>Study the paper and the guidelines

>I taught my “Freelancing for Newspapers” class at the South Coast Writers Conference in Gold Beach, Oregon last weekend. We were blessed with sunny weather and a wonderful group of writers and presenters.

As one of my class exercises, I passed out newspapers and had teams analyze the freelance possibilities in those papers. It was an interesting experiment. If you remember back to my blog entry about the Christian Science Monitor, you’ll remember it seemed like a pretty good market. Well, the students who had that paper flipped through it and said, “There’s nothing here for us.” Not having seen the guidelines, they had no idea about the many sections open to freelancers. It really is important to look for a paper’s submission guidelines to understand the possibilities. Read the paper AND the guidelines, and you should have a clear picture of whether you can write for them.

There were a lot of questions about terms that I have known for so long that I guess I forget everyone doesn’t know them. So let me clarify for one and all:

* Staff writers are usually identified as such in the byline. Articles with no byline are either staff-written or press releases run without pay.
* If an article says “for” the Tribune or “special to”, it was probably written by a freelancer.
* If the byline doesn’t give you a clue, look for a tag at the end of the article. Also look in the masthead and see if the name is listed among the editors or staff writers. If it’s not, the writer is a freelancer.
* “Contributing editor” and “contributors” listed in a byline or in the masthead are freelancers. They are not paid staff members. The contributing editors may have an agreement to write for every issue. Contributors may write for every issue or just this one.
* Stringers are also regular freelance contributors. It’s an old-fashioned term that comes from the way editors used to measure stories by the inch, using a marked string.
* Associated Press is an organization to which newspapers belong. Most articles are written by staff writers for their own papers and picked up by the Associated Press to offer to other member papers. The articles arrive online each day, and the editors pick out which ones they want. People do freelance for AP, but it’s a hard job to get.
* News services, such as Cox News Service, are syndicates that work like AP, offering a menu of stories to member or subscriber newspapers. You can freelance for them. Check Writer’s Market for a list of some of these, but they do favor employee writers with strong track records.

If you can’t find guidelines in Writer’s Market or on the newspaper’s web site, e-mail or telephone the editor and ask: “Do you take freelance? Can I send you some ideas?”

Feel free to ask questions about this stuff, and remember, wherever you go, grab a newspaper.