So you say you want to become a journalist…The first step you must take involves coming up with an idea you can pitch to a newspaper or magazine.
If you want to write for a newspaper, look for news stories about which the local newspaper might not be aware. Maybe you know a local organization having an event, your neighborhood has had a rash of crime, or a local businessperson recently received an award. These are great news stories to propose.
Once you have a story idea, consider how you will approach it. Will you write in the first person or third? Will you interview experts? How long will it be? Check the publication for which you plan to write and be sure the article you plan to write conforms to their guidelines. These can be found on line or in guides like Writer’s Market.
Find out how to contact the publication. Most prefer an emailed query, but some local newspapers allow phone queries.
For a news story, query the your local newspaper and ask if they are interested in the story and say you would like to write the story. If you have no by lines to your name, suggest that you write it on speculation (without pay until they accept it). Or offer to do it for free so you can obtain that vital first by line. Another approach involves simply writing the story and submitting it.
You can do virtually the same thing with a magazine, however, find an idea that does not involve news. Unless you are writing for a news magazine, magazine are looking for evergreen topics, those that can be run at any time of the year, or articles related to certain themes, like summer, holidays, or issues that concern their readership or their magazine’s special niche.
Once you have a strong and unique idea, you’ll need to craft a great query letter. Then you’re ready to send it out and find out if you have landed your first assignment as a journalist.