You’ve no doubt seen your community’s alternative newspaper stacked by the hundreds in a rack at grocery stores, bookstores, and gas stations. Helpful for planning weekend entertainment, the pages are packed with features on museum exhibits, concerts and restaurant openings. (In my city, anyone with an iota of the local 411 scene is seen reading one on Thursdays.). And, news about local politics – racier, sexier and bolder than the area dailies – is also covered.
The first story I sold to an alternative newspaper in my state was about a health-and-wellness clinic offering massage, acupuncture, and aromatherapy. I’ve since reported on the problems with recycling electronics, cooperative housing, a city’s best lattes, how to grow bamboo indoors, and the plight of the homeless. Almost always a free publication, and published on either Thursday or Friday, printing for these publications is supported by display ads.
Pay rates vary, depending on whether you pen a quick album review or a 2,000-word investigative news story. But the competition from other writers won’t be as fierce – how would a Louisiana writer effectively critique Boston culture anyway?
One mistake writers make is thinking the alternative press is a place to fan politics, in particular knocking right-wing views. Actually, the weekly papers and monthly magazines are excellent spots to publish creative essays on fashion, food, film, theatrical productions, music, and (yes) politics. Readers tend to be in their 20s to 40s, so think classy and funky. Your story query must have a regional or local angle to crack a smile from the editor, and a paid assignment.
Alternative press markets are divided into two camps – the local, city-wide weeklies, and the national magazines covering American culture. Two publishers drive the content of most of the country’s alternative newspapers:
Village Voice Media, Inc. (Village Voice in New York City is the flagship; other papers are in Nashville, Orange County, Calif.; Los Angeles; Seattle; and the Twin Cities, Minn.);
New Times (editions include Houston; St. Louis; Cleveland; Phoenix; Miami; and Kansas City).
The rest are independently owned or one of a regional chain. Posted on the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ web site is a directory of papers, staff editorial opportunities, and snippets about stories being published this week.
As for national magazines, consider In These Times, a monthly magazine out of Chicago that covers national issues. (A pool of freelancers, in a recent issue, reported on overtime rules in the workplace, hotel strikes in Chicago, and what the NRA and ACLU have in common.) The Progressive, Mother Jones, Utne Reader and Salon.com also publish stories from freelance writers each month. Investigative-reporting topics tend to incorporate social justice and peace efforts, and also profile individuals committed to activism efforts, as well as the unveiling of government or corporate wrongdoings.
Utne Magazine, published in Minneapolis, can be a good guide for those new to the alternative press. Each issue contains reprints of the best alternative news stories recently published.
Where can you dig up story ideas? A start is to examine the mainstream press – whether that’s your city’s daily or CNN – and the possible offshoots of top stories about terrorism, violence in public schools, or dining trends. Are there places where the story is hiding another news or feature angle, one that you can take on and turn into dollars? If so, get cranking on a query letter to your local alternative press publisher. Or, if you are feeling more confident, type up a story proposal to the editor of a glossy magazine covering American culture with a liberal twist. Keep in mind that a story happening in your hometown might also be of interest to a national readership.
Community activists — who work to promote a clean planet, social justice, union rights, or government disclosure — are another good source for story ideas. Often, they are distributing brochures about their campaigns, positions, and upcoming events. Get to know them and they’ll be more than happy to fill you in.
PAYING ALTERNATIVE PRESS MARKETS
Denver’s guide to the arts, entertainment, dining, and lifestyle issues.
Online magazine providing a mix of news, opinion, and investigative journalism.
The Austin Chronicle
Independent alternative newsweekly in Austin, Texas.
Chicago’s guide to the arts, entertainment, dining, and lifestyle issues.
Non-profit monthly magazine covering urban policy and organizing in New York City neighborhoods.
East Bay Express
Weekly paper for the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area.
In These Times
A national biweekly magazine of news and opinion.
A magazine for Victoria, BC (Canada).
An independent, non-profit magazine committed to social justice.
Weekly journal of liberal/left opinion, covering national and international affairs and the arts.
A monthly magazine for peace and social justice in America and abroad.
More guidelines HERE.
An Internet media company that produces 10 original content sites and 2 online communities.
Monthly magazine reprinting the best articles from among 2,000 alternative media sources.
Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer in Madison, Wisconsin. She’s had articles published in Milwaukee Magazine, Madison Magazine, E/The Environmental Magazine, The Writer Magazine, Isthmus, Shepherd Express and about a dozen trade magazines. Visit her website at http://www.kristine-hansen.com.