Updated: Mar 26
Lizzy Dening is a freelance writer and editor, with a focus on health, who has contributed to an array of titles including The Guardian, Vogue, Elle, Grazia, heat, Stylist, Marie Claire, Metro, Closer, The Independent, The i, Mail Online, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, The Observer, The Pool, Little White Lies, Fabulous, and more! Lizzy is also the founder of Survivor Stories, a platform of interviews with survivors of sexual violence, which has been featured on BBC Radio 4’s Woman's Hour and shortlisted for a National Press Award and a BSME Award 2020. She won a Women of the Future Award for her work this month.
Recently Lizzy founded the fantastic Out Of Office, a free newsletter and community for self-employed women.
What made you want to get into journalism?
Through university I actually really wanted to make wildlife films. I did a course, but I didn’t really have any technical know how – I wasn’t a natural! So I started to think how else I could be involved and turned to writing. I did the NCTJ magazines course and that’s how I got started.
Once I finished my course I worked really hard to find a job and I started out working for my local paper as a commercial feature writer, which is writing advertorials. From there I got a job on a magazine called Yours where I worked for a long time and worked my way up to digital web editor. I then worked at Top Sante magazine covering health and fitness, but was made redundant March 2019.
It was then that I decided to give freelancing a go – and it’s the best thing ever, I’m never going back! It really gives me time to think ‘what is the point of my writing? What do I really want to do?’
My main project is Survivor Stories – a website where I collect interviews with survivors of sexual violence. I started it because what was on offer for survivors in the media was really lacking. Because of word count restrictions it means people’s stories get distilled down to being simple and linear – but trauma doesn’t work in that way. I also wanted to collect a more diverse range of stories from people from different backgrounds. Seeing them collectively is such a useful tool for answering back to victim blaming and also it also means people get to see their story represented – whoever they are. So many survivors told me they couldn’t find a story like theirs and often people choose to share their experience with me so it will help other people like them.
This year I also launched Out Of Office, a free newsletter for women who are self-employed. I think this is a really underserved area in the press – as a self-employed woman I don’t feel that there’s a lot of content for me. There seems to be an assumption that women tend to work in an office environment – in London! I felt that I wasn’t represented so I wanted to create a space for female freelancers across different professions. It’s a place where we can talk about how weird it is – challenge the misconceptions from people who just don’t get it. share our struggles but also celebrate the amazing benefits.
With my freelance journalism, my work still has a big focus on heath and sexual violence.
What makes an interesting or media worthy story in the health space?
Ultimately, journalists and editors are always looking for new ways to cover existing topics.
Of course there are some treatments and products that are genuinely new, but ultimately, it’s finding new ways of looking at existing things.
When looking at a story or pitch the first thing we’ll always be asking is - why this, why now?
Breath work, for example, is big right now. It’s an ancient practice, but what’s new is the format, techniques, apps, new authors etc.
I’ve just done a piece for Fabulous magazine about wellness trends for this year and something that came up was how fibre is the new protein. It’s linked to immunity and gut health and now brands are starting to mark-up fibre on packaging where previously it was only fat, sugar, protein etc. So looking at what is current and trending in the industry.
How do you go about finding experts for comment?
I use platforms like Response Source and sometimes I’ll tweet out requests and use the #journorequest hashtag. I also keep my own list of media friendly experts which is really useful. So if people come forward and I can’t use them that time, I’ll pop them on the list for the future.
What makes an expert a good contact for you?
Someone who is quick and understands what you’re looking for – our deadlines are ridiculous!
With health what makes a good expert commentator is someone who can take the science and facts and translate it into language that can be understood by a wider audience. If a quote is too sciency, sometimes I will have to re-write it, but I am really aware of not wanting to misquote people, so it can end up going back and forth. If they can present the information in a way that audience will understand, that’s really helpful for me. It needs to be succinct and easy to understand.
Another thing that can be really useful is if you have a case study that can support your quote or opinion. But not if it feels like an advert for your service or product!
What are your dos and don’ts when it comes to pitching?
My new favourite bug bear is getting email where the subject starts with ‘Re:’ as if it’s part of a conversation we’ve already had. I don’t know who’s been spreading the word on that….
Having high-res photos available is brilliant as it really speeds up the process. Especially if it’s for a particular slot that always looks the same – if you can provide a photo in that style, it’s much easier for us to run it.
My tip for headshots would just be sure you’ve got one facing the camera front on as we often have to crop them and it just makes it look a bit more natural.
Keep your subject lines really clear – I want to know what your pitch is about, rather than a titillating Daily Mail style headline!
Read the magazines you’re pitching to! Are they covering similar stories to the ones your pitching? Is it the right fit?
If you’re in touch with a journalist about an opportunity - reply fast!