Today I get to speak to Line Tiller. Line is from Trondheim, Norway and currently living in Barcelona. It is early morning as we speak on this Thursday and the coffee is brewing on the stove.
As a journalist – now for almost 18 years – her work has brought her to more than 45 countries and countless of her stories have been published in magazines and newspapers in her home country Norway. And as a freelancer, she tells me, she is never at work yet always at work. When she travels, sometimes she can’t just not to do something about the place. “There are just a few chances you get to be there” – other times though, she purposely leaves her notebook at home to not be in that work mode. Even when she was part of a newspaper – with her name before the @newspaper as she elaborates – she felt like a freelancer, pitching her own stories. After having worked in this way from New York for 5 years she arrived in Barcelona, Spain in the summer. Today she takes some time to speak to me about the beginning of her work, her current routines and ways in which she collaborates.
Hello Line, how did you get into journalism?
It was sort of by chance. I was pondering about whether to be a baker or a lawyer as I was watching Ally McBeal all the time. I was in my last year in secondary school when we had one week of practice, the whole class had to do some kind of internship in a company. My Norwegian teacher had a weekly bird column in a really small Norwegian newspaper and he told us proudly: “Hey everybody, I know the editor”. He talked to me and asked me if I wanted to try this since I hadn’t found a place yet. And that’s how I came to be a journalist. I was just thrown into it, told to write about this write about that. I was there for 5 days and during those five days I made about three stories. I was pretty self-sufficient at work and I think the editor saw that and when the week was over I asked him whether I could continue to work with him and he said yes. And I made money from it. That was just crazy! I was paid to just talk to people and write. I liked it more and more.
As I grew up I wanted to travel, travel, travel and I realized that this is a good way to go, a good way to do both.
How do you find your stories?
I read a lot and do research. For example: I am trying to get to Japan, which is super far and expensive. So, every time I read something about Japan – it is like a longterm process – I write it down and then maybe if I have five good stories, I can start to pitch it. I have to think about the newspapers and also about their budget.
Since I am now in Barcelona, it is cheaper for the newspaper to buy stories from Barcelona. So I try to find more stories that are closer to where I live. If I do find a story, say in Berlin, if it is really good, if I think it would be a long article and they like it, I get to go but if they say it’s just OK then I have to find maybe one or two other newspapers so they can share the costs.
Do you always write for more or less the same newspapers?
Yeah. I have all together a byline of 15-16 magazines or newspapers in Norway but I try to pitch to the one that pays more, that more people read and that is really good. If they say no I can go down the line.
I have been in the game for many years and the editors as well, we know each other and we know exactly what kind of readers they have, what stories they want. So I try not to pitch to them unless I am pretty sure they want the story.
Very interesting. How would you say, does an exemplary day look like for you?
As a freelancer, my Wednesday can be my weekend and on weekends I can be working. I am trying to avoid this, to create a workweek for myself. because I want that Friday feeling, I want that “OK, so now I am done” feeling. That’s why I am trying to get up anyway every Monday morning at 9. Even though I don’t really have anything to do I just try to make myself a normal workweek from Monday to Friday and then try to keep the weekend free.
Normally I have four to six stories simultaneously. There are different steps I go through, from an idea to a finished story. So I could be in all of these phases at the same time for different projects. I have to chose what to do today out of all of those things, so I see which one is more urgent and then I can leave something and go back to it later.
Here’s something funny a freelance colleague said to me “There is no point of hassling around as a freelancer if you cannot sleep until 10am at least”.
Did you always have a structured day like that?
It changed over time. I started my professional freelance life in New York in 2010. In the first year it was exciting, I found many new friends, went to parties and then I saw my salary, my bank account, just drop drop drop and I got a panic attack. Obviously I have to get up in the morning. I told myself I really have to be self-disciplined now and make myself a work week. So that’s when it started and I have to tried to stick to it. It works. And there is always something to do. If I have nothing to write or nobody to email, I play around online and try to find stories.
I don’t know if I will have money in six months, at all, so I live basically two months in the future. I know in a month from now I will have money from a story I delivered yesterday and I know two months from now I will have money because I will deliver a story in a week but more than that I don’t really know.
And it works?
Yes, this has been working now for six years. My big fear is that all the newspapers will have new editors who don’t know me and don’t take to my ideas. Today most of the people know what I can do with a pitch.
What are the advantages for you as a freelancer?
Especially for the writing part of the story I have to be inspired, want to do it, feel creative. Most of the time I don’t feel super creative and like I want to write. It is more like I have to sit down and write and be creative.
I like the fact that I can change my environment. I can sit in my house, or in my bed, or in a coffeeplace or in a park whatever instead of going to an office where the same chair and desk and plant is around you all the time and I have to be there because there is a boss who checks when you come and leave in order to get your money.
So I really like the freedom to do that. Also in the middle of the day I can go swimming. I can do two hours of work, then I can go for a run and come back or go to the gym and swim…You can’t really do that when you work in an office.
Do you have to sacrifice anything to have this liberty?
Yeah. I am sacrificing the important social part, the lunch. You have 30 minutes to talk, to have a break from your work and feel rejuvenated when you come back. I miss just talking to someone, having more people to chat with, having colleagues. So that is also why I am trying different coworking spaces.
Did you work in a coworking space before?
Yes, I did in New York. I ended up in a place where at the end next to me five other Norwegian journalist were working. We all had the same feeling, we all wanted to go together to a office.
So the problem was kind of solved then?
Yes, the social part was there and there was no boss. An office with no boss. An ideal situation.
Do you now collaborate with other journalist?
No, I haven’t yet found any other Scandinavian journalists here. It’s a plus and a minus, being basically the only Norwegian journalist, freelance, in Barcelona because then I have the area by myself but at the same time I have no one to collaborate with.
Does it happen to collaborate with foreign journalist?
It could be interesting, but we don’t really know how to find each other. How would a Portuguese journalist coming to Barcelona to cover a story know about me? But mostly, as the stuff that I do is so specific and random it could be hard to find a way to collaborate. We could exchange ideas. The way I collaborate is more with a photographer.