Leading Millennials: Katharina Finke, Freelance Reporter

"You have to be persistent, let go of your expectations and get in touch with people."

Katharina Finke is a freelance reporter traveling the globe. She’s currently in India working on several projects. In this interview, she talks about the benefits of freelancing and its challenges.

She appears here as part of our profiles on the evolving generation of professionals in the service of journalism. Follow her on Twitter at @katharinya.

Freelancer Katharina Finke. Photo by David Weyand.
Freelancer Katharina Finke. Photo by David Weyand.

Describe the career in journalism so far — and how did it get you to India?

It started with an internship for Süddeutsche Zeitung. Afterwards I went to journalism school in Hamburg and graduated there with a master’s degree.

Since then, I have worked and lived in various places around the globe, in Canada and the U.S., with a base in New York. I’ve also reported from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and China.

Now, I am in India for the forth time. The first time round, I wanted to explore the subcontinent with all its extremes. The second and the third time, I went to India to do research for my first non-fiction book, which deals with violence against women in India. Right now, I am doing a follow-up on this and also covering some environmental stories.


How did you decide between seeking a ‘regular’ job in a newsroom and freelancing?

That was a very easy decision for several reasons. First, I could never imagine myself in a nine-to-five job just sitting at a desk. I wanted to go outside and get in touch with the people I report about. Also, since I am reporting for several media — print, online and TV — I didn’t want to limit myself and only report for one.

As a freelancer, I have the opportunity to report for all kind of media and do all kind of stories. I appreciate that a lot.


How would you describe your personal brand as a freelance journalist?

I am a global correspondent who is doing in-depth and investigative stories rather than news stories. As mentioned-above I report for several media outlets — print, online and TV — mainly in German, but occasionally also in English. My content ranges from human rights and gender issues, environmental and social issues, as well as society, lifestyle and travel.


How do you find clients?

When I started my career, I was approaching and pitching stories to them. After more than five years, I have a big network of clients. So whenever I report from a new destination, I let them know and occasionally they also contact me to do a specific story for them.

Several PR departments have also contacted me, but I declined all offers as for me it is important to draw a line between journalism and PR.


Where do you struggle most in working as a freelancer in India?

There are probably two areas of struggle whilst reporting from India. First, the clients are not as interested in India as in other destinations, like New York for example. So it is difficult to sell stories.

Secondly, the infrastructure in India is a huge hassle — it is not easy to get a good internet connection. Also, in organizing an interview, you often have to be extremely persistent. And because it is such a bustling place, it is hard to find a quiet spot to work and concentrate.


How do you create opportunities to learn?

Constantly, I guess. My client and co-worker base is always increasing, as well as the places I report from. All of the people are different so I learn from them. Also traveling for work and reporting from so many different spots around the world holds endless opportunities to learn from.


What do you think the next 3 years look like for you in terms of learnings and growth?

I don’t and I do not want to know that much to be honest. I am not a big future planner. Nevertheless I do hope to that my work contributes to a better cultural understanding as well as more awareness regarding topics which have been neglected or in urgent need of a special focus.

Personally, I do hope that I continue learning and thereby also grow. Despite that I am not a big fan of continuous growth. It is something capitalism has implanted in our society and I don’t think it is worth supporting. There doesn’t have to be growth necessarily to have a better future, I reckon.


What is the biggest thing you know today that you didn’t know a year ago?

That it is not worth wasting energy on stupidity. Often, it really does help to let go. There are of course also things worth holding onto and they are super important but other than that, it is good to let go of a lot of things — materialistic stuff, as well as perspectives, habits, anger, as well as expectations. It is important to care and be sensible.

Many newsroom editors don’t get that it is different to be out there experiencing real life compared to sitting at a clean desk and thinking of an ideal headline.


What you do know about motivating young freelancers that many newsroom editors probably don’t get?

Many newsroom editors don’t get that it is different to be out there experiencing real life compared to sitting at a clean desk and thinking of an ideal headline.

To motivate young freelancers I would tell them that it is one of the best jobs ever. You are constantly discovering all areas of life and are flexible in the way you do it. You are only limited by the editors.


What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a boss or client?

Do what you love and never give up.


If someone came up to you seeking advice on whether he or she should get into journalism, what would you say?

Actually I have been approached by several young freelancers for advice and I always tell them that it is super important that you really want to be a freelance journalist with all it entails. You have to be persistent, let go of your expectations and get in touch with people. Most of all, enjoy what you do.


As a media professional, what concerns you most about the future of the industry?

I do understand that every media outlet has economic pressure. But still good research is more important than clicks. So it does concern me a lot that there is no money for well-researched stories.

All editorial departments try to save money and as a freelancer, you notice that. When in doubt, they either cancel a story or get an employee to write. it. So I am afraid that there will be no money for good research in the future.


If you could choose one problem to solve with tech, what will it be?

Limited literacy as education is the key for a better world. I can imagine that with tech, it would be a good way to solve this problem. You could provide a lot of people with devices from which they can learn and be educated on an individual level and also overcome bureaucracy boundaries.


We’re looking for people with an elasticity in their views of media and journalism. It’s rare.

The faces of people in the service of journalism are often found on stage. They are often the heads of their newsrooms. They are often men. There’s little space on stage for the younger people sitting further down the hierarchy of these newsrooms. I want to tell their stories because some of them could one day redefine this industry.

So if you want to be featured here (or know of someone who should), drop me an email. I’m alansoon@splicemedia.com.

Co-Founder, Splice Media. Supporting media startups in Asia. Follow Alan Soon on Twitter.

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