Are newspapers still a great source of freelance opportunities?

It has been seven years since my book Freelancing for Newspapers: Writing for an Overlooked Market was published. The world of publishing has changed dramatically since I wrote that book. Last week, I wrote here about my college journalism textbook, published in 1971, and the changes that have occurred since then. Well, the changes keep coming. As I lay awake last night trying to figure out what to write today, I realized it was time to open my own book and take a good look at what might be out of date.

So if you have a copy, open your book to the introduction and follow along. If you don’t have one, I have numerous copies of Freelancing for Newspapers. It is still a helpful resource, and I will happily mail you a copy for $10, including postage. Email me at if you’re interested. Or you can order the book in print or e-book form from your favorite bookseller.

People do still read newspapers, but they don’t always read them on paper. I’m thinking about my brother, an attorney who devours several major papers a day. Since he bought his iPad, he is more likely to read them online than in print. I’ve been known to read the news on my phone. My dad, who is anti-computer, still reads the San Jose Mercury News in print. So you might have a stack of newspapers, or you might just have your e-readers. You will probably find extra stories online that are not in the print versions—and you might find more opportunities for freelance articles online as well.

In the book, I mention two sources of market listings, Writer’s Market and American Directory of Writer’s Guidelines. I rarely use my Writer’s Market, and I never use the other directory. Print directories go out of date as soon as they’re published. Mostly I go directly to the publication’s website. For news about publishing opportunities, I subscribe to the Creative Writers Opportunities List (CRWROPPS, a Yahoo group),, The Practicing Writer, and I get tips from other writers in various forums, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. I also subscribe to the online version of Writer’s Market, but I’m finding its listings too limited; I always end up following the links to the publication anyway. If I’m looking for a particular type of market, I just look it up on Google. Writer’s Digest Publications puts out some great market directories, not just for articles, but for poetry, fiction, and other genres. You might start with these, but to get the latest information, you’ll need to go to the publications’ websites.

Every editor will tell you to study the market before you submit a story or a query. It’s still true, except that now you can do your studying online without seeking out a print copy. Look for areas where your interests might fit their needs, and look for freelance bylines, identified by tags like “Special to the Oregonian” or short bios at the end of stories that identify the writer as a freelancer.

Many newspapers have gone out of business or ceased publishing in print. Most are considerably thinner than they used to be. Fewer pages mean fewer stories. Lots of local papers have been purchased by giant media companies that use fewer local writers. Many reporters and editors lost their jobs in the double whammy of the recession and the increasing shift to Internet media. But there are still opportunities for freelancers, especially in specialty publications. Newspapers for particular hobbies, religions, occupations, interests or disabilities are still being published and using freelance work.

My own situation has changed since Freelancing for Newspapers came out. I’m not writing for newspapers these days. When Freelancing for Newspapers was published, I had just become the baby boomer correspondent for Northwest Senior News. I’m proud that the baby boomer section is still there, but I left that newspaper when my assignments kept shrinking so that I only had 500 words at most to tell my stories. I started writing for Oregon Coast Today, which paid well and gave me a chance to do some great stories. When a new owner took over, however, they decreased their freelance budget to almost nothing, and I was out. I was busy with other writing projects anyway. Since 2007, I have published two more books, Shoes Full of Sand and Childless by Marriage.

Is freelancing for newspapers still a viable thing to do? Or course. But if I were writing that book today, I’d give it a different title to reflect the need to include the many new ways one can publish in our multi-media world.

Next week, we’ll check out chapter 1.

But for now, don’t worry about publishing and all that. Write whatever needs to be written. For example, I’m working on an essay about ice cream. I invite you to write about ice cream, too. Take it in any direction you want. Let me know what you came up with.

Ready? Ice Cream. Now go write.

How do I get my article published?

I received an email request recently from a reader named Ron. He tells me he has been journaling and writing letters to pen pals and to newspapers for years. He has also self-published a book which sold all 500 copies. What follows is an excerpt from that letter, as well as my reply.

I have a small, painless favor to ask for which I’d be very grateful for help with. I want to write a newspaper article on the upcoming 30th anniversary of the passing of a legendary singer who is often over-looked and forgotten. The date is in February but I can easily write the article in no time as I am an expert on the subject. I don’t know anything about freelancing or the business but I want it to be one of those articles that gets picked up by papers all across the country. I don’t know where to begin on how to make that happen. But if you could point me in that direction with step one or step two I’d be forever grateful.

Dear Ron,

I’m going to respond to your letter both here and in my blog because your request is a common one, and many readers would be interested in the answer.

First, congratulations for your life-long love of writing. All those journal entries and letters have no doubt made you comfortable with the written word, and that’s a wonderful thing. Congratulations on selling 500 copies of your book. That’s quite an accomplishment.

However, what you ask is not “a small, painless favor.” What you are asking me to do is to distill the entire contents of my Freelancing for Newspapers book into one email. That’s neither small nor painless, especially right after Christmas when I’m typing in my sleep because my day job (and yes, like most freelance writers with bills to pay, I have one) is playing and singing music at church.

I hate to say it, but it would take a small miracle to get the article you describe published. First, you have a blatant grammatical error in your first paragraph. An editor reading “I must have wrote” would stop reading right there.

Second, journal entries and letters to the editor do not qualify one to write newspaper articles. Neither does a self-published book unless it’s on the same subject that you want to write about.

Third, when you say “I can easily write the article in no time as I am an expert on the subject,” you have totally cut off any chance of being accepted. A good article takes time and effort, and your lack of humility is a real red flag to an editor.

Fourth, when you say you don’t know anything about freelancing but you want your article to get picked up by papers all across the country, you show that you have no clue how that happens.

If you truly want to sell this article to an editor, you must:

1) Research the market and find a suitable newspaper to approach

2) Write a query letter that includes an attention-getting opening, an explanation of why that newspaper’s readers would be interested in your article, a description of why you’re qualified to write it, and some samples of your previous work

3) If you get the assignment, you must research, write and revise until it’s the best article you could possibly write, following whatever guidelines you get from the editor, and hope that it’s published in ONE newspaper.

You might approach some of the syndicated news services listed in Writers Market, but only a few take one-shot submissions, and they won’t assign a piece to a writer with no experience writing articles of the sort they use.

I don’t want to burst your bubble on the day after Christmas. There are all kinds of writing, and it’s good that you’ve done well with letters and with your mom’s obituary. That’s a real gift. I’m impressed with the success of your book. But that doesn’t necessarily qualify you to write a newspaper article. You can learn, you can get experience and clips and move into article-writing, but you have to work your way up.

If you’re still determined to try, talk to a local editor to get a clear picture of what you need to do to write an article they will publish. Send out some queries and see what happens.

Don’t stop writing.

Best of luck,


I welcome your comments and questions.

Does this advance my writing career?

I just finished and sent an article to a local newspaper for which I freelance. Last week, I sent them another one. The editor was short on copy, so she suddenly needed stories NOW, which I meant I had to change my plans for both weeks and put a rush on it. After many hours of research, driving around to do interviews and take pictures, transcribing notes, dealing with photos, and actually writing the things, I look at the list of tasks I had planned to accomplish and wonder if I should have taken the assignments.

I didn’t do anything to sell my books, both the published and the unpublished ones, didn’t  send any of my writing out, and didn’t write anything new except these articles. Yes, these articles are pretty good, I learned about some cool stuff, and I love that people where I live will read them. I appreciate the money and the clips, too. But is this what I should have been doing?

My week would not have been so clogged if my “day job” as a church music minister didn’t also ramp up with a special service, a liturgy meeting and a funeral, but there’s always something calling our attention away from writing, isn’t there?

Did I use my time well? Several friends have died lately, showing me all too clearly that none of us knows how much time we have. So what is better, taking the easy-but-time-consuming assignment or taking a risk on something bigger?

When you’re starting out, you publish wherever you can, paid or not. There’s value to everything we write, but as the years go by, we have to ask ourselves: Is this moving my career forward? Is this taking me toward my goals? Or am I just treading water because the next step scares me?

At a long-ago writers conference, one of the speakers said that every day we should write something and do at least one thing to advance our careers. I think it’s good advice for all of us.

Driving home through the rain after an interview in Lincoln City, OR, I found myself thinking that writing is like making taffy. Sometimes you have to gather, mix, and boil the ingredients, sometimes you have to let the taffy cool, sometimes you have to stretch, pull and shape the taffy, and sometimes you have to cut, wrap, and sell it. Does that make any sense?

What do you think about this?

P.S. Later in the day, as I closed the office for the night, I realized I had been more efficient, more productive and more confident than I had been in ages. Sometimes completing an assignment and knowing that it’s going to be published, even if it’s not a career changer, can put you in the right frame of mind to do other work that is. Just be careful that it doesn’t take all of your time and energy.


>Market Study: Christian Science Monitor

>Ohhh, now I get it.

That tends to be my reaction when I really study a market in depth. For example, I have been e-mailing columns to the Christian Science Monitor’s Home Forum page for years with no success. But did I ever really sit down and read the paper? Nope. Glanced through it at the library, but that clearly wasn’t enough.

I probably would have gone on that way if I hadn’t received an offer for a “professional discount” on a three-month subscription. It was only $13. I decided to go for it.

And you know what? Even though they have some of the best online writers’ guidelines I have ever seen–, I’m learning a lot more about the Christian Science Monitor by reading it.

The CSM comes out every weekday, one compact section filled with national and international news, pictures, opinion pieces, features, and essays. The writers are listed as staff writer, correspondent, contributor or have no ID after their names. We freelancers fall into the last two categories.

Although the CSM is published by the Christian Science Publishing Society, it is not a religious rag promoting their beliefs. Each issue has one Christian Science piece, but the rest is non-religious.

The guidelines are detailed, so I’m not going to repeat them, but here are a few highlights:
* Basic pay is $200 to $250, although some pieces pay much more and some of the shorter items pay a bit less.
* They strongly prefer e-mail submissions over submissions by mail.
* The writing is formal, well-researched, balanced and thoughtful.
* Work by new writers is taken “on spec,” meaning they don’t guarantee they’ll buy it, but if they do assign a piece and you submit it on time, they will pay for it, whether it runs or not.
* Home Forum pieces are personal essays from 300 to 900 words. They also accept short poems, and on Tuesdays they feature work by children.
* They do not accept reprints, simultaneous submissions or telephone queries.

Reading the paper has given me much more insight into what they want. It’s difficult for me to put into words, so let me give you some examples: a Home Forum piece about the writer’s frustration with his car’s GPS system because the voice is telling him things he knows are incorrect; a feature on how resumes have changed since we baby boomers started working; an article about an Afghan woman teaching her countrywomen how to run businesses, and a fascinating back-page feature about African safaris on foot. Imagine being face to face with a lion without the protection of a vehicle?

I could go on and on. These articles are so much more interesting than what I read elsewhere. Publishing here would offer the elegance of a literary magazine with the pay and exposure of an international daily newspaper. If you haven’t considered the Christian Science Monitor as a market for your freelance newspaper articles, at least peruse the guidelines. Much of the paper’s content is published on its website Read and be inspired.