Jenny Valentish on freelance journalism
Jenny Valentish is a freelance writer, writing coach, and published author. She has also contributed to major news outlets such as The Guardian, The Age, ABC, and The Monthly throughout her career in the media industry.
Working for these different organisations and in different mediums of communication can be difficult for anyone, but Jenny says that “they all feed into each other very well” and that her work experience in this field prepared her for this workload.
“When I was an editor we had lots of interns that came to us through a university program, so in a way, I started teaching then, which led to guest lecturing at universities.”
“Now I’ve created my Zoom workshops in feature-writing and memoir, which really took off during the lockdowns.”
Jenny also says how working in journalism and for news outlets primarily helps her career as an author; “That funds the writing of my non-fiction books. I mean, I do have a book publisher, but advances only cover a couple of months’ work and it takes more like two years!”
Since a young age, Jenny has aspired to work in the ever-expanding media industry, recalling a moment in her childhood when she took a creative approach to magazine distribution.
“I was making miniature magazines for my Barbies, which was basically plagiarising Smash Hits if I’m honest!”
“I then self-published my work as a teenager in the form of a fanzine, selling it to big music stores like Tower Records, which led to my first columns in pop culture magazines.”
Jenny’s first staff role in the media industry was working overseas in London for music PR in 1996, and explains that she spent it “pitching stories to journalists” instead of writing. She explains also that the biggest change she has witnessed in the media industry as an editor is how different interactions at her work became when magazines started to need an online presence.
“The most ‘interference’ we really had to deal with prior to that was [the publisher] standing behind the art director at print time and suggesting he make everything red, or him suggesting to us writers and editors that articles become shorter and snappier.”
“As print publishing took bigger and bigger hits over the years that kind of interaction got more intolerable. While I understand the pressures they were under, by the time I had my last staff job in 2015 I’d had a run of publishers who didn’t seem to care about either the titles or the readers.”
Jenny also mentions how working in this industry has many negatives and that its fast-changing atmosphere in the digital age has affected its workers.
"Editors were getting pushed out and replaced by junior staff, who were then rebranded as ‘content creators’, seemingly in a move to just pay them less and get them to cover multiple roles at once.”
“Freelancing suddenly became very appealing!”
However, she also says how her first editing job was a really positive experience for her.
“Editing Triple J’s Jmag was a dream. It was a strange set up since the publisher was News Custom Publishing, a part of News Corp, and the client was the ABC. You can imagine there was sometimes a bit of a testy relationship between the two…”
“But in terms of being able to design the content of a music magazine from scratch with a great team, it was a dream job.”
Jenny says that “wearing a few hats” in the media industry allows her to “swap things up”.
“I get bored easily and I love freedom.”
She also says that working in different roles is advice that she would give to her younger self, and emphasises the importance of “planning your side hustles”.
“You’ll need them.”
Jenny describes her recent articles from the past few months as “delightful”, mentioning all the interesting things she has written about such as OnlyFans models starting coaching classes for new people to the platform, which was a story that came from Medianet.
She also mentioned writing about life-drawing classes that showcase diverse models and themes, live-action-role-playing (LARP) and the side effects the players feel when they return to reality, and the sport of bodybuilding and its relationship with performance-enhancing drugs.
Jenny says that her research process for finding these stories varies from piece to piece.
‘If it’s an interview, getting acquainted with the latest updates on their social media, watching them talk on YouTube, and reading other interviews.”
“I’m always ridiculously over prepared anyway, and definitely wouldn’t just use the provided press material.”
Jenny’s pitching preferences:
“Ninety-nine percent of pitches I receive just aren’t compatible with who I write for or what I write about. I think that’s fine if it’s a blanket press release going out to as many people as possible, but if there are going to be lots of ‘just circling back’ emails, you’d probably want to check it’s worth your while by googling the journalist’s name and seeing what comes up.”
“Most press releases I get are also only really going to be suited to a staff writer doing a round-up of products in 50 words or less. I write 800+ word features as a freelancer. If I had to put it really loosely what I do, it’s ‘interesting people doing interesting things’, but I can’t write a copy that just looks like a puff piece for a product. If there’s a human interest angle, that helps.”