Have you ever considered writing for a local newspaper but didn't know exactly how to begin? Maria Rainier shares information on writing for newspapers in this guest post.
Many local newspapers cannot afford a full-time staff of journalists and rely on freelancers and wire copy to provide a majority of their content. I have been writing for newspapers as both a staff writer and a freelance writer for over 10 years, and I have seen many young writers get their start by writing for their local paper. I was one of them. Local newspapers can offer a good source of income for freelance writers, as well as the opportunity to build up a portfolio of work. Here's what you need to know about writing for local newspapers:
If you aren't a student, or if you don't have any writing experience, it may be hard to convince an editor to take a chance on you. The key is to start small. Approach weekly papers and local community or independent papers. Don't start with the large metro daily. Smaller papers will have more demand for writers, and they are more willing to give new writers a chance. Submit a query letter introducing yourself and include published clips of your writing (either in other publications or from online writing). Include a few story ideas.
Follow up about a week or so later to introduce yourself by phone. Editors are busy, and they get packets of clips all the time. Don't let yours just be another in the pile. Usually, a little initiative is all it takes to get noticed.
Don't expect to write big feature stories or a weekly column. If you're lucky, or you are working with a small enough paper, or you have just the experience that the paper is looking for, you could chance into a column. But it's not the norm. What you can expect to write are a bunch of stories about school dances, parades, charity events, and appearances in your community. The boring stuff. You can continue to pitch your own story ideas, and once you've established a relationship with the editor, you may have a chance to write some more interesting stories.
Newspaper writing has a very distinct style, which you will have to adapt to be successful. You should be prepared to interview multiple sources for each story you write and to provide direct quotes. Stories rely on a lead, which both entices the reader and provides the core information about the story. Paragraphs should be short and language simple.
Also expect your work to be edited. Depending on the deadline schedule or the editor's style, you may be edited quite heavily. Other times, your article may simply be cut off at the end. Space is at a premium in newspapers, and each story is carefully budgeted for column space.
Finally, if you are working for a very small newspaper, expect to take your own photos. You don't have to have a professional camera, but you will be responsible for setting up and taking your own photos for your articles. Professional photography experience is not needed.
Don't expect to make hundreds of dollars a week writing for local newspapers. I freelance for two newspapers, and on good months, I can expect to make about $500. Pay is by article, and payment is not made until publication. If your story is cut for space or other reasons, you should be paid a kill fee. This is usually a smaller rate to compensate you for having written the article. Make sure you discuss what the pay scale will be when you begin your contract work with the paper.
Writing for local newspapers can be erratic work, as the news cycle and staffing fluctuations both affect demand. However, maintaining relationships with two to three papers can lead to several hundred dollars of income each month -- or more if you manage to eventually land a gig with a larger metro or even a regional or national paper. Even The New York Times accepts freelancers!
About the Author:
Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes on education degree programs and careers, such as a recent piece on broadcast technician jobs. In her spare time, she enjoys yoga, playing piano, and working with origami.