The number of daily newspapers in the United States has declined every year for the past two decades. Today, ninety-eight percent of American cities have only one daily paper.
What’s more, travel editors’ budgets regularly appear on the chopping block. And the thing is: papers never paid that well to begin with.
I think Randy Curwen, Travel Editor at the Chicago Tribune, is probably typical of editors at large papers like his. He explained to our workshop group last June that these days he buys relatively few of the unsolicited freelance pieces that land on his desk, preferring to work with two or three writers he knows well and to write articles himself.
So should you bank your career on getting newspaper clips at major-market papers like the Tribune? Probably not.
Your chances of getting published are better elsewhere.
Look to smaller-market papers (weekly county or suburban papers, for example). You’re pretty safe assuming they don’t have a travel-writer staff. Many don’t have a travel editor, either. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in travel coverage. In fact, many are. And this — though not likely to pay very well — is a great place to break into print.
While the number of daily newspapers may be shrinking, the total number of outlets for travel articles is, in fact, growing.
Many of the 24,000 print publications published each year in the United States feature travel in some way — hundreds are devoted entirely to it.
Of the nation’s top 25 most-subscribed-to magazines, 75% feature articles on travel. Hundreds of magazines focus on city and metro travel, state and regional travel, or international travel. And don’t forget the dozens of “trade” periodicals geared specifically to the travel industry — written for travel agents, meeting planners, business travelers, and so on.
How do you find and target these publications? For starters, check the many publications listed in Writer’s Market for those whose audience seems to best suit your piece. And for more ideas about how to find publications, see issue #33 in our archives (http://www.thetravelwriterslife.com/).
Also, I suggest you start small — with a piece of 150-400 words. Target it for a particular “department” of a publication. That way, the editor can get a feel for your writing style. He can decide if you’re easy to work with or not. He can see if you get your piece in on time. He’ll be much more likely to give you an assignment for a longer article once he’s familiar with you and your work.
Now, the last question this reader asked is whether he should offer up his work for free — just to get a clip. I wouldn’t offer. Let’s say, however, that you send an article to an editor at a publication that has no budget for your piece. The editor gets in touch and says she loves it and would like to publish it, but can’t, unfortunately, pay you for it. In this case, I’d say go ahead and let her do it — provided you keep the rights (and can therefore offer it up elsewhere, hopefully for pay).
Remember, in the beginning it’s more important to get those good clips than it is to get the checks. You build your career by building a portfolio of published articles. No hiring editor will ever ask you if you were paid for a piece you had published here or there. Those editors just want to see that you were, in fact, published.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]