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

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I'm Misha Youssef 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 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 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 challenged that 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 I was like I'm 24 that's it 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 work 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 I mean 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 gonna 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 skills 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 podcast 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 skillset to produce a podcast and they felt like a podcast was the perfect way to do it so 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 one article there and then other than that I'm constantly pitching stories so I just published two stories in the u.s. news I'm writing a bunch of op eds and I'm gonna shop around for months until they get published so that's that's kind of what my responsibilities look like it feels a lot like running a business though 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 up 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's quieter than Midtown but it's more exciting and fun to be around then town it's also near the water it makes for a nice walk in the middle of the day too if I 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 daytime 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 days actually don't look like that though a lot of days there's recordings and phone calls that need to be made that you know I can't be in a coffee shop making we're 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 podcasts 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 that 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 11 and for the first few years I was just focused on like acclimating and you know getting rid of my accent just fitting in they 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 and how that changes you know my relationship to being being in America the podcast is surprisingly gotten a lot of attention it was on Spotify home page for multiple weeks it trended on pocket cast which is one of the podcast apps I was interviewed on NPR about it which was pretty crazy and very meta for a reship producer and then I also was featured in the Guardian for beginner so that was really really rewarding and 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 going 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 gonna 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 dollars off of 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 gonna 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 a hundred thousand which a lot of people had told me that in journalism that's the max you're ever gonna make and your lawyer friends are gonna be very rich and you're not gonna be comfortable and and I also started thinking about their other 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 an 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 didn't I've 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 this month I was gonna have to ask my parents for a 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 like now I know that 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
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