Ginger Gorman is utterly committed to exploring issues that many of us would shy away from. As a social justice journalist Ginger has tackled everything from parental sex abuse to gender diverse teenagers to confronting those on the Internet who troll her. Ginger injects such sensitivity and empathy into her articles that it makes it hard to lift your eyes from her pieces. Her writing is a true example of the difference that journalism can make when writers deeply care about the issues they writing about and truly collaborate with their interviewees.
Meet Ginger Gorman – social justice freelance journalist
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I’m a social justice journalist and in my work, I continually ask: How do we treat in each other? How can society be fairer?
While I write and make radio and TV across a range of challenging issues – everything from human rights and LGBTI people, domestic violence, self-harm and youth suicide, health, cyber hate and gender equality – I’m always guided by those questions. I work to make the voices of marginalised individuals heard.
There’s a fair bit of commentary around whether journalists and freelance writers need lived experience of a particular issue in order to write about it.
What do you think about that?
To me that’s not a sensible outlook, otherwise journalists would never be able to cover stories with content that’s foreign to them. And I think we can all agree that sometimes, that’s necessary.
For example, I’ve never been a domestic violence survivor. But I still cover this issue frequently. I do this by collaborating closely with the interviewee (as oppose to reporting ‘about’ them). Especially with victims of trauma, I work intensively with them to make sure they feel represented in the final story and their voice is heard. I’ve got specific processes to do this. It’s about me, as a journalist, showing deep compassion and empathy and being able to listen; I’m not the expert.
However, having said that I do think that first person perspectives – where the writer has lived experience – can be incredibly powerful and are crucial in certain discussions. For example my friend, Carly Findlay, writes about disability in such a compelling way and brings such a strong voice to it (that an able bodied person would struggle to).
Can you tell me about your path to becoming a freelance journalist?
I became a freelancer by accident. After 13 years at the ABC, I took a redundancy in less than ideal circumstances. At the time it seemed like the end of the world – but actually, in terms of my career, it turned out to be the best thing that’s ever happened.
I started writing a few freelance stories as a stop-gap measure until I figured out what to do. But it turned out freelancing was what I wanted to do.
Which publications do you currently write for?
I mainly write for news.com.au and love working for them. They have a courageous editorial outlook and they trust me. They’re also easy to work with. For me, these are all priorities!
For similar reasons, I also write for ABC Health, Wellbeing, The Big Smoke and Kidspot. I make quite a bit of radio for Life Matters on RN too.
Do you have a favourite story?
I’m not sure “favourite” is the right word. But one of the hardest stories I’ve ever written – that stays with me– is this one on mothers who sexually abuse their sons. Due to the shame these men live with and the fact that they trusted me to tell this story, I really felt a huge responsibility to get it right. I wanted them to be proud of speaking out (and they are).
This article was read by quarter of a million people and I later made a radio version for Life Matters. All these months later people are still contacting me about this story.
One man, a victim of mother-to-son abuse, called me just last week and said that before hearing the radio story, he was suicidal. He said: “I want you to know that you’ve changed my life. I now know I’m not alone.”
Right there – that’s why I do this job!
Investigative journalism seems to be so resource and time-heavy – how do you manage that as a freelancer when you don’t have limitless time and money to pursue stories?
I’m sure you’ll agree that with the current political, social and media environments, we need quality investigative journalism more than ever.
Therefore the answer to this question is: Just to find a way to make it work.
In business terms I treat my investigative journalism, which is my passion, as a loss leader. It effectively gets people to come into my “store” and paves the way for me to do other types of work such as: teaching, opinion writing, crowdfunding and public speaking.
My investigative work is effectively cross-subsidised by those other types of work. However each piece of the puzzle fits together to make a picture – I wouldn’t have those other types of work without the social justice reporting.
When I teach brand new freelancers how to survive this is what I tell them: you must have multiple income strands. I learned than from amazing freelancer, Sue White.
I was interested to hear that you pitch a lot of your stories over the phone to your editors – I think a lot of freelancers fear picking up the phone and actually talking to editors!
Can you tell me about your style of pitching?
The relationships I develop with specific editors is absolutely key to my work. Trust is at the centre of my modus operandi. I’ve stopped working with people I don’t like.
At the start – when it’s a brand new editor – I might write a formal pitch via email. But these days I’ve got established relationships with editors and as a rule, those editors know my body of work and trust my judgement.
Therefore my pitches are really informal. I tend to either write a one-line email along the lines of: “I think X issue is a massive story because of X reason. No one is covering it. What do you think?”
Or it might be a similar type of thing over the phone. Sometimes it might just be a screenshot of something. With my viral story about women being coerced into sex too soon after childbirth, I sent my news.com.au editor a screenshot of something I saw on social media and just wrote: “Do you think this is a story?”
But I don’t recommend my casual approach until you’ve got a solid relationship with a particular editor.
Do you have a writing routine? What does ‘a regular week’ look like for you?
Ha ha ha! My life is basically the opposite of what any sensible freelancer will tell you. I have two little kids and work up to 60 hours a week – so it’s a very messy machine.
I’m often dropping the kids at school looking like death warmed up in bad track pants after writing late at night/early in the morning.
On the days my kids have after school care/long daycare, I work relatively normal business hours 9.15 until about 5.00 pm (Monday, Tuesday).
My husband works from home one day a week on Wednesday. He starts early and picks up the kids. On that day, I usually go to the National Library (free WiFi and total silence in the reading room – the pressure of the silence makes me incredibly productive.)
Thursday and Friday are a muddle because I pick the kids up after school and sometimes work in three shifts: a very early morning one before the family wakes up, a middle of the day one (from 9.15 am until 2.45 pm) and then another one from 8-10 pm.
I work a lot on weekends and late at night too. In a way, my family is long suffering because my work is never finished. But in another way, I’m really flexible. For example, I go on their school excursions and take them swimming.
This “schedule” is dead set bonkers. But it allows me to do the work that’s important to me while still being present for my kids. This is the beauty of freelancing – it’s not about presenteeism and being judged for being a mother or father and needing to pick your kids up.
It’s about: Did you get the work done? What was the quality of the work? I love that!
I love that too! So do you work from home or cafés or a co-working space?
When I was made redundant, we converted one of our rooms into a lovely home office. I mostly work from there. However, I’m a huge fan of the National Library too. All those books and studious people! It makes you work.
After 13 years at the ABC – a super noisy environment with multiple interruptions – I’m all about the quiet.
How many stories do you tend to have on the go at once? What’s your writing process?
Remember in biology class when the teacher would make you study diagrams of seed germination? That’s how I like to think of being a freelance writer.
You’ve got to have stories going at all stages of the process. Some are just seeds (ideas) some are germinating (you’ve started the research and interviews) and some are complete or close to complete (a germinated plant).
At the moment I’ve got five projects on the go. Some of them are huge big investigative projects across multiple platforms (online, video and radio) that will take many months to complete. Others are quick opinion pieces or lighter articles that are easier to write.
As a former radio producer, I’m used to having 1000 balls in the air at one time. And that’s lucky because it’s crucial to freelancing.
My writing process is variable. With investigative pieces I take as long as it takes. It can be hundreds of hours of work. I do piles of research and fact-checking. I spend a long time on pre-interviews and then actual interviews themselves. In contrast, some opinion pieces might be written in a couple of hours.
I noticed that you offer mentoring – why do you think it’s important for freelancers to have mentors? What happens ‘inside’ one of your mentoring sessions?
As a freelancer, you really have to get into a different mindset to that of an employee. You need to see yourself as a business and it can be an incredibly steep learning curve – and certainly was for me.
Before starting my own business, I had no idea how to: manage the financial and administration aspects of a small business, negotiate pay rates, market my “product,” build a personal brand. The list goes on.
I learned these skills relatively fast because I had both a career coach and also fortunate made friends with Sue (who I’ve already mentioned). She’s very generous with her knowledge and is a firm believer in friends who are also freelancers.
I started offering mentoring sessions because new freelancers kept contacting me and asking for assistance with the types of issues I’ve listed above. It seemed there was a demand for that service and I wanted to share my skills. I’m also a huge believer in supporting other journos and helping to create a healthy media ecosystem.
My mentoring sessions are completely tailored to what the person wants. For example if the mentee is having trouble building relationships with editors, that’s what we’ll focus on. If they can’t get editors to respond to their pitches, we’ll focus on that instead.
We set goals for each session and make sure they are checked off by the end.
Even if you can’t afford mentoring, it’s definitely worth joining online writers’ groups because the hive mind is crucial for solving the problems that are unique to freelancers.
Have you had any stories that you wish had turned out differently or that you’d taken a different tack?
Not really but when my stories get plagiarised, that’s really devastating. That’s the only time I think about giving up freelancing.
What do you find most challenging about being a freelance journalist? And the best thing?
Because I had no business training at all, it was getting a handle on the administration and financial smarts that I needed to make freelancing work. And never being “off.”
The best thing is being able to follow my instincts and report stories that actually make a difference to people’s lives.
Thank you so much Ginger, how can people get in touch with you?
Follow me on Twitter @gingergorman or send an email via my website: http://www.gingergorman.com
Do you have any questions for Ginger? Are you as impressed with her work as I am?!