Thursday, 15 November 2012

55. How to sell stories and photographs to newspapers and magazines.

There has never been so much need for journalism... and so little desire to pay for it.

But there is a lot to admire in the Samuel Johnson school: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money."

There are, of course, plenty of blockheads. And to be fair you do need the experience to be a journalist - not a blockhead.

But let's face we are not writing for charity... and even if you are writing for charity, you'd like to get paid, right?

The prospect of actually earning money for what we write is what makes us professional journalists... unlike amateur or citizen journalists.

(Which strictly speaking isn't correct if you are British. We are subjects - but I think the idea of having subject journalists would only confuse matters - so let's stick with citizen.)

So to the point. Can you make money in this game while studying?

The simple answer is: Yes, you can. And should you be doing it? Yes, you should. And will you make a fortune doing it? Er, no.

If you've read these posts from the beginning - read lots of different papers, read the local newspaper, make contacts etc etc - and future ones this is what it is all about.

That is unless you have private means and want to be a journalist as a hobby - then please skip a few posts, there is nothing to see here.

For the rest of you this is what you do.

First off a question: What is the media? This isn't some bullshit philosophical question.

The correct answer is: Information, written/filmed/recorded/photographed and packaged for certain target audiences.

They generally fall into four categories: Geography, socio-economic, consumer or interest.

It is the wonder of our pluralistic media that everyone - or, at least, nearly everyone - is catered for. (Alas Hermit Monthly folded on account of the distribution costs.)

What does all this mean? Simply put having the right information (story) to yourself (exclusively) and packaging it (writing) to the right target (media organisation) means you may - just may - get paid for it (there are never any guarantees).

Note, no one is asking for your opinion (that probably isn't worth anything - at least not yet).

For now the basics:

1. Get a story: They come from all over the place - check the rest of this blog on how to do this.

2. Make sure it has not already been written: Go on the internet and search the mainstream media. Not just the paper you want to sell to but all of them.

3. Write the story: Unless you are already an established freelance you are highly unlikely to be paid on spec for an idea or concept. Otherwise known as "being put on an order".

4. Double check everything: Make sure your story is watertight. Muck it up now and you could be wasting a lot of people's time - not a good thing for them... or you.

5. Get a friend to read it: (Optional) Find someone who is willing to pull your work apart. Listen to their questions. If they can find holes in your work - you can be sure so will a professional news editor.

6. Try to get a package together: If there are photos/words to be had, make sure you've got them.

7. Think where you are going to place it: Decide where this particular story would best fit (this will change from story to story) and, importantly, who will pay.

8. Pitch: Generally speaking a cold call should go to a news/picture desk. If you live in the provinces find out who the area man is, especially if you are planning to make a go of this and continue to produce future stories.

9. Get the timing right: There is little point trying to sell something (unless it is huge and immediate) after news conference.

10. Hope and learn: If you've got a surefire winner you will probably know straight away. Don't get disheartened if it is rejected...

Future posts will go into more detail on some of these. In the meantime if you think you have a story drop me a line: - if I can I'll make suggestions for UK papers.

Good luck.

Haven't got enough of journalism tips? Then "like" my Facebook page for updates and extras...


  1. In essence, the best thing to do is contact

  2. Er no. They can do that. But then they would never get the experience of knowing what it is like to deal with a news desk. Better they write the stories themselves then go through a middleman.