Jessica Patterson began freelancing while still in university. A journalism major at the University of King’s College in Halifax, she landed a job freelancing on weekends for a local paper, after completing a month-long internship with them. After graduating, she took a newspaper job out west, which she enjoyed until the financial crisis hit. Without many other jobs available, she considered going back to school to study a different field, “but I always came back to journalism. It’s what I was trained in, what I have an honours degree in, what I couldn’t imagine not doing. So I stuck with it.”
Jessica has now been freelancing for four years, and working at it full time for the past two years. She specializes in lifestyle writing, but describes herself as a generalist. “I have written business, construction, health, automotive, arts and entertainment, culture, hard news, courts and crime stories.” Based out of Calgary, she’s also had plenty of opportunity to cover the western way of life, including “agriculture, rodeos, horse racing, chuckwagon racing, the Calgary Stampede, jumping at Spruce Meadows, and western horse events like reining, cutting and cow horse. I have even written about rodeo royalty.”
One of her favourite jobs, in fact, was a gig she landed not long after arriving in Alberta. While out in the foothills to conduct an interview about a horse sale, she found herself awed by the beauty of her surroundings, as well as the fact that there were actual cowboys working not far away. After wrapping up her interview, she found her way back blocked by a herd of cattle. With no idea how to get through the herd with her car, she waved down one of the cowboys, who went on to clear a path for her while on horseback. “It was my first taste of the kindness that permeates the western culture,” she explains. Other memorable jobs include interviewing country folk legend Ian Tyson, and writing stories about amazing people like organ donors and paralympians.
To Jessica, the best part about freelancing is the diversity of work, and the fact that it is always changing. “I love meeting new people, hearing and getting to tell their stories. And if they happen to be difficult stories, I’m tenacious and enjoy the challenge,” she says. On the flip side, the feast or famine aspect of freelancing can prove challenging, and Jessica understands editors and publishers are on budgets and does her best to work within them.
Jessica finds both her Blackberry and her camera to be extremely useful tools of the trade: “One allows me to communicate wherever I happen to be, and the other allows me to document.” When stuck on a project, she finds that “the ‘butt in chair’ mentality works. I scold myself to stop procrastinating and just get it done,” she explains.
For those just starting out in the profession, she recommends beginning at a community weekly to gain both clips and experience: “The pay is generally better and more consistent than a freelancer’s. It’s what I did.” She also advises finding a mentor, and says she wouldn’t be where she is today without the help of her own mentor. She’s even written about her positive experience on her blog.
Jessica is a member of the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association. You can learn more about her, and view her portfolio and resume, on her website.