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to figure out what to write today, I realized it was time to open my own book and take a good look at what might be out of date.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 Print directories go out of date as soon as they’re published.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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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.


Are newspapers still a viable freelance market?

 As the author of Freelancing for Newspapers (Quill Driver, 2007), I am frequently asked if newspapers are still a viable market. About the time my book came out, the economy began to crash and the newspaper business crashed even harder. Thousands of reporters and editors have lost their jobs. Those who are left are saddled with doing more work for the same pay.

 Newspapers were double-slammed by the economy—loss of advertising—and the hyper-growth of the Internet. Why subscribe to the newspaper when you can get your news immediately online, as well as on TV, radio or smartphone?

 In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I spent 25 years working for community newspapers, employment has decreased by 43 percent, more than the national average of 36 percent. This SF Weekly article lays out the sad truth. The figures are similar at papers across the country. More than one major newspaper has ceased publication or stopped publishing a print newspaper, going completely online. Most papers now sport fewer pages and an increased online presence with blogs, articles, videos, and reader input. There’s no question the industry is changing, but what does this mean for freelancers?

 It seems to be a mixed bag. Some papers have stopped using freelance while others are hiring freelancers to do what staff writers and editors used to do. In fact, our local weekly, which never used freelancers in the past, now publishes freelance articles on a regular basis. It’s certainly a more economical option for them, with no guaranteed hours, equipment or benefits to pay for.

 Many of the freelance opportunities in newspapers that I wrote about in my book still exist to a certain extent. You can still sell travel articles, opinion pieces, reviews, features and columns, but papers are buying fewer of them and we are now competing with staff writers who have lost their jobs.

 The types of freelance opportunities available have changed from what they were in the last century. Tonight, I’ve been looking at Online-writing -jobs.com. I was surprised to find some newspapers seeking freelance reporters to cover regular beats such as health, auto accidents, and government meetings. If any of them were local, I would try it because it sounds like easy work for a regular market.

But some of the other opportunities make me nervous. Mancave Daily? There are listings for ghost writers and writers of press releases, blogs and other online content. It looks like we writers of nonfiction need to be willing to use our talents to write anything and everything to make a living. (Writers of fiction and poetry should already know they need a “day job” to pay the bills.)

 Many of the employers listed are corporations, not newspapers. Some may be  ripoffs. Tread carefully, especially if you have never heard of the company before. But you might strike gold here, too.

 In future postings, we will look at other sources of freelance writing opportunities.