And a new service matches online editors with content talent
This column appeared Feb. 3, 1999, in the Online Journalism Review. Here’s the version on the OJR site.
Second of two parts. See Part 1.
These may well be the glory days for freelance writing on the Web, with dozens of sites paying rates that compare favorably to print publications. For both veteran journalists and aspiring writers, the Internet has opened up potentially lucrative new markets.
A new online service devoted to just that notion will debut later this month. Content Exchange, created by Editor & Publisher columnist Steve Outing and freelance writer Amy Gahran, will bring together those who create content for online media and those who buy content.
“Content Exchange is in large part about helping freelance writers and other content professionals find paying online venues — Web content sites, e-mail newsletters, corporate intranets, associations, distance learning, etc.,” Outing says by e-mail. “The opportunities for content producers to find paying work online are growing incredibly fast, and we aim to help content professionals take advantage of the situation.”
Wisely, Outing and Gahran define content broadly, aiming the service not just to journalists but also to fiction writers, editors, proofreaders, researchers, designers, artists, cartoonists, photographers, indexers, audio and video specialists, translators, interactive tool developers and others. Searches will be free at first, but eventually the enterprise will charge a fee to search the database. Venues seeking content also will be able to place free listings initially.
The enterprise sounds like a valuable endeavor.
Here are seven Web sites that rely on original content from freelance writers.
Type of publication: General interest magazine
Headquarters: Columbia, Missouri
Description:Impression magazine, an online magazine funded by the University of Missouri School of Journalism, features work from new and established writers and critics. Published every two weeks, the zine runs everything from personal essays and science stories to author interviews, book reviews and short stories, says editor Andy Wang. “More than half of the work is done by freelancers,” he says. Past stories include a look at Woody Allen’s resurgence, a mother’s battle to keep her HIV-positive son off of toxic AIDS drugs, and a comparison of the lives of Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger.
Pay: $50-$500 for columns, and up to 75 cents a word for assigned feature stories.
Contact: Andy Wang
Type of publication: Opinion and culture journal
Headquarters: New York
Description: Feed magazine is one of a handful of zines that is still fighting the good fight: publishing thoughtful, sometimes biting analysis and opinion and slowly building an audience among the digerati. It runs essays, criticism and reported pieces on culture, technology and politics. Says senior editor Sam Lipsyte: “We want smart and irreverent, cautiously optimistic or wildly pessimistic pieces by media-savvy writers. This magazine is online only, so know the Web, but more importantly, know our formats.” He suggests that prospective writers “read Feed, become familiar with our style and world view, post in the Loop and pitch persistently.”
Pay: “Anywhere from 40 cents to a dollar a word, depending on the piece and the writer,” Lipsyte says.
Contact: Sam Lipsyte
Type of publication: Travel section of MSNBC news site
Headquarters: Redmond, Washington
Description: MSNBC’s Travel section relies on travel features with a strong news peg. “I’m usually looking for 800 to 1,200 words, which includes a sidebar on how the reader can repeat the travel experience — how to fly there, where to stay, where to eat, what to avoid like the plague,” says Travel editor and producer Robin Dalmas by e-mail. Recent stories include a new $800 million resort in the Bahamas; skiing in Utah before the 2002 Winter Olympics crowds descend and Fiji’s preparations to greet the millennium (it’s just across the International Dateline).
Says Dalmas: “To me, the perfect freelancer is someone who has written for a newspaper, magazine or online publication that I have actually heard of and can present me with two or three writing clips (either print or online) that prove that this person is an outstanding writer (lively writing style, good flow, facts correct, news peg close to top, etc.). I prefer to receive story pitches by e-mail, but the perfect freelancer never, ever pops me a one-line e-mail that says, ‘Would you like a story on Tonga?’ If a writer isn’t willing to put any research or elbow grease into a story query, I’m not willing to make a leap of faith that the writer is going to put any research or elbow grease into writing the story!
“My advice to freelancers who wish to write for MSNBC’s Travel section? Study travel magazines, newspapers and online news publications so you’re up on the news, then make story pitches accordingly. Study the Travel Industry Association of America’s Web site to be abreast of travel trends. I’m thrilled when a writer sends me a unique, original travel story pitch that spins off the news. I hardly ever get these kinds of queries, yet they are exactly what I’m looking for.”
Note: MSNBC’s Sports, Opinions, Business, Health and Technology sections may also accept freelance.
Pay: $300-$800 for a travel feature, depending on experience; MSNBC does not pay for travel expenses.
Contact: Robin Dalmas
Type of publication: Technology news
Headquarters: San Francisco
Description: Wired News — the Web site, not the magazine — is a must-read for the latest information and commentary on the fast-changing digital landscape. Culture section editor Judy Bryan suggests: “Let me know that you read Wired News, and that you read it thoughtfully. I’d love to hear your thoughts on stories in my section: ‘I noticed you ran a piece about X, so I’m sure you’ll be interested in my story on Y.’ ” Bryan asks prospective writers to send her story pitches along with URLs to past stories written for other tech publications.
Pay: $25-$300, depending on length and the writer’s experience.
Contact: Judy Bryan
Other sections: The Politics section accepts freelance news stories that generally run 650-700 words, says news editor James Glave. He asks writers to relay their areas of special interest, such as crypto policy or First Amendment issues in cyberspace. And he suggests that freelancers point to past stories they’ve written online and study the Politics section to get a feel for it. Pay is 50 cents a word. Contact Glave.
The Business section relies heavily on freelance stories, says business editor Kourosh Karimkhany. Freelancers should make story pitches and follow the Wired tone and voice. Pay starts out “at about 40 cents a word” and may increase “once we gain confidence in the writer’s ability.” Karimkhany says he’s especially interested in hearing pitches about the online porn business. E-mail Karimkhany directly.
Forbes Digital Tool
Type of publication: Finance and technology
Headquarters: New York
Description: While Forbes Digital Tool is a magazine that publishes every other week, the Digital Tool Web site appears weekly. Its coverage is technology-focused with a strong financial component. Stephen Johnson, managing editor for Forbes Digital Media, says, “I’m looking for coverage on large-cap stocks’ earnings, skeptical contrarian pieces, articles on whether there’s a shakeout coming, geeky-type pieces for our readers who want to find out how many data packets you can put on the end of a pin — any compelling story that we haven’t seen in the Wall Street Journal.”
Subjects covered include start-ups, electronic business, personal finance and convergence. Johnson says he has “a reasonable budget” for freelance and will run such pieces “as often as I can.” He warns that typically he sends articles back to the writer for reworking.
Pay: A typical fee is a flat rate of $1,000 for 1,500 words.
Contact: Stephen Johnson
Type of publication: Finance
Headquarters: New York
Description: With some 50 staff reporters and editors, TheStreet.com relies chiefly on its staff for news coverage, but it’s won a wide following for its hard-hitting commentary and analysis that challenges the conventional wisdom. “It’s hard to find experienced freelancers who can make a quote sing and make complex stories understandable and get interview subjects to reveal information without burning them,” says Cory Johnson, West Coast bureau chief for TheStreet.com. But he poses this question to prospective writers: “Do you want to write about the stock market? Are you jazzed about traders? Do you know how bad CNNfn is, or how good CNBC is? Did you ever read ‘Liar’s Poker’?” He suggests studying the site in detail before pitching a story.
Pay: $300-$500 for articles and commentaries that typically run 750 words.
Contact: Cory Johnson
Type of publication: Business and finance
Headquarters: San Francisco
Description: Launched 15 months ago, CBS MarketWatch takes advantage of CBS News’ reporting expertise and the online savvy of Data Broadcasting Corp. “We look for financial journalists who can write stories that make and save people money,” says editor in chief Thom Calandra. “We love company stories with real people talking in them, mainly stockholders rather than analysts.” Most of the site’s content is produced by full-time staff, but Calandra says, “We’re always on the lookout for financial journalists who can write stories that make and save people money.” He has this tip for would-be writers: “We’re a real time news service, so anything that happened a minute ago is fair game.”
Pay: $200-$300 per article, and more for “something especially striking.”
Contact: Thom Calandra