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Freelance journalist and podcaster: What I do and how much I make

Misha Euceph, a 24-year-old journalist, shares her journey from working at Sirius XM to becoming a successful freelance podcaster. She discusses the challenges and rewards of freelancing, including the ability to pursue passion projects like her podcast, "Beginner". Misha also highlights the potential for financial success in podcasting.

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Video transcript

I'm Misha Euceph, I'm a journalist focusing on podcasts. I'm 24 years old and I make approximately $60,000 a year. Initially that I was going to go into public radio, but that opened up doors for for profit jobs and I ended up getting recruited by Sirius XM. I worked there for a year, and then decided to freelance, so that I could focus on original production and pursue more reporting heavy opportunities. So whether those are full-time or jobs or consulting opportunities where I consult with other people and help them develop podcasts. I think I was more passionate about the production, and storytelling, and journalistic aspect of radio, than I was about the tech side of things. I started pursuing opportunities outside of work while I was working at Sirius XM. So, I started a podcast, called beginner, which started getting a lot of attention and I started freelancing and got published in notable papers, like the Wall Street Journal, and I felt like that was giving me a greater sense of validation, and excitement, and challenge than I was getting at my job, as much as it was secure, and safe, and with a great team of people. And so I decided that I was going to freelance full-time, and see how it worked out for a few months. It was like I'm 24, this is the time to do it, if it doesn't work out, I'll go back to a traditional job, and if I freelance, I can always say that I tried to build something up from scratch, and that it either worked or didn't, but I learned something in the process. And if it works, then I'll be able to make more money, and be doing work that I'm more passionate about, and that was really exciting to me. So, I made that leap two months ago. The first month was really hard. There were many nights where I just lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling wondering why I did this. And then slowly opportunities came rolling in. There were a few things I knew that were going to bring me income, one of which was my podcast, and the second was something that's called a tape sync. Because you have all this equipment, you go and record for somebody who can't be on location to record the interview, and they conduct the interview over the phone and you basically make it seem like they're in the same room, and you provide them that audio and you're paid a couple hundred bucks for an hour. Which is like way higher than you would get for babysitting, or for, you know, tutoring even, or something that like I think requires more skill. But because it's so industry specific and you have equipment that's very expensive, you know how to operate it, you can make a lot of money off of that. So those were two things, my podcast and that, that I knew were definitely going to bring in revenue. And then from there, the rest was just kind of hustling. So, pitching things to people, pitching podcasts to top newspapers, I got approached by some professors from notable universities that were really interested in reaching a mainstream audience, and they did not have the skill set to produce a podcast, and they felt like a podcast was the perfect way to do it. That's a really interesting project because their research is something that I think deserves to reach a mainstream audience, and it's you know, paid very well, based on like industry standards, for that kind of project. So, for me it's a great opportunity to help bring something out into the public that I think is really important, but also, money-wise, it's kind of a more steady, bigger paycheck than I would get from, you know, doing tape syncs or one article here, or one article there. And then, other than that, I'm constantly pitching stories. So I just published two stories in US News, I'm writing a bunch of op-eds that I'm going to shop around for months until they get published. So that's kind of what my responsibilities look like. It feels a lot like running a business, surprisingly. I don't have a regular office. At first, I started out working at home, and that was a total disaster because I would get distracted. I would, you know, cook myself a meal, or watch a movie, and I realized my productivity levels were way lower. What I have done is I break it into two coffee shops during the day, and I most often go to a place in the west village because I like the environment surrounding it, it's quieter than midtown, but it's more exciting and fun to be around than uptown. It's also near the water. It makes for a nice walk in the middle of the day too if I want to take a break, and I like the food that they serve, so that's awesome. I'll go to one coffee shop in the day time, I'll usually run or go to yoga in the middle of the day, and then I'll switch up scenery and go to a different coffee shop. And that's where I do, you know, all the work that needs to be done on a computer. A lot of these actually don't look like that though. A lot these, there's recordings, then phone calls that need to be made, that I can't be in a coffee shop making, or interviews that I need to go in person and conduct. Or, for my podcast, there's activities that I'm learning, so like I'm actually going out and like riding a bike and recording myself or taking a swim lesson and getting recorded. So that also adds up to like different parts of the day. The podcast that I'm producing is called beginner. It is about being an immigrant in America and learning how to belong. And specifically it focuses on all the things I don't know how to do because I kind of missed out on this crucial formative part of childhood in the United States. So, I moved here when I was eleven, and for the first few years I was just focused on like acclimating and you know, getting rid of my accent, just fitting in. I didn't know how to ride a bike, I couldn't really swim. I have no pop culture references before like 2010. So every episode of the podcast, I learn a different activity and it's recorded and I kind of reflect on what it means to be an immigrant and how that changes, you know, my relationship to being in America. The podcast has surprisingly gotten a lot of attention. It was on Spotify's homepage for multiple weeks, it trended on Pocketcast, which is one of the podcast apps, I was interviewed on NPR about it, which was pretty crazy. I'm very meta for a radio producer. And then I also was featured in the Guardian for beginner. So that was really, really rewarding and worthwhile and kind of validating at the beginning of this whole freelancing thing, that okay, I'm making something that is valuable and I should keep down this path. A big milestone in podcasting is when you go from kind of like performance based advertising model to like a flat rate, and it means that you've reached a certain number of downloads and average listeners. So I'm having that call this week, which is really exciting, which means the check coming in from beginner is going to be a lot more steady and a bigger check than it was up until this point. With a podcast that's highly successful, so if you have 300,000 listeners, you can make as much as $150,000 off the podcast, depending on what kind of advertising deals you have. Now there's other models where you can have exclusivity deals with platforms and they'll pay you more money to basically buy your podcast for a certain exclusivity window. Or you can work for a brand or an institution like a university and they'll pay you a lot of money because they have the backing to actually pay you for that podcast and they know that over time they're going to reap the benefits of that, either monetarily or through publicity or whatever it is that their aim is. So at that point I realized that I didn't have to settle for, you know, less than $100,000. Which a lot of people had told me that in journalism, that's the max you're ever going to make and your lawyer friends are going to be very rich and you're not going to be comfortable and I also started thinking about there are other opportunities that once you get a certain level of expertise and a certain level of notoriety, that you can write a book, there will be speaking engagements, you can teach workshops, you can become a professor, and adjunct professor, and there's income from that. You can consult with other people and offer your expertise and your skill set. I think just realizing that there was so many more ways to make money than just getting a job and getting promoted was a really liberating thing. I'm not gonna lie, my first month as a freelancer, I totally doubted all of it and I forgot about all those things that I was so delusionally optimistic about, I was like I'm not gonna make rent this month, I'm gonna have to ask my parents for help, like what am I gonna do? As you gain momentum, opportunities start rolling in, you know, and so now I feel like, okay, now I'm in the groove, now I know that I can ask for this much for this kind of project, and I can ask for that much for that kind of project and people are asking me to write things and asking me to consult on things rather than me pitching things to them.