Telling stories with data as a freelance journalist makes you stand out: An interview Torinmo Salau
November 30, 2022
Torinmo Salau believes it’s important to be consistent and develop skills that set you apart from the rest. She also shares what she has learnt from writing and publishing over 100 stories as a freelance journalist.

Torinmo Salau is a writer and journalist based in Lagos, Nigeria. Her work has been published in Quartz, Aljazeera, Africa Report, TheGuardian, Foreign Policy, VICE and elsewhere. She has worked on the Africa Data Hub (ADH) Project, coordinating Data Journalism training with 15 newsrooms for over 170 journalists. She also led the first cohort of the ADH Community Journalism Fellowship programme, which supported journalists to produce stories on issues in marginalised communities across Nigeria.

In an interview, Torinmo shares how she has grown from a content writer, to working as a journalist, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of freelance work.

The benefits of freelancing

Torinmo has published more than 100 stories with more than 10 newsrooms as a freelancer, some of these were published while having a full time job. This is the beauty of doing freelance journalism for Torinmo, that you can work with as many publications as you’d like covering a diverse range of topics. Freelance work affords you independence in terms of the issues that you cover and how you cover them.

Data in the world of freelance journalism 

While Torinmo enjoys doing data journalism she acknowledges that data isn’t always among the newsroom's priorities. She said, “Data is not a high priority for newsrooms in a story, they may say no to data despite the evidence the [data] provides.” Data stories require time and deadlines can still be tight even with the freedom that comes with freelancing. However sometimes there is time to do a deep dive into data that can enhance a story and the newsroom is agreeable to publishing data stories. As a freelancer that wants to do data -driven journalism, the onus is on you to pitch the story and use data in your reporting.

“Data is not a high priority for newsrooms in a story, they may say no to data despite the evidence the [data] provides.”

Tools for data journalism

Although time and funding for data journalism are still a challenge, there are tools that make it more accessible now. There was a time when being able to produce data stories was like being a unicorn in journalism because it was a scarce skill, but the landscape is changing quite rapidly. Being able to use tools like Datawrapper and other visualisation tools is becoming just as important as being able to write and report stories.

You can learn how to use tools like Datawrapper, Flourish, Tabular and more here. There 30+ free video tutorials for journalists interested in using data in their storytelling. You can learn and apply these skills at your own pace.

Fellowship in data journalism

Torinmo has facilitated journalism training and was the coordinator of ADH Community Journalism Fellowship. She continues to grow her resources and skills by participating in programmes and training that will help her develop as a journalist. Earlier this year Torinmo was selected as one of the first ten journalists to be a Dataphyte Fellow.

Lessons from Torinmo’s Journalism Journey

  • Keep developing your skills: There are very few barriers to entry in the journalism industry, many people can write and report on news. It helps to develop skills that can distinguish you from other journalists. In other industries, this is called continual professional development.
  • Be consistent in pitching stories: To have a steady stream of work, you have to be willing to put yourself out there, pitch story ideas and be consistent even when they don’t accept some of your ideas.
  • Multiple streams of income: While being a freelance journalist has its benefits in terms of flexibility, it doesn't always provide a steady income; find other streams of income to support your freelance career.
  • Data analysis and other essential skills: Data is an important part of modern journalism, but the industry is changing and it is important to stay updated with new developments in the space and take advantage of them.

Do you want to join our community of data journalists in Africa? Find out what the fellows who participated in the ADH fellowship programmes thus far. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know when to apply for the next fellowship here.

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