Arkansas Freelance Writers Find Footing on National Press Scene

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Apr. 15, 2013 12:00 am  

Suzi Parker’s father was an accountant and self-employed businessman, so she listened to him when he told her she needed a strong business plan before setting out as a freelance writer.

Parker, who’d also worked at the Democrat-Gazette, began her career in 1997. She had savings and for those first few months, she earned steady income as a hostess at Trio’s Restaurant in Little Rock. She was determined, however, to build a freelance journalism career. After six months of “hard hustling,” she was able to quit her hostess job though she still worked in the restaurant’s catering business. Within less than a year, Parker said, she was supporting herself as a freelancer.

The first phase of her business plan had her listing every publication in the state “that I thought I could write for and get paid for. The first part of the plan was never write for free, never write for free, unless it got you to a next step of the plan.”

However, “I quickly realized that I was never going to be able to live on what the local or state media was going to pay. You could barely buy a meal with some of the fees they were going to pay me. At that point I also said that I would do some PR writing but even then I was like, this is not the direction I wanted to go in.”

But she, like Barnes, found opportunity in covering the Clinton administration. “He was in the White House as president and there were a lot of journalists on the ground here,” Parker said. “But a lot of those outlets were getting tired of sending people down here and running up expenses.”

So she implemented phase two of her business plan. Parker “networked.”

“I contacted every person that I possibly had ever known. I was lucky that several the people who came through the Democrat-Gazette in those early Clinton years went on to Washington, so I had those connections.

“And then I would just also blindly email — I had a list, a huge list, a gigantic list of publications around the world, and I would just email them and say, ‘I’m a journalist based in Arkansas and I would be interested in writing about Bill Clinton.’ I figured that was one thing I had that someone in Omaha wouldn’t have. ... And I was amazed at how many people said, ‘Thank God. We’ve been looking for someone in Arkansas to write about Bill Clinton.’”

Parker’s work has appeared in The Economist, the Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times Magazine, and the Dallas Morning News. Those clips brought her more assignments; she is now Reuters’ Arkansas correspondent.

Mel White

Mel White of Little Rock left the Arkansas Times in 1990 to focus on the subjects he really liked: travel and nature. Since then he has visited the Amazon River and climbed Kilimanjaro. And White’s work regularly appears in the magazine that he had targeted 23 years ago: National Geographic Traveler.

What he likes to call his luck can be traced back to a freelance assignment he did when he was still working for the Times, a piece for the Smithsonian Guide to Historic America.



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