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How a freelancer created her dream life

Caroline Hurry

Caroline Hurry

Caroline Hurry is a hot babe! She is sexier than Winnie Mandela - and that's official! The well-known travel writer and journalist, who plays a mean game of backgammon, was once voted 43rd on Playboy’s list of South Africa’s 50 Sexiest women, beating Winnie Mandela in 50th position.

She has also managed to succeed as a freelance writer and, more recently, internet publisher, in a world where mainstream journalists and photographers are increasingly finding themselves out of work.

As a founder and editor of Travelwrite, an online publication voted 'One of South Africa's Top 10 Travel Blogs' she's created a life many can only dream of. And, remarkably, it was done while not earning vast amounts of money.

Her story is inspiring!

"After escaping the shackles of fulltime journalism, I’ve travelled the world and learnt some life-changing stuff," she says. "Like how to select a suitable husband from the Business Class section of a plane and the unbearable lightness of reversible dressing."

10 Questions

Caroline agreed to answer 10 questions I think JoziFolk readers will find fascinating and motivating.

How did you get your start in journalism?

I applied and failed to get into journalism in the early 1980s so I walked into the offices of a knock-and-drop, The Hillbrow Herald, and spun a sob story about needing practical work. They took me on as the junior dogsbody where I did everything from making tea to attending events nobody else wanted to go to. I was thus able to build up a portfolio of sorts, which I took to Les Dunn, then head of The Star’s Cadet School and begged for a more mainstream job. He said there was a vacancy on The Friend in Bloemfontein, that I could try my luck there, but if I let him down he would “have my guts for garters”.  

That was back in 1983 and my intestines are still intact!

Tell us a bit about your life and experiences in mainstream media.

Oh gosh, 30 plus years! During that time I covered everything from courts, to crime, to general news, meeting all sorts of people from pop stars to politicians, cold-blooded murderers, and everything in between.  For several years I worked closely with Carol Lazar on the Saturday Star’s travel supplement. Journalism has been – as the late Percy Baneshik put it –  “my season ticket to the Grandstand of Life”.

Some of the publications I worked for included The Star, Sunday Star, Sunday Times Magazine, Scope, Style, Fair Lady, True Love, Men’s Health, Habitat, and others.

What did you like and not like about working in mainstream media?

To get paid to do something you love is to win life’s lottery. Journalism during the halcyon days of the 80s and even early 90s felt like the best career in the world to me. I loved it all from the grumpy sub-editors to the over-stewed newsroom tea, and even dodging the traffic cops who tried four times to arrest me at work for unpaid traffic fines! (They succeeded at the fifth attempt.) The photographic department was my favourite bolthole.

Things started to sour when new ownership changed the emphasis from “telling it like it is” to “kissing up to the corporates and advertisers”, which sounded the death knell for independent reporting.

When did you first start freelancing and how did that come about?

It started in the mid 1990s when True Love magazine (then owned by Nationale Pers) hired me as a features editor but my first pay slip showed far less than what I had been promised at the interview. I offered to take Fridays off “to make up the shortfall” by freelancing. It was either that or they should pay me what they promised and since they had clearly under-budgeted, they agreed.

In 1998, I was offered a job as assistant editor on Habitat magazine where the publisher and I agreed to a retainer, enabling me to pursue other writing work, so I have been freelance for the past 16 years or so.

 What is the best part about freelancing for you?

Freedom and privacy! Not being at the mercy of one boss. Working your own hours, not sitting in traffic, and writing from home where you can listen to music and enjoy the company of your pets.

When did you realise blogging could be viable and tell us about your journey into digital media & publishing?

In 2011, jobs were becoming scarcer. Payments decreased as workloads increased. Retrenchments were rife, and as the journalism pie started shrinking, I did not want to be left with the crumbs. When a friend suggested we start a travel website together I leapt in, not knowing the first thing about websites. Sadly the partnership broke up and I just kept going on my own.  It’s been three years now …

How does Travelwrite make money?

Short answer: it doesn’t! I make a bit on links and am expecting a small payment soon from Google Ads but the website opens so many doors. I often barter trips rather than hard cash. I earn money on the side doing a little corporate writing, lecturing, and penning the odd magazine or newspaper feature.

We all know about the layoffs of journalists and photographers not just in SA but globally. A lot of people are preaching doom and gloom for the profession, yet you and people like Chris and Julie, Alec Hogg and others, seem to have found a way to prosper and keep doing what you love. What is your advice to people already established in the industry or considering entering it? If people want to follow your example, how would you advise them to go about it?

If you want to be one of the chosen, choose yourself. Do what you love even if you’re not getting paid and see where it leads you. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission. Jump in.  Take whatever steps you need to get yourself on the road. Travelwrite provides space for other writers seeking a home for their travel related pieces or just somewhere to vent without being beholden to advertisers. Yes, every so often there’s a PR to placate, but the onus is always on the writing.

Social media enables each of us to blog, report, and reach out to readers, while traditional print media is on life support struggling to breathe. I believe many readers are growing weary of the corporate bollocks and agendas fed to them.

Not everything is about money. I boycott supermarkets and spend way less than I used to. I grow my own veggies, make my own toothpaste, gifts, cosmetics, and I barter. It’s a less rigid, more organic way of being. Of course you need money for the basics but I have one friend who started fire dancing at 45 and now does shows at R3 000 a pop, another who earns R400 for one-on-one yoga sessions, and so on. Why limit yourself? We are all powerful beings capable of shaping our own worlds …

Point your browser to Travelwrite, unadulterated by PR-speak and marketing BS and while you're there, sign up for Caroline's entertaining newsletter.

You will also enjoy: 'How Freelance Journalists can still Prosper.'