Hello folks! Happy Friday, hope we’ve all had nice and productive weeks! I’m currently in Tenerife enjoying a bit of cheeky sun and sea, so my productivity hasn’t been all there this week (don’t tell anyone).
Today we have another awesome Q&A for you as we welcome in Anna Mazurek. Anna’s been a travel writer and photographer for 13 years, but has also been a graphic designer, copy editor, author and lecturer, so she knows a thing or a two about the journalism industry.
Anna’s freelanced for some of the biggest titles including the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Business Insider, and currently teaches Photojournalism and Freelancing for Media Professionals at Texas State University. Oh, and in 2018, she self-published her first book Good With Money, which details how she managed to travel the world on an income of just $30,000.
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Leave a comment or share today’s edition if you enjoyed the Q&A. Until then, speak soon! 👋
“I worked a lot of random jobs after the 2008 recession, because what pays the bills doesn’t define you. Forward motion is what matters.” — Anna Mazurek
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Introducing Anna Mazurek 👋
Daniel: Hey Anna, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. Let’s start off with your diverse set of skills. I always tell people to be a Swiss Army knife, as in be an expert in as many skills as possible. When it comes to multimedia, having the ability to write well and take great pictures is a fantastic skill set regardless of your coverage area. Aside from writing and photography, are there any other hidden talents you’re working on to enhance your work? Where do you start when you’re learning a new skill?
Anna Mazurek: During my master’s at the University of Missouri, my graphic design experience from my undergraduate degree in advertising at the University of South Carolina was extremely helpful. I worked as a graduate teaching assistant designing pages for the Columbia Missourian’s sports desk, and then as a page designer for The Birmingham News after graduation. Having a design background and strong InDesign skills has been extremely useful. Video editing is another skill that’s been really helpful even though I don’t focus too heavily on video projects.
When it comes to learning new skills, it comes down to research and practice. I’ll do a test shoot with new gear or test edit a project in advance so that I’m confident and comfortable with my skills and knowledge. I also utilize my network for advice or suggestions.
Planning and organization are also two of my strengths that I learned by necessity when I started freelancing. While those might not seem marketable like photography or writing, those have translated well into some of my other freelance work — teaching for universities and managing photo trips abroad.
DL: I’m sure you’re the envy of many journalists out there, with the nature of what you do. What reservations did you have about becoming a travel writer and photographer, and what made you take the leap of faith and go for it?
AM: The best way to answer this question is to share a bit about my career: After graduate school, I was hired as a contract photographer by Southern Living magazine. I was living a dream and getting paid to travel across the Southeast for assignments shortly after graduation! It was 2008. Six months later, the economy tanked.
When it became clear most of my work was about to vanish, I made a bold move despite the uncertainty. I quit everything and moved to Australia for a year on a work visa. It was one of the hardest years of my life, but also one of the best.
After that year in Australia, travel became my top priority. Now, I’ve completely organized my life around my ability to travel and be location independent. (It took YEARS to build my current lifestyle.) I worked a lot of random jobs after the 2008 recession because what pays the bills doesn’t define you. Forward motion is what matters. Ironically, the 2008 recession became one of my greatest teachers because it was the catalyst for my life of nonstop travel.
Now, my income is diversified — teaching, commercial photography, editorial work, photo trips — because I’ve learned that diversity equals stability. My income doesn’t all come from travel photography or writing. For the most part, it all revolves around travel in some capacity.
It wasn’t necessarily a leap of faith as much as a calculated plan to find quality clients and publications to work with that fit my lifestyle. I try to shoot all the stories that I write because it strengthens the storytelling. It also increases my income. While a lot of work comes to me now, the majority is from me reaching out to editors and clients. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
“Nothing kills creativity more than worrying about money.”
DL: The Covid-19 pandemic was devastating for so many people and so many professions, not least someone like you who relies on experiencing different countries for your work. How did you ride out the past 18 months?
AM: In late February 2020, I was in Southeast Asia for work and flew back to the U.S. I was scheduled to shoot some big freelance projects at SXSW in Austin in mid-March. Ironically, SXSW was canceled shortly after along with the majority of my work for the rest of the year.
I spent most of the pandemic on my parent’s farm in South Carolina, because it seemed like the safest place to be. It was so lovely to have the outdoor space to exercise and go for walks. (Plus, my parents are in their early 70s so my top priority was keeping them safe!)
My parents have a furniture store, and my dad makes 18th century furniture for a living. I build furniture as a hobby with my dad and used the time to finish building a solid walnut bookcase I started five years ago. (I only work on projects when I visit so it’s always a slow process.) After finishing the bookcase, my dad and I started remodeling my parent’s house ourselves. We ripped up old carpet and put down solid wood floors in three rooms, repainted four rooms and remodeled an entire bathroom. We basically re-floored the entire house ourselves in the course of a year. It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed the quality time with my parents and the animals on the farm.
I lost around 80 percent of my income last year except for my teaching work, which was already remote before the pandemic. I’m extremely frugal and good with money, so my savings saved me during the pandemic. Before I became location independent in 2017, I saved enough money to live on bare minimum for one to two years as a cushion. Nothing kills creativity more than worrying about money.
In late 2018, I wrote a self-published book called Good With Money about how I fund my travels. Several publications I worked for closed or stopped using freelancers. It felt like a flashback to 2008 except this time I was better prepared thanks to the lessons I learned previously.
Last summer, I began looking for freelance work again and started writing for the Washington Post. In October, I went on a solo road trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway — my first trip since the pandemic started. I went back and forth to Texas a few times for work projects, but still kept my parent’s farm as my base because I loved the outdoor space. After I got vaccinated, I started traveling very cautiously on solo road trips and drove out to New Mexico in May 2021 for another Washington Post story. My first flight in 15 months was to Alaska in June for work.
My freelance work started coming back in April, and I’m finally starting to feel like I’m getting back to my old life. I’ve been traveling (very cautiously) a lot for both work and to visit friends.
Blue Ridge Parkway 👇
DL: I loved your recent piece on tips for travelling abroad amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Just how different is it travelling internationally compared to before the pandemic?
AM: It’s a lot more complicated and stressful. There’s so many rules that change daily. I ended up getting four Covid tests before my Croatia trip to meet the time requirements. I booked all my flights on miles to make it easy to cancel if needed. I’ve been flying American Airlines who uses the VeriFly app to confirm test results, vaccination status and health forms. That app has made life a breeze at the airport.
If you’re traveling internationally, I recommend avoiding international connections because it creates a nightmare of extra paperwork and testing. Oddly enough, most of my international flights were pretty empty — I had an entire row to myself on all but one of four flights. That also made me feel safer.
Rovinj, Croatia 👇
DL: Hitting the road for long periods of time can be tiring and lonely. How do you get through those tough times to ensure you enjoy the journey and path you’ve created for yourself?
AM: I’ve been traveling nonstop for almost 12 years. The biggest lesson I’ve learned about solo travel is that you are hardly ever alone. Traveling solo is the easiest way to meet people because you are more approachable, and it forces you to be more outgoing than normal. I’ve meet some of my best friends from traveling solo.
At this point, I’ve got friends scattered across the globe so there’s always a good chance that I’ll be visiting or meeting up with a friend at least for a day or two on any trip.
I’m not good at sitting still. I am bad about running myself ragged so I try to be better about scheduling time between trips and giving myself a break. The biggest struggle for me is to find time to rest because I’m a naturally high-energy person. I really prioritize sleep and exercise.
DL: You’re also a journalism lecturer at Texas State University, and designed a class called Freelancing for Media Majors that focuses on the business side of freelancing. How did you initially pitch that course to Texas State?
AM: Before I created the course, I was already teaching a photojournalism course on campus and spent two weeks every semester talking about the business aspects of freelancing. The students said it was their favorite part of the course, which sparked the idea for a separate freelancing course. I pitched the idea for a fully remote one-credit course on freelancing. Once the course was approved, I switched to teaching fully remote. Initially, I was just teaching one section of the freelancing course annually. Now, I’m teaching three sections every semester. The course is full before registration ends every semester!
I focus on keeping my teaching work to only a quarter of my time. It’s really important for me to spend the majority of my time actively freelancing so I’m staying current with the industry. Freelancing makes me a better teacher, and teaching makes me a better freelancer.
DL: I absolutely loved my time at the University of Missouri, which is where you also graduated from. I learned so much there, but one thing I’ve noticed about journalism schools in general, is a lack of classes and information on freelancing and how to make it on that side of the industry, compared with being employed full-time. Why do you think that is despite more and more journalists turning to freelancing?
AM: One of my best life decisions was going to graduate school at Mizzou — the skills and people I met were invaluable. It’s helped my career tremendously. When I was there, they did offer a one-credit business course, but it was canceled due to lack of enrollment. (Personally, I’d love to teach a remote course on freelancing at Mizzou if they’re interested!)
The world of journalism is changing rapidly, and it’s almost impossible for a university curriculum to keep up. I literally update my entire freelancing course every semester. None of the content is evergreen.
Texas State University was immediately receptive to my idea for the freelancing course. I also approached the University of Texas at Austin about freelancing workshops, and they were equally receptive. In my experience, universities know that it’s needed and want to include it in their curriculum. There are several schools that are doing it already. A change is starting, and I’m proud to be part of it.
I do agree that all journalism schools need to focus on adding freelancing and business skills to their curriculum. It's not an easy task to change the curriculum at a university, which could be part of the problem. There’s a whole system of regulations and approvals in place. One of my students once said to me that they felt like all of their other classes were teaching them what to do once they got a job, but my class taught them how to get a job. I feel like there needs to be a balance between those two elements.
DL: When it comes to pitching stories and contacting new editors, what have you found the best approach to be? While every pitch and editor will be different, are there some core principles that every freelancer must consider?
The first step is to do the research. Read the publication to see what they’re covering and make sure you’re pitching a story that fits the publication and hasn’t already been covered. Google to make sure they haven’t covered the topic.
Find the right editor for the section you want to write for. Sometimes, you have to email other editors first to find the right one. Search both LinkedIn and Twitter for contacts. Many editors have their emails listed on Twitter.
I always start a pitch with a line introducing myself. I include a short headline and then summarize the story idea. It’s important to be concise and detailed. Why is this story interesting? Who are you going to interview? What is the time peg? Why are you the best person to write this?
When submitting a pitch, I clarify that I don’t see any previous coverage of a place or topic. That’s a good way to clarify that you understand the publication and did your research.
I end with a line or two about my work/career and include a link to my portfolio.
It’s a pretty simple format, but the research takes time. Freelancing with Tim is a great resource for pitching. Tim is a former New York Times editor and is fantastic!
DL: And lastly, as we head into 2022, how do you plan on diversifying your work and income to ensure that you can continue to travel, photograph and write?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned as a freelancer is that diversity equals stability. Since I’m now established in my career, I’m picky about the publications and editors I work for. My continual focus is on quality clients that align with my goals and allow me the freedom to travel. I strive to maintain a good relationship with my editors and work with the same handful of publications regularly while still seeking out new clients to keep my income diversified.