about cryptocurrency. People know you as someone who’s been able to tell certain types of stories in certain types of ways. I always saw that as a way to help me stand out.
You freelanced for about seven years, starting when you were at university and in between jobs until you started at the CBC, how did you make sure you were being paid fairly as a freelancer?
I spent a lot of time freelancing because often times publications don’t have room for multiple people doing [the same beat], they don’t have the funds or the resources for it. I guess just know what you’re worth and don’t be afraid to ask for it, and if someone doesn’t want to pay you, don’t be afraid to walk away. Go to someone else who will pay you; you’ve got to make a living.
Most of your work has been in digital media, were your expectations of the digital media landscape met with the reality of the field?
When I was coming up there were feelings of doom and gloom about [publications] slashing freelance budgets and online websites only paying a fraction of what people get paid in print. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was hard work but it was possible to make a living in that environment.
I think in j-school we spent a lot of time really going in to the extreme of the bells and whistles, like you know always teaching you about live streams and live tweeting and using multimedia. But I think once you actually get into it you realize people are still focusing on things like, how do you tell good stories?
What advice would you give to students who are trying to build a sustainable career in digital media?
Don’t be afraid to experiment and find [a job] that genuinely interests you, or find a niche. Also, finding editors that are willing to accept your pitches and treat you fairly, finding people that are willing to work with you on developing your passions and your weird ideas.
I think increasingly there’s no shame in realizing that for a lot of people writing for a living is not always economically feasible at the beginning. It might be the sort of thing where you work a side job part-time and also supplement it with writing. But always kind of trying to build in time to work on what you actually want to work on. The important thing is having a goal, having a a roadmap in sight. Like, here’s what I want to do ideally. Here’s where I want to be in a couple of years, how can I get there? What jobs can help me get there? Will freelancing help me get there? Are there mentors that can help me?
Is there anything else you would like to add?
If you can find people who are willing to be mentors to you and who are willing be there when you want to talk about your [career]. Having people to talk to, I think, is really valuable, and sometimes it can be something as simple as emailing someone.