Writing for a living is a challenge in itself but working around the schedules and needs of the rest of the family make some 9 to 5 writing jobs tough to work.
If you are a bit of a writing maverick and prefer to stay out of an office, look into stringing for both local and national publications. Most periodicals that hire freelance writers for ongoing or regular assignments are newspapers.
Community newspapers cannot afford to have a full staff of reporters to cover meetings, events, and breaking news. This opens up space for stringers.
Larger newspapers, like the New York Times, that have a national or international audience use stringers for localized news stories, to cover news that is of national interest but is happening in an area where they do not have a news bureau.
Look for notices or help wanted ads in community or local newspapers asking for writers or reporters on a freelance basis. Alternatively, call up the editor or news editor and ask if you can send in samples of your writing. When sending in samples, offer a variety: a feature articles, a hard-hitting news story, and an interview, for example.
When working as a stringer, you will need to have contacts within your community, so being a part of different groups, or having contacts already in the legislature or police department will help. Not having them, though, should not interfere with your success as a stringer. Once you’ve been assigned a beat, you will be in a position to request interviews, and you will find that movers and shakers will want to talk to you.
Other tips for stringers include:
Network, network, network: go to local events and meet the public relations specialist for different events. Raise your profile and your expertise in your community by attending fundraisers, community events and journalism association meetings.
Keep your word: Understand when you are given information off the record that you can only use it as background to do more research. You cannot quote someone who has spoken off the record. Also, do not promise something you cannot deliver. If someone asks you to promote their business by writing about it, do not say you will, just say that you’ll speak with your editor about the idea.
Gather up phone numbers. Keep track of local citizens of all walks and ages. You never know who will have the answer to the question you are asking, so write down all phone numbers in one place (cell phones die and take their stored numbers with them!). Make a note of who the individual is, where she or he works and any other special background or expertise she or he has.
Pass out your business card. Even if that community newspaper won’t cover the cost, print up your own cards and include every possible way you can be contacted. Make sure ALL your phone numbers and email addresses are on the card so that a prospective informant or interviewee can reach you first with the big story.
The advantages to stringing for a newspaper are numerous. You will make valuable contacts, get a load of published articles for your clip file quickly, and learn how to interview just about anyone AND get the real story. Have fun, learn about reporting and make money while you string for a community, regional, or national newspaper.