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to figure out what to write today, I realized it was time to open my own book and take a good look at what might be out of date.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 sufalick@gmail.com 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 Print directories go out of date as soon as they’re published.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), writingcareer.com, The Practicing Writer, and writing-world.com. 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.

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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,

Sue

I welcome your comments and questions.


Job-seeking at Mediabistro.com and Journalismjobs.com

If you’re looking online for freelance writing opportunities, Mediabistro.com and Journalismjobs.com both offer lots of possibilities.

As with many sites, one must register to read the listings at Mediabistro.com, but it doesn’t cost anything. You will get the occasional e-mail from them, but you might also find some great jobs. Narrowing my search today to freelance work, I got 38 listings. They vary widely. If I were a food writer, I’d jump on the listing for a freelancer for CafeMom. They want a blogger and will pay $40 a post. It isn’t big bucks, but it could be fun, easy and a good way to get clips to find more lucrative work. You could write iPhone apps for UrbanDaddy or parenting blogs for an unnamed site. There are editing and PR gigs there, too. You can also find listings for patch.com, an online newspaper which is seeking writers from New Hampshire this week but has outlets all over the country.

Mediabistro.com lets writers advertise their skills for editors to see. They also offer courses and articles on job-hunting and a bulletin board to chat.

At Journalismjobs.com, some of the listings are a little older, but the offerings are more appealing to me than those at Mediabistro.com. For example, there are freelance listings for a Sacramento Correspondent for the Bureau of National Affairs, freelance reporters for The Houston Chronicle, college sportswriters for College Sportswatch, freelancers for Hamptons Magazine, patch.com reporters in Iowa, California and New York, and more. This site also has news and articles about the journalism business. As with Mediabistro.com, you can post your resume here for employers to see.

These two sites should keep you busy until next week when I’ll be back with more. Have fun.


>Newspapers fall behind

>The daily metropolitan print newspaper is useless for breaking news. It’s time we longtime newsies faced that fact. By the time a paper publishes the results of today’s election, it will be old news for most people. It’s simply impossible to beat the online and broadcast media. For example, I knew yesterday afternoon that Barack Obama’s grandmother had died. My father, who reads the paper every day and watches the news on TV every morning and evening, had no idea. A bigger example: When the attacks occurred on 9/11, I found out on the Internet. Then I turned on the TV for details. By the time the paper came out, every possible nuance had been discussed to death on CNN.

What does this mean for freelance writers, indeed for all newspaper writers? First, ditch that movie fantasy of the hotshot reporter writing the big scoop and becoming famous via the next day’s headlines. Second, expect dailies to depend more and more on their online outlets to get the news out. In order to compete, most papers today have web sites and blogs where they can publish breaking news. Their only challenge is to get readers to look at them instead of turning to Yahoo, Google, AOL or CNN.

However, the news still breaks in print for small towns like the one where I live. We don’t have a local TV station, the Portland stations rarely cover the coast, the few radio news reports offer very little about what’s going on, and the only local online news outlet went under a couple years ago. We truly depend on our local semi-weeklies to find out what’s happening. That and word of mouth. Last weekend, a minister mentioned that he’d been up late dealing with a suicide. Someone at church mentioned a big truck accident on the highway. I will be scouring tomorrow’s News-Times for those stories.

Community newspapers cover the local news, along with features that aren’t big enough for the major media: the woman who wrote a book about fishermen after her son died at sea, the new Mexican restaurant on the corner, the construction of a new college campus, my book-signing next weekend. Freelancers can get into these pages by being present where news happens or producing local features that will interest the readers.

Likewise, freelancers can get into the big dailies by writing for sections that are not as dependent on the news, such as living, opinion, travel, food, business, and the arts. Last Sunday an enterprising freelance writer wrote for the real estate section about the increasing number of single women buying homes in the Portland area. It was a good example of a “trend story.” Women aren’t waiting around in their rentals for Prince Charming to buy them a house anymore. The writer took time to interview home-buyers, realtors, and mortgage brokers to produce a complete and well-written article.

I’ve prattled on long enough this morning, but here’s the point. If you want to write breaking world or national news, forget about newspapers and go online. But other opportunities remain in feature sections, community newspapers, alternative weeklies, and specialized rags. Don’t quit; adapt.