>News bites

>Hey, I got my first royalty check for my book Freelancing for Newspapers, and it’s a big one. Thank you to everyone who has bought the book. I appreciate it. If you haven’t bought it and are curious, you can find it at the usual online and brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Enough for the commercial. Are you sending things out? I got two stories in the e-mail last week. Fingers crossed. I also, gasp, applied for a full-time newspaper job. My family situation makes it important to haul in some regular cash, and this opportunity is too good to pass up. If I get it, will I stop freelancing? No, never, especially when jobs are so rare and so shaky these days. Whether I get it or not, I’m going to keep up the submissions, and I hope you do, too.

The Oregonian just announced another round of cutbacks. Part-timers are history, and full-timers are taking a pay cut. The Portland-based paper has already laid off or early-retired over 100 people. North of us, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer made good on its threat to stop publishing a print newspaper, putting out its last issue on March 17.

What does this mean? Well, the news business is not ending; it’s changing. Keep your eyes open for opportunities, especially online. To that end, there’s a cool website called cyberjournlist.net that has lots of good information about writing for online publications. Check it out.

That’s it for me. Let me know what you’re up to.

>Problem-solving articles touch lives–and they sell

>The front page of this morning’s Living section of The Oregonian brought tears to my eyes. I had been up for only a short time and was expecting the usual collection of TV gossip, cartoons and local features. But the first article I saw addressed itself to not one but two problems that I am struggling with in my life. What those problems are I’m going to keep private, but there’s a lesson in this for writers, especially those who write for newspapers and their online counterparts.

Think about what your readers need and want. What kinds of problems do they have and what solutions can you offer after doing the research for them? They don’t have to be deep, heavy problems. They can be practical things like where to eat in Portland or how to buy a bathing suit that doesn’t make you look fat, or they can address more important problems. Should you take antidepressants? What if your child seems to have a learning disability? How do you take the car keys away from an aging parent who shouldn’t be driving anymore?

Editors and readers love articles that provide information to make people’s lives better. If you find yourself short on ideas, get out a piece of paper and make a list of the problems and challenges that you face in your own life. Then expand it with problems and challenges other people might be dealing with. Perhaps you have solved one or more of these problems, which means you already know most of what you need to write an article about it. Maybe you don’t know the answers yet, but you could find out. Make your list, then get to work.

I’m saving that article from today’s paper. I’m going to the website mentioned and using that information to improve my own life. What a wonderful gift that writer has given me. You can do likewise.

>Coach offers good advice

>Jack Hart, former managing editor and writing coach at the Oregonian, was the guest speaker at our Nye Beach Writers Series Saturday night. He’s the author of A Writer’s Coach: An Editor’s Guide to Words That Work, which came out in hardback in 2006 and paperback in 2007.

The book and his talk were full of commonsense advice on how to make one’s writing clear, correct, and communicative. Done right, the words don’t get in the way of the story. It’s a book most of us can use, whether we’re professional writers or normal people trying to communicate.

A few things Hart said caught my attention. One was that newspapers like the Oregonian actually hire writing coaches to help their reporters improve their writing. That was never offered at the papers where I worked, but what a wonderful thing. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Hart’s reporters won two Pulitzer Prizes and many other impressive awards while he was there.

Hart described two kinds of writing: reports and stories. A report, organized by topics, is meant to convey information. A story, built with scenes, reproduces an experience. Each one has its place in the newspaper, but it’s something to think about when you’re writing. Take a look at the newspapers you read to see the difference.

When I asked Hart how reporters are supposed to dig in and reproduce an experience when papers keep cutting the length of their stories, his answer surprised me. I expected some practical advice on how to write short, but he agrees with me that you really can’t get any depth in a 500-word story and that newspapers are wrong to copy other media with short hits. In order to compete, they need to do something the Internet and broadcasting can’t do. They need to dive into the heart of a story and tell it all.

I asked him how the Oregonian is doing in this era when lots of newspapers are cutting their editorial staffs. He said the paper is down 40 writers, which still leaves 300. That seems like a huge number, but they fill a lot of pages. Do the layoffs make more room for freelancers? Definitely, said Hart, who himself took advantage of an early-retirement option and has two more books underway.

Overall, it was an upbeat, inspiring talk, and Hart sold a lot of books to writers who came from all over Western Oregon to hear him. An open mic followed, and believe me, it was a little nerve-wracking to read my prose in front of such an expert on writing, just as I’m extremely self-conscious writing this report.

Bottom line, no matter how well we write, we can always do it better.

Click here For a good interview of Hart by the Public Relations Society of America.

>My challenge results

>I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I didn’t try it, so I analyzed two daily newspapers for freelance opportunities. Why two? The first one didn’t offer much hope. Here’s what I got:

The Register-Guard, Eugene, OR–medium-sized town and paper:
Sunday paper uses a little staff writing and a lot of wire service copy. Some of those wire stories are freelance but written for the Washington Post, AP or the New York Times. The only real freelance piece was a guest editorial about Iraqi refugees written by someone with experience in the subject. There was also an op-ed by Garrison Keillor, but he’s famous, so does that count? I’m sure the same piece must have been syndicated nationwide. So the Register-Guard is not a very good market for freelancers.

The Oregonian, Portland, OR–This is our big-city daily, which always annoys me because it ignores the coast, where I live. Its world revolves around Portland. However, it does have one freelance correspondent who covers something like three counties. She didn’t have anything in this issue, so no coasties. Here’s where I found freelance:

Opinion: The cover story on study-abroad courses was written by an Oregon State professor. I don’t know whether she got paid or not.
This section also has something called “Short Takes,” opinions written in 35 or fewer clever words, definitely unpaid.
I also found an op-ed piece by a University of Oregon law professor on recent Supreme Court rulings. Probably unpaid.
There was an interesting invitation on the front page of the Opinion section inviting writers to submit resumes and samples and become part of a select group to do a series of pieces. They would not be paid, but I’m going to apply. The exposure and clips would be fabulous.
Parade: This magazine is inserted in lots of Sunday papers. The articles are freelance or syndicated, but this is a tough market to crack. Try it if you dare and remember the stories need to have national interest.
Homes and Rentals: Yeah, I know zzzz, but lead story about condo developments with great views was freelance. The rest was syndicated.
Travel: This section sometimes has a lot of freelance, but this week, it was limited to the second story on page one, an essay about the memories souvenirs hold for the writer. Wish I’d thought of that.
“O”–Life, Arts, Books: One weekly freelance column by the delightful Chelsea Cain
The real opportunities are in book reviews. Four freelancers, two of them regulars, did six reviews in this section. The section also publishes one short freelance poem every Sunday.
Advertorial: These are special sections, sponsored by the advertising department. I can tell you from experience that they might be slightly sleazy but you can make big bucks and do a lot of fun stories, so don’t dismiss them. Once you get on their list, these can bring steady work. This Sunday has two such sections, one a guide to an upcoming home and remodeling show with five features by “special writer” Jan Behrs and two staff-written articles. The other section, “Learn On! A Guide to Higher Ed 2007,” includes five freelance pieces by Stephen Teater.

The Oregonian also publishes a big arts and entertainent section full of freelance reviews and features on Fridays and it has weekly neighborhood sections with lots of freelance for areas around Portland, but that’s not part of this study.

So that’s my report. What did you find?

>Contacts Pay Off

>An offhand comment at the dog-training facility where she worked turned Jennifer Keene into a soon-to-be published author. She was in the process of a divorce, which included splitting custody of their two dogs, Moxxy and Sixxy. Her ex noted that she was always talking about writing a book, so maybe she should write about dogs and divorce. When she mentioned it to her friends at Pup-a-Razzi, Deb Wood, author of 10 books and a weekly columnist on pet issues for the Oregonian, said, “That’s a great idea. Do you really want to write a book? I’ll show you how to do it.”
With that, Wood became Keene’s mentor, helping her put together a proposal to pitch to agents at the 2005 Willamette Writers conference. One of the six agents she met referred her to Kate Epstein, who agreed to represent her book. Epstein helped her perfect the manuscript, shopped it around and got a positive response from TFH Publishing, which specializes in dog books. We Can’t Stay Together for the Dogs: a Dog-Friendly Divorce and Break-Up Guide is due out in March 2008.
Keene, who is still working on her English degree at Portland State, can’t believe her good luck. It’s a hot subject that could bring national attention. Once upon a time she wanted to be an actress, and many people have told her she looks like Drew Barrymore. At the suggestion she could end up on the “Oprah” TV show someday, she sighs. “If I could get a national minute on something, I could die happy.”
The moral of this story? Speak up. You never know who might be listening. Be bold and put your ideas out there. After all, how do you think Deb Wood wound up getting that weekly freelance column in the Oregonian with the cute picture of her and her Papillion pup? She said, Hey Oregonian, I’m a pet expert and you need a pet column. Bingo.