Newspapers are always looking for good, engaging content. Though most stories are written by staff writers, an editor will often consider a well-presented story idea from a new freelancer. For the best chance of seeing your words in print, use AP style, polish your pitch until it is flawless and target the right person.
Choose Your News
Editors want stories that engage readers and give them information they can use. If you know about an interesting new business, an event being planned in the community or something unusual going on, do some preliminary research and find out the basic facts: who, what, where, when and why it is happening. Decide which key players you need to interview. Think about your story from an editor's point of view; figure out how the information will add value to a reader's day and what aspects of it are most surprising and entertaining.
Aim Your Pitch
Make sure you target your pitch to the right editor. Many newspapers have assistant editors who are responsible for certain topic areas: community events, health stories, lifestyle stories. By offering this person a good story, you are helping them do a better job; if they like your idea, you have made an ally who will present it to the managing editor or editor-in-chief in a favorable light. You can find these names on the masthead, usually on page 2 of a print publication or the "Contact Us" page of a website.
Format Your Pitch
Use proper business-letter format if you're submitting your pitch on paper: Type your return address (without your name); skip a line and type the editor's name, professional title and address; skip a line and type the date; and then type the salutation, using an appropriate courtesy title (Ms. or Mr.). If you're using email, use "Query" as your subject line, with or without a couple of words about the specific subject, and address the editor using a courtesy title and last name.
Polish Your Pitch
A pitch should be brief, clearly written and to the point. Keep the length to a single page, and avoid flowery language. Your first paragraph should be written as if it is the lead of your story. Include the five W's and pull the reader in. In your second paragraph, briefly explain why you are the right person to write this story and what your approach will be. If you have writing experience, say so; if you have never been published before, emphasize your access to the key people involved in the story and your expertise in the subject matter, and let the quality of your writing speak for itself. End the letter with a confident call to action:
*I look forward to working with you to bring Center City families the story of this important new school program. I can be reached at (include both phone and email contact information.)
Thank you for your time.
Edit meticulously for typos, spelling and grammar. Type your contact information again under your name. If two weeks pass with no response, it's OK to send a brief follow-up email or note to make sure the pitch was received.
Research Your Story
An editor who is interested usually sends an email or calls with a formal assignment, telling you how many words she has room for on the subject, when she needs it completed and possibly suggesting an angle she would like you to take or what information she wants included. Make this assignment letter part of your file of notes on the story. Do background research on the Internet to put the story in larger context: Does your story have a specific place in history or on the national scene? Interview key players; research their backgrounds first, and be prepared with good questions to get the conversation rolling.
Write Your Story
Before you write, read a couple of recent stories that editor has published to get a feel for the tone and style she likes. Take a mental step back and look at your file of notes as if you were looking at the pieces of a puzzle. Decide what goes where to make a logical and appealing picture. Write a strong lead that contains the basic W's and add more information point by point, using the inverted pyramid style: A reader can glean the most important information in a glance but reads on to learn more. Keep your writing clean and articulate, don't overuse adjectives and adverbs, and remember that most newspaper stories are written at about an eighth-grade reading level. Submit your story the day before the editor's due date, and enjoy the experience of your first byline.