You're a writer with a knack for finding interesting people and happenings in Halifax. Our newspaper publishes loads of articles by freelancers every week. This could be a match made in heaven. Here are 11 tips to help you make a good first impression.
1) Pitch a story, not a topic.
The more specific you can get, the better. "This person is affected by this law in this way,” rather than “I'd like to write about immigration.” And it should go without saying, but we are looking for non-fiction, not fiction.
2) Pitch a story, not a meeting.
Coast editors are busy, overworked people who are professionals at written communication. Even if they had time to leave the office, they couldn’t evaluate your great story idea over coffee. They need you to communicate it in writing, so they can get a sense for your written communication skills.
3) Don't pitch a column.
Generally columnists are given their assignments after years of proving themselves as reliable, passionate reporters. If you've never been published in The Coast before, we would never commit out of the blue to publishing your thoughts on a regular basis. And we won't appreciate you assuming we might, unless we've specifically put out a call for columns.
4) Get personal.
Stories about people are great: people starting a band, people opening a business, people who need help, people who've been screwed over. That's what we mean by personal. Stories set in the first person where “I” is the main character risk being self-absorbed.
5) Know our paper.
The Coast is a local alt-weekly. That means we try and cover a new, timely and interesting angle on stories happening in this city and province. Think about what our audience will want to hear in the story’s tone, content and focus. The web isn’t tied to any one location, but our paper has a hyper-local readership to HRM. The easiest way to get a sense of our tone and the type of stories we look for is to go back and read some past issues. A quick search on our site should also bring up any past coverage on the same people or stories, so you don’t waste your time pitching something we’ve already published.
6) Make time.
We like to cover things that have a tangible timing element, like a meeting happening on a certain day, so keep an eye out for those “time hooks.” And be sure to pitch us BEFORE the date arrives—letting our readers know about things they can go do is much more important to us then letting them know what they missed.
The Coast publishes on Thursday, which is when we also meet to discuss the next issue. On Friday stories and photographers are usually assigned. Print deadlines range from Friday to Monday, depending on the writer/assignment. On Tuesday the paper is copy-edited and sent to production. On Wednesday it’s given final walkthroughs and sent to the printer. All that means is that you’ll want to pitch us as early as possible. At the latest, you should be contacting us Thursday about a story that will run in the following Thursday’s paper. Try to think two weeks in advance: The story that’s pitched on Week One will published on Week Two and be out in print all of Week Three.
While we occasionally approve web-only stories depending on the idea/writer/timing, traditionally our budget is only for print and that’s where we try and focus freelance work. Please keep in mind we set our work/life schedules based on when we expect things to arrive, and it sucks to be anticipating a story in the morning and have it arrive later that night without any advance notice. When in doubt, let us know you’ll be late or if it’s not working. Often, we can help you figure out another angle or even another story if need be. Remember the secret to managing up is that your editor can handle bad news, but hates surprises. Speaking of...
7) Find your editor.
We have several staff editors who deal with various issues and departments, but most pitches are going to go to the arts editor, city editor or food and life editor. Your pitch should go to one, not all, of them. Remember they're busy, so don't expect a response right away. When you want to follow-up, remember that persistence is a wonderful thing in a journalist, but nobody likes a pest. How you walk the line between the two will tell us a lot about your judgement as a reporter.
8) Send your pitch.
We want to know who you are and why you think this story might make it a good article in The Coast. Just send a short email explaining the story, mentioning any time hooks and other information you think is relevant. It doesn't have to be very formal, but spelling and grammar do count. Introduce yourself and your qualifications, again keeping it short. If it's a story for the newspaper, tell us how you picture it running: Cover story, an item on the Reality Bites page, profile in the Music section, column. Except you wouldn't pitch a column, now, would you?
9) Don’t send unsolicited stories
This happens more than it should. Aside from being a waste of your own time if we don’t accept the piece (our general policy is to turn down all unsolicited articles) we also want to collaborate with you on any story ideas. The editors might know an angle, contact or background info you don’t. Your story might be perfect for a feature package in another upcoming issue. Maybe we’ve already FOIPOP’d something on the topic and can hand that research off to you. The process of coming up with stories should be collaborative, but we can’t do that if a finished piece shows up unannounced in our inbox.
10) Know our style guide
The Coast’s in-house style guide is now viewable online. After sitting unchanged for several years, we recently revamped it over a few lunch meetings. As mentioned in the opening screed, our intention is for this to be a living document that is modified or abandoned as new situations arise. That said, there are some basics bits of wisdom in there that are great to familiarize yourself with. Clean copy is a surefire way to make your editor love you.
As I’m sure we all know, Halifax is a small town. Not writing about people you know can occasionally be impossible. But any direct connection (your roommate, your mother, your company, your spouse) should be disclosed upfront. If you’re not sure if something is an ethical conflict, it’s better to ask than have us find out later.
(last updated January 16, 2018)