Community newspapers are a great way to get started in freelance writing. You know them as the small weekly newspapers that are tossed on driveways or offered for free in high traffic areas. These papers almost always need new writers because they pay almost nothing. Ten to 25-dollars an article is typical.
Which is what makes them an ideal place for new freelance writers to get started building credits. And if you’re a seasoned freelance writer in a new community it’s a quick way to get to know what’s going on in your neighborhood.
I’ve written for and edited community newspapers. As an editor I hired freelancers. Here’s how to get published in one:
- Read the newspaper(s) you’re targeting for a couple of weeks. Notice the regular columns and regular topics. Chances are they will be things like Business, Sports, Real Estate, Entertainment - not so different than the large metro, but with a very local focus.
- Dream up two or three ideas that you will offer the editor. Ideas that are likely to be needed include such things as an interview with a new business owner, the opening of a new shop, signups for Little League and other kids’ sports, volunteer opportunities, etc.
- Call the editor. If you get her, and it’s usually a woman in these slots, be brief. Tell her your name and then tell her you’d like to write a story for her about (your idea or ideas.) If you can take decent digital pictures say so, but it’s not a requirement. Then listen. Chances are you’ll get one assignment. It may be one of your ideas or it may be something else entirely.
- Make sure you understand what she wants. You’ll need to know the approximate number of words, the sources she suggests and the deadline. Find out if she wants you to deliver hard copy or wants you to send it by email. Ask if attachments are okay or if it should be in the body of the email. If you’re not providing photos ask if she wants you to coordinate with the paper’s photographer. It’s okay to ask about pay too – in fact, it’s the professional thing to do.
- Write the article. Since you’re on assignment as a freelance writer from the paper, introduce yourself that way when you’re gathering information. Get it written by the deadline or the day before. Expect editing. Don’t expect a byline on the first few articles.
This first assignment will be a test. Assuming you meet your deadline, word count is close and the article is reasonably well written, you’re likely to get more writing assignments. You can call again with a few more ideas. Editors love writers who generate ideas.
You’ll also get a check for each article that gets published. It may take 30 or more days, but it will come.
If the paper runs a website, your article will probably appear there too, giving you a credit you can link to from your own website – just what a new freelance writer needs.
Have you ever written for a community newspaper? Tell us about it.
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