How to professionally manage freelance writing about my industry?
September 10, 2009 11:30 AM   Subscribe

How do I successfully do freelance writing (my night job) about my industry (my day job)?

I work in a high-tech industry that is a small, close-knit, incestuous community. As a result, I know most of the key players in it, including CEOs, startup founders, etc. I myself work for a high-profile startup. I'm incredibly passionate about this industry and it's been something I've been psyched about since I was in high school.

Along the way someone happened to notice I was good at writing, so I started being paid to blog about my industry. This worked out fine, and I was completely open about it with my employer, who just wanted any company-related material to be run past our PR folks before I posted it. Then I was asked to write for a somewhat related print magazine. Recently I've been asked to write for an industry analyst report.

This is all very cool, and I've discovered I really love the writing. It's also been a real success for me professionally, where others in the industry will recognize my (somewhat odd) name from the writing I do, and a new professional relationship starts from there. But what was early on an easy agreement with my employer has become occasionally awkward with my entire professional network. Now I'm being asked to speculate about a new company started by an entrepreneur I'm on a first-name, familiar basis with, or to interview a friend whose research project is press-worthy, or to put a writing colleague in touch with a higher-up at my company.

I know the basics -- I have told editors I will not write about my own company or its immediate competitors, and I know where there are lines not to cross when a friend has talked with me off-the-record, over drinks, about their new company or project, but the information is still considered business confidential. If I do need to talk to someone as a writer, I usually start the email/conversation by mentioning that I'm now wearing my "reporter hat". However, I'm starting to see where things could get more difficult to navigate in the near future.

So what I'm looking for is advice on how to manage friendly professional contacts when they're sometimes journalistic contacts. Alternatively, I'm interested in better ways to communicate boundaries to my editors, and how to identify those boundaries in the first place without compromising my usefulness. What are the best practices here?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How do I successfully do freelance writing (my night job) about my industry (my day job)?

You're on the right track with your username.
posted by trotter at 2:03 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have clients who wrestle with this all the time (I'm a literary agent with a specialty in tech), and it sounds like you already have a pretty good handle on the basics. One thing, though: a better way to manage these boundaries with editors would be to propose your own articles, rather than passively accept assignment. That way, you know going in that the assignment is within your comfort zone. Full disclosure of prior relationships--first to your editor and then, if your editor thinks it's wise, to your readers--will also be your friend.
posted by carrienation at 2:29 PM on September 10, 2009

You're on the right track with your username.

No, he isn't. Because Anonymity is never absolute online, writing as if nobody will ever figure out who you are is a road to disaster. Someone will identify you, by an IP address, a topic, or even just your writing style. Combine that with the fact that anonymous writers are often more blunt and brutal than they would otherwise be, and you have a recipe for disaster.

In my opinion, the best way to destroy your career is to believe the fantasy that your online writing in anonymous.
posted by chrisalbon at 2:37 PM on September 10, 2009

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