To start the new year, I thought it would be helpful to discuss the question we get most often from our readers: “How can I start writing for DigBoston?” Our answer is simple at base. You get an idea for an article. You tell my colleagues and me about your idea via email. We say “yes” or “no” (or sometimes nothing, in which case feel free to send one follow-up email). If we say “yes,” you write up your article draft. We edit it with you. We publish your finished article. Then we pay you an agreed-upon fee for it.
However, as with most things in life, there’s more to writing for us than that. So allow me to run through our full editorial process for you from “soup to nuts.”
Every good news organization is constantly recruiting new talent, and DigBoston is no exception. Writers send us “pitches”—article ideas—every day. We look at all of them, filter out the marketers trying to sucker us into placing what amount to free ads for their clients, and contact people who we think are proposing something that fits with what we do. Or who are proposing something we haven’t yet done, but might consider doing. Many of the writers that pitch us are experienced journalists. But not all. In fact, some people that pitch us have never written for a newspaper before. And that’s totally fine. We strongly encourage new writers to work with us.
We know it’s scary to pitch a publication for the uninitiated. We understand that no one likes rejection. And we do reject far more pitches than we accept. But that should not deter anyone who is serious about becoming a writer. Because every writer learns at least as much from being rejected as we do from being published. So it’s vital that people who want to get published with DigBoston take the first step and send us pitches. It’s a critical part of every future reporter’s learning process.
Remember, the worst that can happen if you pitch us an idea is that we don’t get back to you. Which generally means we decided that your pitch wasn’t right for us. And we get too many article ideas to reply to every one. However, sometimes, if we think your pitch is pretty decent and just needs some polishing, we’ll contact you and tell you to work on it some more and try again. And sometimes, less frequently, we’ll say what every writer wants to hear: “Good pitch, we’re assigning you to write up your story idea.”
But what makes a good pitch to DigBoston? How does a writer—particular a new and unknown writer—get our attention… and get us to yes? Technically, it’s easy as pie. Send us one article proposal at time in a single email to email@example.com with a short descriptive subject line like “Pitch: Boston Police Attack Square Dance.” In the body of the email, give us a few sentences succinctly explaining your story idea and why it’s “newsworthy”—deserving of coverage. Conclude with a bio line telling us who you are in brief. Then add links to your resume (if you have one) and up to three “clips”—articles you’ve written for other news publications, not blog entries or college papers—(if you have them) that you want to show us to demonstrate your writing skills and experience.
Straightforward enough. Yet figuring out what kind of pitch we might be interested in is a different matter. We’re a general interest newspaper and cover a wide variety of topics in several different formats; so we can’t just say, “Here are the three bullet points that make for an interesting pitch.” Thus the most important advice we can give prospective writers is to read DigBoston cover to cover for several weeks. And go to our website, digboston.com, and read at least a couple dozen recent articles across several of our sections. Then decide if your idea seems like something we would want to publish based on your reading. And make sure that idea is not something that we have covered recently. You’d be amazed how many pitches we get for subjects we literally ran articles about the previous week. Don’t do that. Send us a proposal for something we haven’t covered in a while or ever.
OK, we’ve accepted your pitch and given you an assignment to write an article. If we like your idea enough, we’re willing to work with you to edit the “copy”—text—you give us. Even if it’s “rough”—a bit of a mess. So don’t sweat it if every comma isn’t in place when you get us your first draft. We’ll help you fix it up.
When a writer gets an assignment, we agree on a “deadline”—a due date for you to submit the first draft of your article—in advance. As well as how much you’re going to get paid after we’ve published it. After we’ve agreed on a deadline, it’s then up to you to produce the first draft of your article. If you get stuck while writing that up, you can check in with us for advice. We’re even willing to do a certain amount of basic journalism training in periodic workshops we run for new writers. Particularly writers from working-class backgrounds who never had a chance to take a formal journalism course. But actually writing your draft is where the rubber of journalism hits the road. You either do it at this point, or you don’t do it.
Assuming you “file”—pass in—your first draft by the deadline, the next step for each new submission is to get slotted with one of our top editors. Basically, every article is overseen by either Dig Editor-in-Chief Chris Faraone or by me, the Dig executive editor. Broadly speaking, Chris is in charge of our news and entertainment sections, and I’m in charge of our arts section. However, there’s a lot of crossover, as I also function as the number two news editor. And Chris manages some arts articles.
Once your draft is given to the appropriate editor, editing begins. That editor will give the incipient article its first edit, then make comments. It is up to you to fix whatever you are asked to fix. After that, the first editor will go back and forth with you until your article is ready to be copy edited. At which time it is sent to Dig Managing Editor Mitchell Hansen-Dewar. The copy edit is a specialized edit to make sure that the grammar, punctuation, and spelling in your article are as close to perfect as they can be. After the article is edited, it goes to our designer for layout.
When all the articles for a given weekly issue are laid out, our team will “read the issue on the page”… basically editing the entire “book”—newspaper—one more time. The layout goes off to the printer, and is printed overnight. DigBoston hits the streets the next day.
When the print process is done, we then post all articles to our website. And you get paid a few weeks later. We currently buy First North American Serial Rights and First Web Rights only. You keep all other rights to your work. We want you to be able to make money reselling any article you produce in different forms whenever possible.
And that’s how you can get an article published in DigBoston.
Well, it is the first couple of times, but our regular writers get used to the process quickly. You will too. If you take the leap, pitch us, and we give you an assignment.
Best of luck!
To pitch an article idea to DigBoston editors, follow the instructions above and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that opinion submissions are handled differently—you send a completed 500-700 word draft to the same email address, and you are not paid if we agree to run it.
Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston.
Executive editor and associate publisher, DigBoston. Executive director of Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Former founder and editor/publisher of Open Media Boston. 2018 & 2019 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Political Column Award Winner.