Hidden Freelance Market – City Web Sites by David Taylor

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City web sites are just one example of how the explosion of digital technology on the Internet and on the air waves is creating more jobs for freelancers, not fewer.

One of the TV producers I’ve enjoyed working with the most, Brooks Parsons (former marketing director for Paul Mitchell Systems), once asked me a stunning question: “There will be 600 to 800 digital cable channels available in a few years. Who’s going to write all that content?”

Here’s another one: Google.com is currently indexing 3,083,324,652 web pages. Who’s doing all that writing?

Go to Google, type in the name of any city where cattle aren’t allowed on the streets, and you’ll find a suite of struggling web sites. What are they struggling with? Content. Getting enough of it. There’s simply no reason for a freelancer not to have any web clips these days. Your local web sites are awaiting your well-done contributions. The pay may be low at first, but not in all cases.

Consider these other advantages to writing for your city’s web sites:

Less competition
Quick response to your query or article submission
Freedom — of content and style. City web sites cover a vast array of topics and welcome lively writing from a number of unique voices
Ability to establish personal relationships that can lead to networking and more assignments in your local area
Bottom line: Every freelancer has to start somewhere. Your city’s web sites can be one of the most welcome and potentially rewarding places to do it.
Strategy 1. Distinguish between city entities. Several will likely be running portal web sites related to your fair city:

~ Local newspaper. Today, most newspapers with a significant online presence also employ a web staff to maintain that presence. Direct your queries and completed articles of interest to the web staff, not the print newspaper staff.

~ Official government site. These sites are an online version of city hall (except friendlier) but they also relish upbeat features on upcoming community events to give bureaucracy a smiley face. These sites are often maintained by independent contractors who will be identified as “web site built and maintained by…”

However, it’s best to contact your city’s government’s public/media relations department about your publication queries, not the independent web services contractor.

~ Tourism/Convention/Visitors Bureau. The purpose of these sites is to entice business to the city: conventions, tourism, new industry, new residents. They are usually run by the chamber of commerce or may have their own city department. In either case, their needs are many. The site must keep up with important developments in areas such as business, transportation, real estate, education, health, lifestyle/recreation and more. This is a great opportunity to provide up-to-date information that a small staff simply doesn’t have the time to cover adequately.

~ Business portals. Area businesses connected with the tourism and leisure industry often pool their resources and offer a one-stop online shopping service for dining, lodging, real estate, sports, entertainment, special events, shopping, and so forth. The opportunity here is for features that tie in with the site’s promotional purpose: interview features with local artists, writers, musicians; a feature on an important new historical discovery or attraction; Top 10 lists based on informal surveys. Business portal sites need these features to make their site more than just an online yellow pages.

2. Determine need. This is the same step you take when targeting a print market: What have they already done and what do they need now?

~ Look for outdated articles that you know have been superceded by local events. Has there been a new park, a new historical renovation, or a new bridge? Have names of festivals or major businesses changed? This is where living in a place gives you an advantage: You live your research.

~ Look for weaknesses in editorial content that you can bulk up. All staffs have strong points and blind spots. Maybe a particular staff just wasn’t into your city’s vibrant underground music scene, minor league sports team, or emerging Latino culture. Don’t make the staff look bad, but don’t be shy about celebrating something unique and attractive about your city.

~ Look for new directions: features that would further the site’s mission but currently aren’t being done. My hometown in Georgia is rich with antebellum history: it’s one of the few cities you “damn Yankees” didn’t burn down. Yet the section of the chamber of commerce’s site on touring historical homes uses a single photo with a 25-word caption to advertise this unique offering. With my cheap digital camera, a fistful of brochures and a rudimentary knowledge of html, this was remedied in an afternoon. Which leads to the last point:

~ Offer programming, not just text. In case you haven’t noticed, today’s commercial web sites combine graphics with text in almost equal portions. It’s standard for web submissions to be made with graphics scanned and ready to go. If you can find out how the site in being programmed (static html, Pagemaker, etc.) and provide your contribution in a useable format, you’re one step closer to getting a repeat assignment and starting your climb from one-time freelancer to regular contributor.

Sample Online Markets

Although the best way to implement this strategy to is become familiar with web sites specific to your locale, the online markets below represent the wide variety of what is out there when it comes to paying markets that use exclusive online content with a local tie-in.

Creative Loafing. Creative Loafing, Inc., 750 Willoughby Way, Atlanta, Ga. 30312. Email: heather.kuldell@creativeloafing.com. Website: . 5% freelance written. Weekly alternative newspaper for Atlanta, Ga. Circ. 150,000. Pays on publication. Publishes ms. 1-2 weeks after acceptance. Query via email: heather.kuldell@creativeloafing.com. Query with or without published clips. Include resume. Guidelines online at .
CURRENT NEEDS: Features, interview/profile, reviews, travel. Payment negotiable.
HINTS: “We tell readers what’s really going on in metro Atlanta. We also are known for our coverage of politics, public affairs, social issues, culture, music, movies and the arts. Our stories must be fair and accurate, but can have a strong point of a view and even a little attitude. Our stories must be original: They must offer either a compellingly fresh look at a subject familiar to readers or a look at an entirely new but interesting subject.”

Hendricks County Flyer. CNHI Media, 8109 Kingston, St., Suite 500, Avon, IN 46123. Email: kathy.linton@flyergroup.com. Website: http://www.flyergroup.com. 2% freelance written. Print frequency: biweekly community newspaper. Circ. 35,000. Pays on publication. Publishes ms. 1-3 weeks after acceptance. Buys all rights. Does not accept simultaneous queries of previously published work. Query via email. Sample copy available on website.
CURRENT NEEDS: Expose, features, general interest, historical/nostalgic, inspirational, interview/profile, new product, photo feature, religious, reviews, technical, travel. Buys 150 columns per year.
PHOTOS/ART: State availability of or send photos with submission. Reviews: GIF/JPEG files. Photos require: captions, identification of subjects.
HINTS: “Employment Weekly is published each Monday and features work-related stories or job-seeking tips. No first-person accounts.”

Metro Santa Cruz. Metro Newspapers, 115 Cooper St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060. Email: spalopoli@metcruz.com. Website: http://www.metroactive.com. Contact: editorial department. 20-30% freelance written. Weekly publication “for a sophisticted coastal university town.” Circ. 35,000. Pays on publication. Publishes ms. 2-5 weeks after acceptance. Buys first North American serial rights, second serial (reprint rights), nonexclusive rights. Does not accept simultaneous submissions. Accepts previously published submissions. Query w/ published clips. Responds in 2 months to queries.
CURRENT NEEDS: Columns open to freelancers: MetroGuide (entertainment features, interviews), 500-3,000 words. Pays: $25