Donna Ferguson is an award-winning freelance journalist in the United Kingdom who writes for The Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Times, The Mirror, The Mail on Sunday and The Telegraph. She regularly interviews celebrities and top business people for the national press and has won four awards in two years for her investigative work as a financial journalist, both online and in print.
Ferguson explains how her career developed and changed, and shares her thoughts about the habits of a good manager:
NL:How did you originally get into financial reporting?
DF: I was 23, and looking for a journalism job that would allow me to write for a consumer and a business audience, as I had experience writing for both audiences and enjoyed writing for both. I also wanted to write something useful that would help people rather than intruding into their privacy. And I hated fluffy articles that were basically pointless! So I went for a job at Your Mortgage (a consumer magazine about mortgages) and Mortgage Edge (a business title). I found it fascinating. From there I became deputy editor of the Motley Fool, then editor of a personal finance website called lovemoney.com, It was a very exciting time to be writing about personal finance — 2007 to 2012 — during the credit crunch and the recession. I learned a lot. After that I went freelance, and now write for the Money section of most of the national newspapers in the U.K.
NL:You’ve had experience as an editor. What are some of the most important management lessons you learned? DF: That your job as a manager is to remove obstacles from your team's day so that they can work more efficiently.
Never underestimate the importance of a one-on-one chat once a week, even for five minutes, with every single member of your team. There are things they will have the courage to talk to you about in private that they won't say in front of everyone else. Similarly, it's the best way to give them negative feedback and it reminds you to give praise as well.
Finally, bear in mind that the people in your team are the people you will be able to count on if a senior manager gives you a pile of work that needs to be done quickly. If you treat them well when you get the opportunity, they will be there for you and treat you well in return. Also, the people you manage or interview today may go on to get amazing editorial management jobs themselves elsewhere one day, and it never hurts to have built up good contacts!
NL:What led you to decide to become a freelance reporter? How have you had to adjust?
DF: I decided to go freelance after I had a baby. I wanted a more flexible job so I could work part-time and not have to pay for as much childcare. It was the best decision I could ever have made. It was so empowering for my career! I was immediately offered work by the editor at a national newspaper, who had become a friend over the years.
Because my working time was so precious (as I had very little childcare at first) I only pitched articles that were intellectually stimulating to me. I really enjoyed using my brain again after a year off on maternity leave! So I took a lot of time to research and write my articles. Then I started winning awards for my work. That was amazing, firstly for my self-esteem as a freelance reporter and secondly it was reassuring for new editors I pitched to, who didn't know me but had heard that I'd won awards and wanted to see what I was capable of.
I've had to adjust to being alone all day, which is hard. It does get quite lonely. But I have Wednesdays off with my daughter, which is lots of fun, and Friday afternoons off with her as well. We are very sociable on those days!
The hardest thing really is when editors don't treat you well. Some can be rude and brusque over e-mail, fail to pay you on time or answer you when you pitch. Often they don't come back to you when they say they will, because they are very busy. You just have to develop a thick skin! The flexibility of freelancing means it is all worth it. You are your own boss, and that is very liberating and rewarding.