by Shirley Crowder
Recently I was asked, “How did you get your articles published in a newspaper?” I laughed and said, “I read my Facebook (FB) comments.” I knew from the confused look on this man’s face that I should fill in more details. I continued, “I called an FB friend whose comment on one of my Christmas posts was, ‘Call me’ followed by his telephone number … I called!”
This friend, Harry Butler, coordinates writers for “Paper Pulpit” in the Faith section of The Gadsden (Alabama) Times. He told me to expand one of my posts and email it to him. Why limit carols to Christmas? was published in the online and print editions in February 2014. My articles continue being published—when I have sense enough to write and send them!
Let’s look at some things I have learned about writing for newspapers. I hope some of these will spur you on to identify, investigate, and submit articles for publication in newspapers.
Aren’t Newspapers Obsolete?
Not at all! Newspapers today are not the same as they were when I grew up. In those days you had four main sources of news: television, radio, print newspapers, and news magazines. You couldn’t find the news any time of the night or day, you had to wait until the newscast came on, the newspaper was delivered, and for the magazine to hit the stands or your mailbox. Not so, now. You can go online and find news about events, places, and people all over the world, at any time of the night and day.
Don’t limit your scope.
When you think of newspapers, be sure to include the online news sources, not just the daily newspapers. Think print AND online.
- Many denominations have weekly or monthly conference or associational newspapers.
- Communities often have their own small newspapers and are looking for articles on a wide range of topics.
- News websites often need writers.
- Clubs, Organizations, and Associations are looking for articles about the passion or focus of their club, organization, or association.
“I don’t even know where to begin.”
As with any writing project you need to do research. Here are some suggestions on how to get started:
The most important step in writing for newspapers, as it is with any writing, is to investigate newspapers/news sources.
- What newspaper is for and about your city, county, state, etc.?
- Buy or download a copy each day for a week or so and read them cover-to-cover, making note of the type articles in each section on each day of the week that are things you could write about.
- As you’re investigating and getting to know the newspaper, look on their website and get the submission guidelines and procedures. Familiarize yourself with these guidelines and procedures. (NOTE: Many newspapers now have online portals through which articles can be submitted.)
- Does the paper accept articles from freelance writers? If not, don’t discount this newspaper. See the section below, “Other ways to be published in a newspaper.”
- What types of articles will they accept: fiction, non-fiction, real-life accounts, humorous stories, historical accounts, etc.?
- What is the newspaper’s preferred style of writing? Do they prefer articles that are more folksy than formal?
- How many words do they want for articles?
- What topics have they covered recently? What ideas did those give you for articles at different times of the year: summer, start of school, Christmas, etc.?
- What types of people, places, events, and things do they tell about in their newspaper?
- Does the newspaper have a foundational political point of view? If so, does it match yours?
Think about …
You may get an inroad at a newspaper by writing an op-ed piece, a letter to the editor, or a book review.
Now you can begin writing your article, keeping in mind all the things you learned about what types of articles the paper publishes.
- Make certain to follow their submission guidelines. How many words? Is there a specified font size and line spacing?
- I always find it helpful to put whatever I am writing aside for a day or so and go back for a careful edit and proof. Then, proof it again! It is also a good idea to have at least one other person proof your writing before you submit it.
Pitch / Submit
From the submission guidelines, you will know whether you need to send a pitch/inquiry or just submit your article.
If you are to submit a pitch/inquiry, be as concise as possible. Many editors say you should be able to state in one sentence what the article will be about. Remember Sergeant Joe Friday on Dragnet saying, “Just the facts.” The pitch or inquiry should include:
- The headline or article title.
- Some articles have a line that appears just below the heading that describes what the article will be about. You will know from your investigative work if articles similar to yours need to have one.
- Write a paragraph that briefly describes the article.
- Give them a bullet-point listing of your published articles, including the date of publication and the publication name. Do not embellish here.
- Do not send attachments unless specified in the submission guidelines. Only send pictures if they request them.
- Be patient as you wait for a response. Usually, the submission guidelines tell you in what time-frame they will respond to you and how they will respond, via email, snail mail, etc.
- Keep writing and submitting articles while you wait!
- Some newspapers pay for articles and some do not. The submission guidelines will specify this. If you are trying to break into freelance newspaper writing, you may want to write some free articles or articles that don’t pay much to get some articles in your writing portfolio.
- If they accept your pitch/submission, be certain to meet their deadline, and if possible, get it in a little early. Editors will love you!
- If your pitch/submission is rejected, carefully evaluate your article and submit it to another newspaper. Write another article and submit it to the same newspaper.
What idea do you have that would make a good newspaper article?