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How to Approach and Write for Local Newspapers/Outlets? A Guide for Newbie Writers

PS has worked as a freelance writer since 2012. When she's not traveling and writing, she helps people with web design and development.

how-to-become-a-writer-for-local-newspapersoutlets

If you live in a semi-urban area and can’t find a way to get your work published in elite newspapers, then here is the solution that can help you build a substantial monthly income. You have the option to work as a local correspondent for social media websites and local newspapers.

Social sites such as SkyWord, Patch and Examiner hire writers to report and write about local events. As well as, you can also find a directory of local newspapers online and pitch them with your writing samples.

Besides that, community newspapers, which you may know as weekly newspapers are also a great way to kickstart your freelance career.

How much you will get paid?

The earnings are little less lucrative, you can earn at most $50 per 500-word article. However, you also have the advantage to enjoy the benefits and perks offered by most of the companies, such as Examiner. The website, Examiner, pays you additionally on the basis of traffic received to your column and how many of them clicked on the advertisements.

Some Guidelines

  • The major topics include general interest articles, personals, celebrity interviews, crimes such as murders and robberies, local happenings, business damage or anything else which may interest the local people.
  • The blog length should be between 300 to 500 words. It may increase depending on the story type.

While these companies won’t be able to pay you much, but they give you enough payment to pay your monthly bills, which I think is a good reason to work for such companies.

How to Write News Articles?

While writing news articles doesn’t seem like a big deal, aiming for financial gains out of it require knowledge. The key to successful freelance journalism is to keep pitching the editor with quality work, so they have time for you. It is important for you to know 4 basic things:

  1. News
  2. Editors
  3. Newsmakers
  4. Follow-ups

Spend some time thinking about these 4 important points before finalizing your work for submission. Let us read them in detail:

1. News

Asking you to stay aware of your local issues may sound obvious to you, but that’s not with every freelancer. Most of them have no fine knowledge of what’s happening in their locality. Your writing skills won’t be beneficial if it doesn’t fit the publications' agenda. It has higher chances of getting neglected. Make some time to read the paper daily. It’ll help you understand the editorial stance and what it actually cares about, it might not be what you think is important.

Here are a few additional points that you should know about to get your article published at a noticeable place.

  • What kind of work they thrive upon, is it fiction, humor, non-fiction, etc.?
  • Do they accept freelance work? There are chances they work only with in-house journalists, so they may have no room for your ideas.
  • What kind of articles, length, and language are they looking for?
  • What political inclination does the publication have? If your work is intended for left-wing, there’s no logic in sending it to the left-wing publication house.
  • What are the recently covered topics? If you have an idea related to housekeeping and it is already covered, then there’s no point in putting it to words.

2. Editors

These people rule your articles and they have full rights to dismiss any of your work at their own wish. You should be well aware of their names and positions in the respective companies. Don’t expect them to be lenient, they have strict guidelines to follow. Understand their demeanor to craft your article for a higher chance of getting published.

3. Newsmakers

Do you know who’s the real originator of the news? Well, you should. Identify the quoted people in the newspapers and observe to what specific issues they are sought out for. Then, get their contact numbers through the phone directory. Your main aim is to know these people professionally, whether it’s on a phone or on a face-to-face meeting.

4. Follow-ups

Being a journalist, this is the most important knowledge you should possess. This is not something you can inherit from your colleagues or through online resources, you need to generate it from your own mind. If an issue comes up, gain important knowledge through above three points and then work on a follow-up story. Remember, the above-mentioned resources must be used by the in-house reporters as well, so try to take a different and relevant angle of the story. If you do, you can raise your importance in the eyes of the editors.

Once you are done with your story-making and generated a well-formed idea, contact the editor to take it to the further level. If your story is relevant to the newspaper theme, there’s a good chance it will be published. And congrats, you have, finally, got your foot in the door.

This is not, exclusively, for newspapers. You can also target magazines and online news outlets. These rules are important, follow them to get started with your journalism career.

How to Pitch the Editor?

how-to-become-a-writer-for-local-newspapersoutlets

Just like any other person, editors, too, have their own likes and dislikes. To put forward a convincing pitch, you should know certain rules that work in all the situations:

  1. Keep it concise and avoid overloading your email or filling your phone call with unwanted information:
  • Headline - title of the story
  • Standfirst - introductory line for an article
  • Summary - brief description of an article
  • Experience - include a few lines about your past work. It reassures editors of your quality and reliability.
  • Avoid using large attachments in the emails, it is better to provide a website link for your resources, rather than adding heavy images.
  1. Don’t stalk, unless your story needs an immediate release. Wait for a week before asking the editor about your pitch.
  2. To build a long-term relationship with your editors (which you should), avoid exaggerating your personality, rather be honest.
  3. Never miss a deadline. Freelance journalists are not just hired for writing, they are also expected to respect the publication deadlines, follow them strictly.
  4. In the beginning, accept what you get, even if you’ve no idea of how to it. As a beginner freelance journalist, an opportunity is more important for you that knowledge. You need to build your portfolio, so accept what comes by. As you progress, you’ll have the advantage to build a strong relationship with the editor and can ask for higher pay.
  5. Never ask your editors for ideas. It is your responsibility, not theirs. You must come up with ideas convincing enough to get published in the newspaper.

Even if you get rejected, go for another publication. Learn from your mistakes and improve your writing. Remember, there’s always a way out.

Mind the Timelines

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Even if you have ground-breaking stuff to share to the editor, it’s of no use when the time has already gone for the day’s edition. Find out the stories’ deadlines to hit the editor’s desk at the right time.

Since receiving an article from your side is not enough, it needs to be proofread by the staff, including missing information or add something extra to it to better verify the facts. It takes time. so, in case your story is urgent, send it immediately and if possible, call the editor to make sure they receive the message.

In case, it doesn’t require an immediate release, you should reach the editor at a quieter time to have a long and fruitful discussion with them. In such cases, email is a better option than a phone call. Make sure you’ve included all your contact details in your email.

On the other hand, there are certain months in the year when editors have a busy schedule and they hardly wish to hear your story. Also, there are times like summer months and year-end holidays, when most of the people are on vacations and other statutory bodies don’t conduct any meetings. It is a lean period for many publications and possibly, the right time for you to pitch your work.

What is an Opinion Piece?

Opinion Piece is a type of letter that you sent to the news editor stating your support or opposition to a particular issue.

Opinion Piece and Letter to the Editor are very strong advocacy tools. The editorial part of any newspaper is widely read by the public and is created under the supervision of elected officials. Through these two ways, you have the opportunity to bring into limelight any topics that have been not covered by the newspaper.

Just like writing a letter, opinion piece needs to be written with the following points kept in mind:

  1. Maintain the word limit. You can find out the article length requirements on the newspaper website or in print. Most of the times, 250 words are the maximum.
  2. Begin with the most important information. Many times, the bottom part of the letter is cut to fit the space available in the newspaper for a particular day. So, make sure to include a strong statement at the beginning of your letter.
  3. Use personal stories and illustrations to justify your point. You can also refer to some other newspaper article, mention its date and title for reference.
  4. Opt to send your article through email. You can easily find the editor’s email address both in a printed and online newspaper.
  5. In the end, in the signature area, include your name, phone numbers and email address along with mailing address, if important. Editors need to verify you and in many cases, they may write or call to confirm your article. As you must have already seen, the newspaper only prints your name and city.

Local and community newspapers are the best way to kickstart your career since they are ready to offer opportunities to newbies. On the other hand, famous newspapers only prefer to work with experienced journalists. There are chances that despite having no experience, you may get an offer to get your article published in the elite newspaper. It happens when your work is extraordinary and you already have a strong media presence.

Comments

Christopher Hundley from Pennsylvania on October 10, 2019:

Great piece. It's also good to establish a regular relationship with reporters and editors. Occasionally taking them out to coffee and touching base can be a good way to facilitate continuous coverage.

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