Newspapers of all sizes are open to publishing freelance articles on various subjects. You can get your article published in a newspaper as long as you have solid grammar skills and can write clearly and objectively about your subject. Your chances improve by having an original viewpoint on your topic and by allowing editors' guidance and revisions.
- Skill level:
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If you haven't been published before, you'll have difficulty breaking into a large newspaper such as USA Today or the New York Times. Instead, start off with a smaller publication, such as a small-city daily newspaper or weekly newspaper, and work your way up. Choose your target, then read several articles to get accustomed with the paper's overall tone and style.
Choose your article topic. Write about a subject familiar to you. Your newspaper article (unlike an a opinion column) must be balanced and objective. That means you must represent both sides of an issue and avoid any personal commentary or opinion. Find a new angle on your topic and check whether your target newspaper already covered this topic recently. Most newspapers have online archives that allow you to search by keyword.
Present your idea to an editor before you finish your article. Check the paper's front-page section or its website for a list of editors. Find the one most suitable for your article. If unsure, contact the metro editor and ask which department is right for your subject. E-mail your story idea. This is better than calling because a compelling, well-composed e-mail shows the editor you can handle the article. Proofread your e-mail carefully before sending.
"Reporting" is gathering the information necessary to write your article. Research any pertinent information, noting that everything you report needs to be attributed. Interview people who can provide knowledge and perspective to personalise the article for the reader. Add colour by including vibrant descriptions of activities, people and locations relating to your topic. Quote at least three people to get a broad spectrum of voices. Use a tape recorder to quote a subject correctly; you must obtain the subject's permission first.
As you write your article, refer to the Associated Press Stylebook, which is available in bookstores and online (for a fee). If the editor gives you a length to target, write to that length. A newspaper likely will reject an article that arrives at half (or twice) the assigned length. Double-check your spelling and have at least a couple of friends review your article for typos before submitting it.
Submit your article digitally by the means the editor instructed. Usually, you must send the article either as an attachment or in the body of an e-mail. If the editor likes what you submitted, she will contact you about possible edits or rewrites before publication. Remain open to changes and revisions. Give the appearance that you take direction well so that the editor feels more comfortable working with you and printing your future articles.
Tips and warnings
- Negotiate a payment with the newspaper before submitting your article. As a first-time freelance, you may submit an article for free to establish yourself as a viable freelancer later. Then, you can start negotiating for a payment.
- After your article is published, be patient. The check can take from weeks to months before you receive payment. You'll already have filled out a 1099 form for the newspaper, which means it will report your income to the IRS. You are responsible for paying taxes on all freelance work, so keep track of the revenue.
- Publications may differ in the policies about the types of "rights" they're buying to your article. Educate yourself on this subject because you can make additional money by resubmitting an article elsewhere—if you haven't already sold all rights to it.
- Some newspapers want a writer to submit photographs with an article, while others prefer to use staff photographers or a freelance photojournalist. If you provide photography, you should get paid more for the package.
- Place only one space between sentences when writing. The two-space format is no longer used.
- Attribute the sources of all of your information to avoid plagiarism—too much attribution is better than too little. Always use quotation marks around quotes or material you cite verbatim, attributing the information to the source you used.
- Attention to detail gains an editor's trust. Make sure names and terms are spelt correctly and all of your facts are verified. Even a single error could doom your future with a publication.
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