Thursday, 9 October 2008

#36 – Buy the papers

Or while the print version is more helpful than the online version.

This may seem remarkably obvious, but I am consistently stunned by the amount of freelancers that will search for markets in which to place their work, but won’t buy newspapers that may be ideal.

Buy every available newspaper
If starting out, one of the best things you can do is to buy every available newspaper on the day that it includes a travel section (usually Friday, Saturday or Sunday). Get the ones from your area, any national titles that the newsagent may have, and any international papers that may be on sale.
It’ll cost a bit of money of course, but it’s a worthwhile investment.

Instant reference library
Do that for a couple of weeks, and you have an instant reference library. You can get a reasonably good idea about what sort of stories the newspapers like to cover, the editor’s name and contact details are often included, and you can gauge the standard of your competition.
More importantly, you can get an idea of what format the editors like the articles to be in – rough word counts, structure of fact boxes etc.

Travel sections online?
Of course, in this day and age, there will be a natural tendency to skip the papers and just read the travel sections online. Well, it saves money, doesn’t it? I can think of a few reasons why this may be a bad idea.

Distinct online content
First of all, many major newspaper websites now have distinct online content. It’s written specifically for the web, and is the sort of content that may not work all that brilliantly in the print version. Basing your view of the paper’s content by what you see online could be misleading.

The whole package
Another reason is that you don’t see the package. People read differently on the internet – they pick out stories that grab their interest, and search for specifics, rather than reading from back to front and skimming everything on the way. Buy the paper and you can see the whole package – including regular sections or departments that don’t make it to the online version.

Structure and adverts
With the paper’s travel section in front of you, it is possible to analyse the structure: the ratio of short stories to long ones and whether the emphasis is on news and service articles or narratives. It’s also possible to see what sort of adverts run alongside the stories. Don’t underestimate this – it’s a good way of gauging what the section’s target market is. And if you want to sell your work, that’s who you’re going to be writing for.

1 comment:

Mike Gerrard said...

More sound advice on travel writing from David. I also found when I used to teach travel writing courses that many students simply didn't read the travel sections. Or they only looked at the one in the newspaper they happened to read.

I hope you'll also be telling people that they should know where they're going to send a story before they write it. So many would-be writers do it the other way round - they just write a travel piece and then think: OK, what do I do with this? You need to know who you're writing for before you start planning and writing, if you hope to break into a competitive market.

And David is dead right. You have to buy the papers, and more than once, to get an idea of what's going on.