How To Get Started Writing With Your Weekly Newspaper

in Getting Started & Getting It Done,How Tos & Samples

community newspaperCommunity 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  5. 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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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Keating May 25, 2012 at 1:39 pm

As a side benefit, you’ll also raise your profile in the local community. It’s made getting business writing assignments a little easier for me – I get a “Oh, I saw your article” every now and then.
Mark Keating recently posted..Renewable jobs growth faster than any other energy sectorMy Profile

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annew June 4, 2012 at 8:46 am

Good point, Mark.

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Eva May 24, 2012 at 1:20 pm

I’m a freelance writer and assistant editor for the weekly Ellicottville Times, which artfully blends local news with the area’s seasonal tourism culture. I started working for another local weekly in the same town a few years ago and recently jumped to this start-up. We’ve been in print since February 2012 and are going like gangbusters. The locals love it and we’re having so much fun producing it.

Just like most weeklies, we’re always looking for good freelance writers. Yes, the pay is on the low side for weeklies, but there is periodic turnover rate so most likely there is room for a freelance writer in a local paper near you.

Anne, you nailed it with your “getting started” advice. That’s how I got started.

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annew May 25, 2012 at 9:11 am

Eva, I’m so glad to hear of a newspaper that started this year… it’s been such a ghastly time for so many papers. Thanks.

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mehrasa November 29, 2010 at 7:11 am

actualy i’ve got lots of ideas to write about.but I live in Iran and apparently there is no opportunity for me to get my essays published!

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annew November 29, 2010 at 10:30 am

Can you do a blog there?

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Bill November 19, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Actually this idea DOES work! I answered an ad on Craigslist back in early September for a features writer to a weekly publication. It turned out to be a group of weeklies published by a small daily in a college town. The weeklies were for surrounding communities that wanted local news. I only do two or three stories a week but I love the gig and I’m building credits and clips while getting paid!

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annew November 20, 2010 at 10:38 am

Bill, thanks for the report – do you want to do a guest post for me on it?

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Bill November 29, 2010 at 1:11 pm

give me the word count and a deadline
Bill recently posted..WelcomeMy Profile

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annew November 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm

My kind of writer!

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JoAnna May 27, 2010 at 2:29 pm

It is very difficult writing for local newspapers these days. Budgets are practically non-existent. I used to write for a pretty major metro paper, but when I contacted the editor I had worked with last year with a few new ideas, she told me they couldn’t afford to pay for freelancers anymore and thanked me for the ideas as she would definitely write them up herself for the publication.
.-= JoAnna´s last blog ..Why You Should Adopt A Special Needs Pet =-.

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Anne May 27, 2010 at 6:13 pm

JoAnna, I’m talking about the tiny weekly papers… many of them are probably broke too, but some are paying something. It’s worth asking imo.

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