Finding Those Hidden Blogging Markets

fthbmI got a call the other day from an editor of a magazine I never knew existed, asking me to give a speech to a whole group of editors of magazines I never knew existed. But this is more a reflection on my ignorance than on these editors or their magazines: Evidently there were enough of them to pull together a convention at a very nice resort in Colorado.

This particular group of editors shepherded the publishing of magazines for fraternities, sororities and other such societies. Turns out, there are quite a few such magazines — which shouldn’t be so surprising, if you think about how many such organizations there are. And they have at least modest budgets. Most have professional editors, who often double as writers in chief, and some can pay — modestly — for freelance articles.

In short, here’s another place where up-and-coming nonfiction writers can get a toe in the water of “being published.” Whether for pay or just for clips that will help get you a paid assignment, such largely undiscovered markets offer far more opportunity for beginners — and are far more numerous — than the handful of Esquires, Mademoiselles and Vanity Fairs offering eye-popping sums for articles. You can bombard these big-bucks markets with queries (make sure to include SASE for the rejection), or you can start your writing career more modestly (there’s that word again) and work your way up, clip by clip. The former approach gets you a lot of practice writing query letters; the latter lets you learn the craft of writing actual articles.

The truth is, what you see on a newsstand — even a rich, sprawling newsstand like those in big-city downtowns or the larger chain bookstores — represents only a slender slice of the publishing world. Despite the explosion of specialty magazines in recent years (another market opportunity — and another column), non-newsstand publications remain an impressive, if largely hidden and untapped, chunk of the communications universe.

Just consider the publications you get in the mail without directly subscribing to them. Maybe you pay for membership to some club, and a magazine is one of the benefits. Possibly a company sends you a magazine to make you feel good about being a customer (and ultimately to keep you a customer). The college or university you attended probably sends you some sort of alumni publication; if you had a varied academic career, you may get several. Organizations you donate money to likely put you on their mailing list, to keep you abreast of the fruits of your generosity (and of future, hoped-for contributions).

The Fryxell household, for example, gets Amoco World magazine from our auto club, a magazine from our insurance company, multiple alumni publications, the Nature Conservancy’s magazine, a magazine from the local public-TV station, the Girl Scouts’ Leader magazine, and enough other nonnewsstand publications to compete, in volume, even with my obsessive buying down at Barnes & Noble. For years we used to get a slick magazine about the Arab world, as glossy as National Geographic — I think it was from Exxon. CompuServe sent me a magazine every month, even though I could go online and read the same stuff. And so on and so on, much to the delight of the nation’s printing companies.

The point is, just as somebody has to print all these publications, somebody else has to write and edit them. And that somebody might as well be you.

Old School Ties

I shouldn’t have been so surprised that fraternal publications added up to a conventionful. After all, I spent five years of my career editing a magazine in a category that’s a close cousin — college and university alumni magazines. Since I know that batch of nonnewsstand periodicals best, let’s start with alumni magazines as a prime example of these undiscovered markets.

It’s easy to miss the breadth and depth of alumni magazines. After all, even the most overeducated or peripatetic alumni are likely to see only a handful — publications from schools they attended. But the colleges and universities everyone else attended have magazines or tabloids, too. So do many of the more elite prep schools.

Taken together, alumni magazines compose a large, yet largely unpublicized publishing phenomenon. As colleges and universities have ratcheted up their fund-raising in recent years, the magazines they publish to promote their cause have likewise grown glossier and more, well, magazine-like. Nationally, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), based in Washington, DC, promotes excellence and improvement in alumni publications, including conferences, workshops and awards. (The alumni magazine I founded at the University of Pittsburgh, I’m still enormously proud to recall, won more CASE awards my last year at the helm than any other alumni magazine in the nation.)

I’ve already cautioned that you won’t get rich writing for alumni magazines or most other nonnewsstand publications — but can you do rich writing for such markets? The money is modest, but what about the creative opportunities?

You may be surprised. Though alumni and other association magazines have their own driving forces that constrain their editors (make the university look like a good place to donate money, for example), their freedom from commercial pressures can, in the hands of an inspired editor, translate into exciting creative possibilities. Here you can write articles that would never translate into cover teasers for Cosmo.

Where else, for example, could I have written a story about the myths and mysteries of mathematics and about the surprising ways math shapes our world? “A Beauty Cold and Austere” was the headline for my Pitt magazine story: “Mathematics is entering a new era, powered by the computer, in which it may change the world around us. But most of us still can’t do fractions.” Try querying Vanity Fair with that one.

Other articles I wrote or edited for Pitt magazine tackled the search for other solar systems, the archeology of old steel mills, a database of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood TV shows, revisionist thinking about environmentalism, and fond memories of Pittsburgh’s old Forbes Field. Except for a few popular-science magazines and a cluster of thumb-sucker policy journals — almost all with circulations less than Pitt magazine’s then-270,000 copies — where else could such thoughtful, deeply researched, often innovatively crafted articles find an audience?

You still need to target your queries for non-newsstand markets, just as you would with commercial magazines. Part of the point of my mathematics story, after all, was to shine the spotlight on the university’s otherwise-underpublicized (for obvious reasons) math department. We published plenty of stories about high-achieving Pitt alumni — because they were Pitt grads, and hence proof that the university was doing something right.

Every non-newsstand magazine has some sort of agenda, however subtle. Figure it out — just as you’d scope out a sale to GQ or Redbook — and you can unlock a new market for your nonfiction.

Home Is Where the Hunt Starts

Finding these markets also starts much like the best place to begin crafting commercial queries — at home. Look at what association, membership and alumni magazines you get in the mail. You already have a connection or an interest in this subject matter, something that can spark article ideas.

To again use alumni magazines as an example, think of other prominent alumni (besides yourself, of course) suitable for profiling. If you live far from your alma mater, your query on another distant grad might be the only way the magazine can get such a story — since such publications rarely have fat travel budgets. On the other hand, if you still live close to your old school, you can capitalize on this tie: The magazines of large universities, in particular, are almost like city or regional magazines for their home area. The University of Minnesota’s excellent magazine, for example, chronicles and captures the life of the Twin Cities almost like the local city magazines.

If you care enough about a cause to donate to a charity, maybe you know (or could painlessly learn) enough about that cause to write for the charity’s magazine. If you’ve somehow wound up on some corporation’s mailing list for its slick image-boosting periodical, you might also have some insight into a subject that others like you would want to read. Whatever your hobby or passion, why not write about it for the magazine or newsletter published for members of your hobbyist club? If you’re a Lion or an Elk or some other species of fraternal order, you’re more likely to be able to address an audience of your fellow Lions or Elks.

Beyond the nonnewsstand magazines you already receive, next branch out into those published close to home. If you can connect with an editor by phone or in person, you’re more likely to get your foot in the door. Your local library has hefty reference books that list periodicals of all sorts not only by subject but by geography; you’ll discover magazines aplenty in your own backyard that you never knew about or thought to query, because you can’t buy them on the newsstand.

Rewards and Readers

Pay for such markets can vary widely, from zero to competitive with commercial markets. Magazines like those for motor clubs or insurance companies pay much like newsstand publications. Many smaller such magazines have little or no budget for freelancers, however, depending instead on overworked editor-writers, organization administrators and volunteer submissions from members.

But if you’re still at the stage in your writing career where getting published is more important than being paid a lot, volunteering your writing may be a worthwhile investment. Particularly if it’s a worthy cause or an institution you care about — you can do some good with your talents while also honing your skills. Nonnewsstand magazines may help you break out of the catch-22 of “you can’t get clips without getting published, but you can’t get published without clips” — and the editors you send those clips to don’t have to know you wrote them as a labor of love. Making yourself known and proving yourself at nonnewsstand magazines may also get you the connections that can land you a job at such a magazine.

Increasingly, too, thanks to desktop-publishing technology and graphic sophistication, these magazines look every bit as good as their newsstand cousins. So your work may get handsome display, which means impressive-looking samples for you.

The small budgets of non-newsstand magazines don’t necessarily mean small audiences. Many association, alumni and club magazines have circulations in the tens or hundreds of thousands. You’ll enjoy a readership often several times bigger than that of commercial, newsstand magazines. When I edited Pitt magazine, for example, I liked to point out that we had more readers — even more readers just within the city of Pittsburgh — than Pittsburgh magazine.

In short, so what if your mom can’t pick up the magazine on the newsstand and see your byline? These magazines offer a huge, mostly untapped opportunity to do creative work for an audience that, by and large, cares passionately about the subject matter.

And that sounds like a pretty good description of why most of us got into writing in the first place.

Writing Experimental Fiction Is Tricky

wefitSubmitting to editors who claim to want “experimental” fiction can be tricky. One editor may simply be looking for stories that are “fresh and creative; something I haven’t seen before.” Another may mean fiction “way outside the box” and “on the cutting edge”; stories written without restraint and without regard to writing conventions.

Ronald Sukenick, editor of Black Ice, noted for its “edgy” fiction, says “experimental fiction breaks away from the very narrow literary formula commercial writing usually imposes. When you break away from that, you open your fiction to a spectrum of possible styles and forms and release yourself of the taboos that hold those forms in place.”

Sukenick suggests to his writing students at the University of Colorado that they impose new forms as a way of breaking away from the familiar. “Write a story without using the letter e, for instance. That immediately alters the way you write and suggests new possibilities. Or write without any forethought — free associate. I think fiction writing is a way of thinking, and anything you do to encourage new thinking through language is the way to go.”

Richard Burgin, editor of Boulevard says, “Any writing that’s original is experimental. And originality has little to do with a writer trying to make each line or sentence odd or bizarre or eccentric merely for the sake of being different. `Original’ writers need to always recognize their own emotional real estate, a territory that’s uniquely their own and about which they’re uniquely qualified to write by virtue of their experience. Writers must also have the self-knowledge to understand their strengths and limitations as writers and the good sense to focus on what they do best.”

Chicago Review’s managing editor Andy Rathmann sees experimental writing as “challenging the conventions of `realistic’ fiction without lapsing into a kind of self-indulgence, or [being] writing that’s merely clever or transgressive.” To challenge those conventions, Rathmann advises writers to “read not only contemporary writing but very old writing. To read and be well-informed about writing conventions is the first step to challenging them.”

John Roberts, one of the three fiction editors at Chicago Review, says, “People have been playing with the story form for so long. You can go back 30 or 40 years and find writing that’s more off-the-wall than anything published now; William S. Burroughs for instance. Occasionally we’ll see a piece of fiction that”s experimental purely on the surface. The writer will purposely leave out punctuation or slap some sort of cutting-edge motif on a story they realize wouldn’t otherwise be interesting. Or they throw in a second-person narrative or something that isn’t organic to the story. These things don’t enhance the story.

“It’s not that experimental fiction can’t be successfully done,” continues Roberts. “Tricia Wang’s `This Dead Desert,’ published in our June issue, mixes elements of poetry with prose to give shape to the piece. She dictates where the line breaks occur to indicate thought processes and lets you know when the mind of the author skips to something else. It isn’t just to jazz up the story.”

Jeff Mock, assistant editor of the Gettysburg Review, says, “Experimental work we’ve published takes any of the elements of fiction and accentuates it in some way. I think of playing with structure, repetition — repeating an event with slight variations — and running the narrative backwards so the story begins at the end and then progresses to the beginning. Anything out of the ordinary will catch our attention.”

Jack Smith, one of two senior editors at The Green Hills Literary Lantern, says experimental techniques must be effective. “We’re not into things that are experimental simply to shock. We published a story by Doug Rennie called `Tell Me You Ain’t Mad’ that’s definitely cutting edge. Rennie uses the second-person point of view but he handles it well — it works.”

But even in Lantern’s traditional pieces, Smith says, “we’re not into stories tied up in neat packages by the author. The thing that really turns us on is a story that has several levels and operates more by indirection as long as it’s accessible to readers — one that uses figurative language and irony.”

Lawrence Coates, editor of Quarterly West, prefers the term extreme fiction to experimental. “It’s fiction that pushes the limits of what we expect fiction to be. Fiction that pushes against either the conventions of realism or the standards of plot is trying to do something new.”

To write extreme fiction, Coates suggests John Barth’s method of rewriting exhausted plots with ironic intent. “I wouldn’t say you should do something avant-garde, making a complete break with tradition. Rather, learn to use tradition ironically. Look at any standard text on how to write fiction and break or bend those rules.”

WebZine Writing: Still A Possibility?

wzwWeb zines — that is, magazines posted on the World Wide Web and accessed via your computer, modem and Web browser — have matured in the past year, becoming fast, alert and ad-heavy. And an opportunity for freelance writers.

Many print magazines publish Web versions and hire freelancers to write Web-only articles. Content providers like Microsoft Network and America Online sub-contract with entrepreneurs to put together online-only publications that require a lot of new writing. And some recent start-ups, backed by excited venture capitalists, are electronic magazines that appear only on the Web.

Web zines want up-to-date reporting (lead time is typically a week or two), reviews, personal opinions and arguments on just about every subject covered in print. Their audiences tend to be upscale, educated, curious and impatient — 20 minutes is a long time for reader to spend with a Web zine.

You must write tighter for Web zines than you do for print publications because each chunk of your article appears in a rectangle about the size of a 4×6 index card, with text made up of light flickering through a glass.

The poor resolution and tight space mean people don’t like to read any more than they have to onscreen. When you create a paragraph that works well on paper, you’ll probably have to cut it in half for it to work on the Web.

You’ll need to write in shorter chunks, too, and use more subheads. Electronic magazines often offer a miniature table of contents up front, so readers can click a subject and go right to it, skipping your careful preparation and exposition. Even though you’re still telling a story, you must plan for people who skip to the middle.

In a nutshell, Web zine editors want articles that offer more information in less space. Here are several ways to achieve that:

Offer links. Provide readers with links to other Web sites. For instance, your story on phone rates might offer a link to the Federal Communication Commission site. An article on pets could provide links to some of the hundreds of locations with information about the care and feeding of cats, dogs and aardvarks. Links are content: They add up-to-the-moment value to your piece. (But only if they work — test links before you include them.)

Live chats. Bring in an expert on your topic to exchange views with readers. Offer to host a chat, where everyone gets to type at once. Or try a forum, where an expert types at length, and readers submit questions that you review offline, then pass along to the expert for comment. Consider your article and ask, “What will this audience want to ask about, or vent about, after reading what I write?” Then find an expert in that field — or become one yourself.

Give demos. Many manufacturers create interactive demonstrations of their products. Get permission to post one of these tours, or link directly to a corporate Web site. For instance, you might supplement an article on business information with links to demos of database software.

Offer sound and video. If you interview someone, post audio outtakes for visitors who want to hear what your sources sound like. For readers who like your movie review, offer to show the short “teaser” video clips offered by the movie companies.

Collect art. You may never have had to illustrate your articles before, but now many Web editors prefer writers who collect electronic art, get the owner’s permission, and pass those images along to be posted on the Web site. Many companies make such graphics available on request. So now, to brighten up an article on a museum, you can supply images of its collection.

Even with all the gee-whiz effects, writing for Web zines is still writing. You just have to do it in a way that suits the medium. You must adapt your writing to communicate despite the surrounding din, flicker and tempting distractions.

Visit any Web zine you’re thinking of writing for and study it just as you would read through back issues of a print magazine before submitting. Find out what electronic extras the editors like to offer visitors. Analyze the style carefully: Often it’s more personal than you’d risk in print. Learn how the writers and editors persuade readers to respond by e-mail, generating follow-up discussion.

You can probably locate a Web zine on your favorite subject by using the search mechanism offered by your Web browser, or one of the popular search engines like Yahoo, Excite, Lycos and AltaVista. Here are a few Web zines we like, including the one we edit.

5 Hot Web Zines

Feed delivers amusing, offbeat perspectives on important and not-so-important topics, from high-tech education to sanitation fears. The editors set up highbrow debates about major issues and support extended e-mail discussions on topics that were first described in articles. Feed fosters a lively, talkative community.

Departments open to freelancers include Feedline (opinions and reviews); Feature (full-length reports); Dialog (staged debates between invited guests); Filter (commentary) and Document (a document that readers are invited to annotate); and Community (the Feedbag, in which readers, editors and contributors discuss current issues).

Tips: The best way to write for Feed is to begin participating in Feedbag discussions. TERMS: Pay varies and is made on acceptance. Buys exclusive North America electronic rights and various other rights. SUBMISSIONS: E-mail 300- to 500-word queries with a list of previously published work to Sam Lipsyte at lipsyte@feedmag.com. No unsolicited submissions; responds only if interested. Web site http://www.feedmag.com.

Slate, the most famous of Microsoft’s electronic publications, began as an independent under editor Michael Kinsley, but has moved into relationships with Microsoft Network, MSNBC, and the Startup Page for Internet Explorer. Those liaisons have helped increase readership of a e-zine that resembles in tone The New Republic, which Kinsley once edited. With a nice sense of conflict honed during his years on TV opinion shows, Kinsley sets up debates between experts, encourages readers to attack and counterattack, and provides a lot of political sniping that comes from insiders on both sides of the aisle. His staffers review print magazines the moment they appear; his contributing editors handle movies, sports, TV commercials and shows, books, and fashion.

Freelancers check in with humor, diaries, poetry and oddball travel. With 20 contributing editors, Slate is a major publication; it draws many writers from the print world and has established a high standard for the upscale e-zines.

Departments include The Week/The Spin; Summary Judgment (the reviewers reviewed); In Other Magazines; Dispatches and Dialogues (staged debates between invited combatants); the Gist (full-dress reporting); Varnish Remover (TV commercials); Diary; and Doodlenium. There are also major articles, and sections devoted to books, movies, TV, sports and poetry. TERMS: Pays at least $1 per word, on acceptance. Buys perpetual nonexclusive and other rights. SUBMISSIONS: Query via regular mail, 1 Microsoft Way, Redmond, Washington 98052, tel. 206/882-8080, Web site http://www.slate.com.

Thunderbeam is for parents who want the skinny on software for their kids and for themselves. Timely articles, reviews and software demos about learning, education and home-computer software are aimed at parents of children up to age 12.

Features editor Lisa Price suggests freelancers break in the following departments: Behind the Scenes, which looks at how a new, innovative or popular software title was developed; Computers & Learning, which provides articles about the way children learn with computers; and Electronic Home, which concentrates on family issues revolving around the computer, such as parental controls.

Tips: Price especially wants articles that have a new twist; “not just `5 Great Spelling Programs.’ Also, the e-zine will change format go keep checking it.” TERMS: Pay varies and is made on acceptance. Buys all rights. SUBMISSIONS: Query with clips. E-queries okay. Responds in a few weeks. Suite 540, 475 17th St., Denver 80202, tel. 303/296-1599, e-mail features@thunder beam.com, Web site http://www.thunderbeam.com.

Women’s Wire, started in 1992 with $7 million in venture capital, targets well-educated, well-to-do women. With 500,000 visitors a month, this site earned $1 million in ads in 1996, according to Jupiter Communications. With 35 full-time staffers, 22 regular contributors and many freelancers, Women’s Wire has become stable enough to expand. CEO Marleen McDaniel says, “We’re doing as much as we can to extend our content offerings because we need to add more inventory. Our goal is to provide a great place for women from around the world to connect with one another. Women’s Wire aims to inform, provoke and amuse — we reserve the right to talk about things both serious and silly.”

Departments open to freelancers include News of the Day (headlines, gossip, opinions, newsmakers), Style (fashion trends), Work (cool careers, entrepreneurship, top companies for families), Body (nutrition, fitness, sports, sex), Buzz (profiles, books, magazines, gossip, movies), Cash (investing, tax planning, cash flow), Shop (shopping tips) and Beatrice’s Web Guide (good stuff on the Web).

Tips: Parent company Wire Networks, Inc., expects to launch “several additional sites” in the next year. Senior editor Katharine Mieszkowski wants “people who can write cheeky, punchy, fast — with attitude. I’d also like to see writers who can think in terms of multimedia clips, sounds, video and links. The best place to break in is the Work section.” TERMS: Pay averages $300 for 500-700 word articles. Pays on acceptance for various rights. SUBMISSIONS: Query with Web clips, if possible. Suite 150, 1820 Gateway Dr., San Mateo, California 94404, tel. 415/378-6500, Web site http://www.womenswire.com.

Urban Desires aims for young, citified, but not terribly techno-hip readers, with tough-talking gossip, out-of-focus pictures of fire escapes and lyrical memoirs of foreign cities. Worldly and fun, this e-zine resembles its print ancestors in its attention to books, music, travel and sex; the focus is on voice, not technology.

Departments include Written Word (eclectic, mostly first-person essays on modern culture), Art (cool artists and showings), Technology & Toys (reviews and commentaries of the latest releases and topical issues), Sex/Health (fun, pleasure and responsibility), Music (reviews and commentaries), Performance (celebrity interviews and reviews), Food (commentaries), Style (hip and not-yet-hip fashion reviews and comments), and Travel (offbeat places). TERMS: Pay and rights purchased vary for pieces averaging 3,000 words. SUBMISSIONS: Query or send complete manuscript to particular section. 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York City 10020, tel. 212/522-8772, e-mail roz@desires.com, Web site http://www.desires.com.

Do Bloggers Still Actually Write For Newspapers?

Changes in the newspaper industry have opened opportunities for writers who can understand the market. Here’s what you must know to break into today’s newspapers.

The daily and weekly newspapers published in 1998 are significantly different from the straight news and plain gray pages of past decades. (There’s even color on the front page of The New York Times!) One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is newspapers’ need for freelancers to help fill their pages.

But not just any freelancers. To get your byline thrown onto porches all around town, you must understand how newspapers have changed in the 1990s and how those changes affect the way you must write for them.

What’s New in Newspapers

wninpThe demand for freelancers at papers like the Chicago Tribune has grown, says Tribune editor Linda Bergstrom. “It’s a good time for people to be looking into newspapers.”

That’s because many newspapers aren’t adding staff, but are branching into new markets. Besides its daily paper, the Chicago Tribune publishes Exito, a newspaper written in Spanish, and two publications for health professionals, Nursing News and Allied Health. It also hires writers for its World Wide Web site (http://www.Chicago.Tiibune.com).

Along with the new markets have come changes in the readership. America is changing. Fewer babies are being born, the senior population is growing, and cultural differences are more pronounced. As a result, people read different literature. We don’t even watch the same television programs anymore–compared to, for example, the ’60s, when the entire country was captivated by such shows as Andy Griffith, I Love Lucy and The Ed Sullivan Show. “For example, I’ve never seen an episode of Friends,” says Chicago Tribune writing coach Mary Knoblauch.

Jean Gaddy Wilson, executive director of New Directions for News (an organization that studies journalism trends for businesses), says language is also a barrier. According to Wilson, one out of eight people living in the US was born in another country. “Eighty-seven different languages are spoken in the Los Angeles consolidated school district, and in New York, people speak 119 different languages,” says Wilson. “I never say minorities anymore, because by 2032, the so-called minorities will be a majority.”

This increasing diversity makes it harder to find commonalties when you want to draw an analogy in your writing. “News writers in the ’90s must understand what’s unique to their own experience,” Knoblauch says, “and be aware of their own bias and specialized knowledge.”

Before putting fingers to keyboard, think how your writing could appeal to readers who are 20 or 30 years older or younger than yourself. How would someone of a different marital status, culture or race relate to what you’re saying?.

“We have to be more sensitive to different cultures and viewpoints,” says Jean Rudolph, a features editor at my suburban Chicago daily (the Daily Herald). “And we have to accurately reflect that by writing stories about what’s going on with those groups.”

Jo Hansen, a bureau chief for 12 Pioneer Press community weeklies in suburban, Chicago, adds, “If you have, for example, a growing Asian population in your town, you should be writing more about the Asian community.”

Cultural differences aren’t the only differences between this new audience and the audience of 15 years ago. Today’s readers have less leisure time than readers did 15 years ago but more competition for that time.

“They have less intense attention spans. They’re very easily distracted,” says Knoblauch. “(You can’t) give the reader an opportunity to walk away. If they have any excuse to stop reading, they will. If something in your story confuses your readers, you may throw them right out of the story or off the paper.”

Rudolph agrees. ‘We have to be compelling. We have to give them a reason to read us. And if we don’t do that, they’re going to set us down.”

Today’s consumers usually don’t turn to newspapers as their primary news source, so papers must redefine their roles.

In the past, they often reported hard news facts only–”Tuesday morning a fire broke out in the English Channel tunnel.” Today’s papers tend to relate the story behind the story. They give more explanation and detail. They might, for example, highlight some aspect of the fire or take a slightly more personal slant:

Truck drivers trapped by fire on a freight train

in the English Channel tunnel said Tuesday

they thought they were going to die and

sprawled out flat on the club car floor to

avoid the black smoke that came rushing in.

As the form of the newspaper article changes, so does the method of delivering that article to editors and readers. Tribune editors no longer see double-spaced, stapled manuscripts with one-inch margins. Instead, text travels via modem. Specific coding routes stories directly to the assigning editor.

Wilson predicts a convergence of media. She also says that writers will need to be experts in photography and video production. “In today’s world, if you’re going to do much of anything, you had better be able to do both images and writing.”

She urges writers to surf the Internet. “It’s a perfect time for freelancers to go in, examine the animal, and come up with enterprising ways to be part of it.”

Writing for the New Newspaper

Those fundamental changes dramatically affect what–and how–you write. Very rarely do freelancers cover front-page stories–only if they have particular knowledge, expertise or access to specific information.

And most papers aren’t looking for personal essays or columnists. “It’s probably an area that’s cutting back rather than opening up,” says Bergstrom.

Freelance articles that do sell are those that fill gaps between what readers want and what newspaper staffers have time to do.

For example, although I’m a registered dietitian with a masters of science degree in exercise physiology, I’ve never sold a nutrition or exercise piece to the Tribune. Why? Because the Tribune has experienced health writers on staff.

On the other hand, neither the Tribune nor the Daily Herald has enough full-time critics to cover every movie, concert or play they would like to. So opportunities exist for freelancers with critical expertise.

Newspapers want community news and feature stories from writers who live there.

“If you are tapped into your community and can write about its schools, its neighborhoods, its people, then you’re going to be very valuable,” says Bergstrom.

If you’ve got that community connection, you’ll want to brush up on the basic tenets of journalism before sending in your articles.

First, stories must have news value–that is, relevance, proximity, novelty and timeliness. For example, a story about the Peoria High School Marching Band would have limited appeal to Manhattan readers … unless the drum major packed an Uzi.

When I suggested an article on volunteer basketball coaches, Bergstrom didn’t nibble. But she did buy a story about local students who formed a Jane Austen Club. They were the first middle-school students to attend the national convention for the Jane Austen Society of North America. At about the same time, the Austen-based movies Clueless and Emma were released.

Besides news value, editors demand basic professionalism: You must express your ideas clearly. You must be dependable and trustworthy. You must get your facts straight.

Add an Associated Press stylebook and a thorough grammar reference to your library. Morton S. Freeman’s The Wordwatcher’s Guide to Good Writing & Grammar (Writer’s Digest Books) is an excellent resource. Rudolph says, “We have so many people calling and asking `What can I write?’ and `How can I write it? We’re very busy, and we don’t have time to coach or teach writers. We need people who know what they’re doing.”

If you remember the inverted pyramid as the basic structure of newspaper writing, you’re going to have to think again. Word processing and desktop pagination have made the inverted pyramid virtually obsolete. (The inverted pyramid style puts the most important facts first, which allowed editors to trim stories from the bottom.)

Hansen says the Pioneer Press newspapers “sometimes” use the inverted pyramid. And Rudolph says the inverted pyramid “still has its place–probably more in spot news events.”

But Knoblauch strongly opposes it. “It’s gone. Forever and ever. Everywhere in any newspaper.”

Knoblauch says she more often cuts the front of stories. “People do all these interminable scene-setting leads before they get to the point.”

Without the pyramid, Knoblauch suggests following Lewis Carroll’s advice: “Begin at the beginning … and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Knoblauch says, “It’s amazing how many people can’t construct a story. They double back and repeat themselves. They get very verbose and off the truck. They throw in everything they learned about the topic, instead of what a reader needs to know and the central idea.” KnoblAuch advises writers, to imitate 20-second promotional ads for shows like 60 Minutes or 20/20.

“You have to figure out ways to grab readers, sink your teeth into their jugulars,” she says, “and not let go until you’re done.”

Copyright Issues For Good Writers

crifgwNewspapers and magazines are profoundly interested in publishing online, and as media companies get larger, the individual publication is apt to be part of a chain. For now, publishers generate little money from online operations but are investing heavily in the new medium with an eye toward the future.

“The struggle going on between publishers and freelancers is an understandable struggle,” Carlinsky said.”New markets have opened up, and the issue is, who controls the content? It’s not strictly because of electronic publishing, but that was a catalyst.”

For decades, publishers displayed little interest in freelance copyrights because they lacked value.

“Oh, there were reprints, and things like that but that was like lightning striking. Now the system sees content and its reuse has value and the promise of more value,” Carlinsky said.

Publishers may not be making money off Web pages, but they are licensing material to online data-bases such as Nexus, he said, comparing the situation in periodicals to what happened in film and TV, where few movies or programs make money initially but many become profitable in secondary markets: home video, foreign distribution and syndication.

For the stakes emerging, Tribune Co. and others are attempting to address up front what will be done with content, said Dale M. Cohen, a senior counsel for the Chicago-based media company. The Tasini decision clarified certain things, but has not changed how Tribune Co. deals with freelancers, he said. All freelancers sign contracts, but terms may be different.

He doesn’t think the relationship between publishers and freelancers is in a state of flux, and neither does Lee Wilson, a Nashville, Tenn.-based intellectual property attorney who recently wrote The Copyright Guide: A Friendly Handbook for Protecting and Profiting from Copyrights, published by Allworth Press.

Historically, as new technology emerged, Congress acted to change copyright law to address new classes of intellectual property to be protected, Wilson said. But that may be unnecessary because of changes made 20 years ago in the Copyright Act of 1976, Tide 17 of the U.S. Code, which went into effect in 1978. Essentially, the law provides copyright protection in any new technology, even though it may not be expressly identified, she said.

“That doesn’t mean that all the mechanisms for how the protection works have been thrashed out. That’s where we are now. We’re trying to stuff new media into the old law and it doesn’t fit,” she said.

Even though new media and existing law may seem like a bad fit,Wilson said a new law may not be needed because the courts have yet to sort out how the existing law applies.

“I think of copyright law like a traffic law. Until it is understood, it may not work very well,” she said. Consequently, some publishers might request all rights to a freelancer’s copy, sometimes without additional compensation. Others are negotiating most, if not all, aspects of a contract.

Newspapers, which tend to use fewer free-lancers than magazines, have tended to be much more demanding, Carlinsky said.

“Some have gone in wholeheartedly, making no accommodations, saying its a buyer’s market. That is astoundingly short-sighted and a mismanagement of the situation,” he said.

Compensation is likely to work itself out according to “how much the traffic will bear. As long as the spirit of fairness prevails, this is not nearly as hard as other issues,” Wilson said.

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Several organizations have sprung up in the last few years to help sort out copyright issues and to help publishers to compensate writers for use of their work after initial publication.

The Authors Registry Inc. is a not-for-profit licensing and payment clearinghouse that distributes money to authors for electronic, photocopy and other reuses of their work. Publishers pay the Registry and delegate how much to disburse to writers and how much to apply to administrative costs, said Terry King, operations manager for the 2-year-old group.

The Registry is similar to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or ASCAP, which oversees licensing and royalties in the music business. Since 1996 the Registry has paid more than $300,000 to writers.

The organization has contracts with Weight Watchers, Harper’s, the Nation, Publishers Weekly, Travel & Leisure, Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Yankee, and Technology Review, among others.

More than 100 literary agents and 50,000 writers also belong. Most writers participate through membership in about three dozen cooperating organizations’, such as the American Book Producers Association, American Society of journalists and Authors, Canadian Science Writers Association, National Writers Union, PEN American Center and the Association of Independents in Radio.

In April, other media groups banded together to develop a system for writers, photographers and artists. The American Society of Media Photographers, Graphic Artists Guild, National Writers Union and Copyright Clearance Center have formed an alliance to develop a copyright licensing system to manage permissions, licensing and royalty collection.