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How to pitch Nieman Lab

Nieman Lab is open to pitches! Please send them to staff@niemanlab.org with PITCH in the subject line.

What makes a good Nieman Lab pitch?

What do you pay?

  • For an original, reported piece, our rates begin at $400 for an 800- to 1,000-word piece. We pay more if a story needs to be longer (it usually doesn’t), if we are for some reason requesting a very quick turnaround, or if the story is unusual in some other way. We paid $1 a word for this story, for instance, because it was about a deeply troubling topic and written on a quick turnaround.
  • Academics often ask if they can write about their research for us in order to reach a broader audience than academic journals can. We love this! We generally don’t pay for this sort of story, though, unless it involves new original reporting that goes beyond your published research.

What is it like to work with you? How will I get paid?

  • You’ll work on editing with Nieman Lab’s editor, Laura Hazard Owen. We mostly edit in Google Docs, but if your preference is Word, we can do that, too. Pandemic/life aside, we try very hard to turn edits around quickly.
  • Freelancers must register with Harvard’s vendor payment system, which only takes a few minutes (we’ll send you instructions once your pitch is accepted). Once your piece is published, payment is prompt.

What are some sample pitches you’ve liked?

This pitch from Natasha Ishak turned into the Lab story “‘How much does it pay?’ Writers of Color polite-shames publications to get to the point.” It is a great example of the small-specific-thing-as-example-of-larger-trend(s) story — the trends being, in this case, pay transparency and specific ways to (try to) diversify news organizations. It was also helpful that Natasha was already familiar with Writers of Color as a user.

As a freelancer and journalist of color, I use many sources to find jobs, potential assignments, and calls for pitches. One of my favorite sources is the @WritersofColor account on Twitter. The account is the social media arm of writersofcolor.org, a project started by four talented writers/journalists of color who came up with the idea during brunch while commiserating over the lack of initiative by (white) editors to diversify their rosters. The concept was simple: create a database of writers of color that editors could easily refer to on any given topic. This was in 2015.

Besides being a go-to job source, the social media account has also been a source of solace and humor: I’ve found myself chuckling and LOL’ing at their tweets as I search their feed for my next writing gig. In addition to job posts and pitch calls, the account often cracks jokes about media’s pervasive whiteness, the perils of the media industry, and ruthlessly polite-shames publications that don’t disclose pay rates.

I’d like to write a reported piece through interviews with the founders on how the project/account has developed over the six years since its inception, what kind of impact the group thinks it’s had on the industry if any, and their thoughts on the media’s progress in terms of diversity & equity. The number of writers/journalists of color in their database now is unclear (it was around 700 when it first started), but the WOC Twitter account has over 67,800 followers and become an online advocate for pay equity and transparency, seizing on job postings with the most basic question on everyone’s mind: how much does it pay?

While Writers of Color has a major presence on social media, there’s not much that’s been written about their efforts to push for diversity and equity in the industry. I think it’s an effort that’s worth highlighting.

This pitch from Luke Winkie turned into “Female videogame journalists on what to do when the mob comes for you.” Luke had written for Nieman Lab a few times before so we knew he was a great and funny writer and were comfortable accepting a short pitch; this one, while a paragraph long, was jammed with detail and included a rich sub-theme — coverage of the specific feelings, emotions, and experiences of a person on the internet and what that says about the industry more broadly.

In a follow-up email, we mentioned a couple more things we wanted to see the piece explore — tactics journalists had for dealing with these stories once they were published, how their editors helped them, and how they decided the aggravation was worth the story — and went from there.

I was thinking about journalists/critics in the nerd-culture space, and how often when writing a less-than-positive review for like, a Marvel movie or a prominent video game before release, they know there’s a very good chance for that review to go viral in those respective hives, and to potentially face doxxing, threats, 20 minute videos uploading by right-wing YouTubers, etc. I thought it’d be interesting to talk to those folks about how they gird themselves in the days ahead of that deadline, and the dread that must come from being like, “Man, this 2 star Ant-Man review is likely going to ruin my life for a while.” Definitely think we mostly need to speak to women for this, because they 100 percent deal with the worst of this stuff. Let me know if that interests you at all!

This pitch from Rahul Bhargava, Meg Heckman, and Emily Boardman Ndulue became “It’s O.K. to write about women, fashion, and politics — but here’s how to do it better.” We probably wouldn’t run a think piece on this topic, but the added layer of original research on the subject made it a go. In a follow-up email refining the pitch, we stressed that we were particularly interested in the quantitative aspects of the research.

Responding to recent controversies over media coverage of female politician’s fashion choices, we’re putting together a column exploring how political journalists are struggling to cover women’s fashion as it becomes more often used as a political statement. This is built on some new quantitative/qualitative research I’ve been working on with two colleagues here at Northeastern, Meg Heckman and Emily Boardman Ndulue. We think it’d be a timely piece to get in front of journalists and editors as they think about about how to position coverage of politicians’ intentional fashion choices leading into the mid-term election cycle.

The top would look something like this:

Rep. Liz Cheney’s “boxy jackets.” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s penchant for sleeveless tops. The vice president’s pearls. Just about everything AOC pulls out of her closet.

These are some recent examples of how female politicians’ clothing choices have made headlines, signaling what we see as a necessary but complex shift in the way journalists tackle fashion in the political arena. As more women seek elected office, many of them are using fashion to make statements about their biographies, their ideologies, and their places in history. But they do so in a media environment that still treats powerful women very differently than their male peers, often fixating on physical appearance in ways that trivialize powerful women as sex objects, celebrities or overly-masculine villains. As our ongoing research shows, this dynamic presents a challenge for journalists, one that’s worth pondering as we enter another election year.

It’s clear journalists are struggling to find appropriate ways to frame political fashion choices, as evidenced by ongoing debates about what is (and isn’t) newsworthy. Take, for instance, the flap last month around New York Times coverage of Sinema and, earlier in the fall, a dust-up around Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s outfit at the Met Gala. Also: Rep. Lauren Boebert’s parody dress. And, as we found our research into coverage of Vice President Kamala Harris, hyper-partisanship further complicates these dynamics.

Finally, keep an eye on our Twitter — we occasionally post stories in need of writers there.