Writing for national newspapers

Breaking into national newspapers…

So you want to write for the nationals? Here’s my top tips for breaking into this competitive branch of journalism…Writing for national newspapers

* Make the most of any contacts

The most obvious way to get a foot in the door is being commissioned by someone you already know to write a story. Perhaps you know an editor who worked on a publication you’ve written for who recently got a new job. Drop them an email to reintroduce yourself.

* Get onto a training course where the nationals search for talent.

If you already have a degree, check out MA courses where people regularly go from to the nationals. Some nationals also run direct entry course themselves – the drawback of course is they are extremely competitive to get onto.

*Get a job with an agency

If you are already a journalist but don’t have contacts within the nationals, working with an agency that supplies stories to the national press is a great way to make them. Liaising with the newsdesk on a paper or their staff reporters, will get your name known fast in the industry. It might even be you are asked by a national newspaper if you want some shifts or even a job.

* Get shifting

Ring up the national newspapers and ask for the person who deals with shift work. Most shift work available for casuals will be Saturday nights or other odd times when no-one wants to work and it is likely to be quiet – but sure enough if you do enough shifts eventually a big story will break and you’ll get your chance to shine. Incidentally, if you are offered a shift, do not turn it down, even if the opportunity falls on your birthday. You might not get the chance again.

* Supply tip-offs

Many national newspapers rely on people to tip them off about stories. If you’re already working on a local paper you’ll be in the perfect position to tip off the nationals about any stories that are on your patch. Similarly if a big story breaks in your area, you are on the spot and well placed to follow it up fast. Using your local knowledge you should be able to find exclusive angles that other journalists new to the area might miss. Tip offs are paid – depending on how good the story is. The only proviso is not to overstep the line with your local reporting job. Some local papers turn a blind eye to reporters tipping off the nationals (especially if the local paper still has the exclusive) but some papers won’t like it. So check your contract before hand.

*Give an editor an incredible story

When I began writing for the national press, I didn’t know anyone in the industry. But I managed to break into each national newspaper by individually (and obviously over a period of time!) giving them each a fantastic story. Just be sure when you put your amazing story up to an editor (and identify the correct person to send your story to by ringing up and asking) that you have that story in the bag. Ideally your interviewee is already interviewed (and you have some photos) and you are absolutely sure it is exclusive to you. If it is commissioned, you want to be able to come up with the goods.

* Offer yourself as an expert

If you are a doctor, dentist, psychologist, architect – anyone with a professional qualification – break into national newspapers by offering yourself as an expert. Many organisations for professionals will add you to their bank of consultants happy to be quoted as an expert in the press or on TV. If you are able to give great quotable quotes and offer real insight into a story, journalists will return again to you for a comment. And you might not even have to write your own piece as sometimes a staff journalist will ghost a whole article for you (you will get the byline and they always read it back to ensure accuracy.)

* Write about yourself.

Writing about yourself can be a great way to break into the features sections of national newspapers. And if you establish yourself as being able to write well about your own experiences, it can also be very lucrative – and also be straightforward as obviously you can rely on yourself to be on time for your photos and so on. But be aware as a writer talking about yourself – and particularly an unknown one (editors will ask their usual writers to pen their more standard articles) – you will be expected to write a revealing and possibly sensational piece. Relationship articles exploring issues between you, your friends, your mum, partner, children, stepfamily and similar are common. Commissioning editors will expect you to dig deep into the emotional side of your experience and if your personal story involves others you need to ensure they are on board too as most papers will want personal photos to illustrate your article.

And finally… When you’ve sold that first tip off or story to a national newspaper make sure it goes well. This means always being contactable for queries from the editor or subs – yes, even at weekends or on holiday. Like most national newspaper journalists I have filed adds from a number of beaches and restaurants on holiday, checked copy on Christmas day (for publication on Boxing Day), filed a story in the early hours of the morning, and changed my plans to go the gym/have a quiet night/pop to a friends numerous times. If you want to write for national newspapers, dropping everything to sort any problems is an inevitable part of the job.

Do you have any tips for breaking into the national press? Let us know and leave your tips below…

Media agent Alison Smith-Squire Alison Smith-Squire is a journalist media agent selling exclusive stories to national newspapers, magazines and TV worldwide.

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Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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