‘Story Broker? How did you get into that?’
First in a series of interesting jobs you didn’t know existed but almost anyone can do. What is a ‘Story Broker’ and how do you become one?
I was 16 years old. I queued up patiently for my appointment with the school career adviser. They had a new-fangled fancy computer programme that consisted of a multiple-choice questionnaire:
Do you prefer a) hard manual labour, or b) soft clerical/administration work.
The results were calculated through a complex and sophisticated algorithm that resulted in a printed ticket displaying my perfect job. This was amazing. I didn’t need to think about my future at all – this would tell me exactly what I was going to be for the rest of my life!
Pzzzzz, Pzzzzz, Pzzzz… YOUR PERFECT JOB IS: UNDERTAKER
I didn’t become an undertaker. Now I manage content for websites, in an office. It’s not really a conversation starter at a party. I’ve considered a career change several times, but to do what? Like most people, I haven’t got a clue what’s out there or how I would get into it.
To help me make that life changing career switch, I decided to look into interesting sounding jobs I didn’t previously know existed. The first one that sprang to mind was after meeting a lady at a wedding who told me she’s a ‘story broker’. What the hell is a ‘story broker’? All sorts of Jackanory images spring to mind.
“I supply stories to magazines and papers. You know, the ones about weight loss and women’s issues. I’m not really a journalist. I’m a story broker”.
Who would have thought that a story was a commodity being traded like grain or steel, guns or butter? I had to find out more.
It’s easy to imagine huge press rooms, full of smoke, the clattering of keyboards and roving reporters dashing in and out of the newspaper editor’s office. We’ve all seen it in Superman movies.
The reality is quite different to the portrayal of the Daily Planet. Newspaper and magazine offices are the same as any other office, whether you’re an accounts manager Wernham Hogg, or a commissioning editor at a glossy magazine – your daily environment is very similar.
These days, many of the staff working on papers and mags spend their time buying stories from agencies and freelance journalists, compiling pages and features ready for publication.
So, where does the news come from, and who are these ‘story brokers’?
It is estimated that up to 80% of content comes from press agencies and freelance journalists. Most of the nitty-gritty news comes from global press agencies such as Associated Press and Reuters, national press agencies such as PA and SWNS, and regional press agencies (most are now owned by SWNS which makes up the UK’s largest independent press agency).
The big players provide the lion’s share of news content from their army of journalists and with syndication deals from local and regional newspapers.
However, much of the human-interest genre (the ones about fat pets and cosmetic surgery horror) comes from specialist agencies and freelance journalists, or ‘story brokers’. These are the people trawling through social media for juicy stories, chasing local stories, pitching feature ideas to commissioning editors, and responding to CSL (Case Study Link) requests from the national newspapers and magazines.
In recent years, the successful agencies are the online ones that encourage people with stories to share to send them in. There is no door-stepping, papping or phone hacking – they attract people who have a story to tell.
You only have to type ‘sell my story’ into Google to see the competition from online agencies wanting to help you share your story…
www.famousfeatures.co.uk Your VIP Pass to the Press
www.sellusyourstory.co.uk Sell My Story to Magazines, Newspapers & Television for the Highest Fee Possible;
www.talktothepress.co.uk Your stories told with truth, integrity, and for the highest fee.
…the list goes on.
So what exactly is a ‘story broker’? I contacted the lady at the wedding, Editor and ‘story broker’ Georgette Culley, who explains all:
“Like all freelance journalists working in the real-life genre, I came into the industry wanting to be a writer. I started out at a successful press agency imagining writing interesting features in coffee shops or looking out onto a sea vista.
“The reality was very different. Most of my time was spend finding stories to write. I had targets to hit and quotas to fill. After finding the stories to sell, I was then brokering them to magazine editors, finding out who would pay the most for the story in a sort of ‘story auction’, or finding any takers for the weaker stories.
“Whilst traditional press agencies send stories out on a newswire for a fixed fee, we negotiate each story separately, as an exclusive.
“After selling the story once, I’d then sell it ‘second & third rights’ and tout the story to television production agencies to try and maximise the client’s income and exposure.
“Writing the copy represents such a small proportion of the work that goes into finding and selling the stories, that I stopped calling myself a ‘writer’ or a ‘journalist’. Some people in the industry describe us as story brokers, which is a more fitting description.”
I was keen to know how I would go about getting into this. It sounded fascinating, spending the day buying, selling, negotiating, not car tyres or something equally as boring, but juicy real-life stories.
“Almost anyone can become a story broker. Most story brokers hold the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) qualification, but it’s not essential as long as you have good interpersonal skills, are hard working, and, dare I say it, have good writing skills. Some of the best people I’ve worked with don’t have their NCTJ qualification. As long as all stories are verified and the IPSO code of conduct is followed, it’s not a problem. Although most good agencies will allow you to train for your qualification whilst working.
“Small press agencies are always on the lookout for talented individuals, so just give them a call or send them your CV. It’s hard work, but every day we get to hear amazing, heartbreaking and inspirational stories.”