Q&A

Gothamist Just Made an Open Call for Pitches. Here’s What They Want

By Michael Tunney January 29th, 2015

For a lot of freelancers, the problem isn’t coming with ideas, it’s finding a place that wants to publish your good ideas.

Last year, our writers got some good direction about where to send pitches when The Atlantic asked writers to send story ideas related to monthly themes. Recently, Gothamist followed suit, sending out a request for freelance submissions that are “original, compelling, heartbreaking, funny, enraging, enlightening work, written clearly and with an eye towards stories that cut through the dull hum of the internet—stories that help the reader better understand New York City and the people living in it.”

Gothamist was co-founded by publisher Jake Dobkin and editor Jen Chung in 2003 to cover all things New York and has since launched other niche outlets focused on individual cities like Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Toronto, San Francisco, London, and Shanghai.

We caught up with Gothamist’s features editor, Christopher Robbins, to talk about the call for pitches and the best way for freelancers to cut through his email backlog so they can get published.

1. What was the impetus for publishing a call for pitches? Are you looking for a higher volume of pitches or is this a way to attract higher quality journalists?

Both. Some of the writers we work with are full-time freelancers—one of our regular contributors wrote an essay for The New York Times Magazine earlier this month—and we certainly want more seasoned journalists to think of us when they’re pitching stories. But some of our best freelance pieces have come from writers outside of that circle, who may not have that kind of news background.

A documentary filmmaker submitted this incredibly moving photo essay about spending 10 hours on a bus with a group of newly released prisoners, and an art historian wrote us these fascinating stories about a secret Gilded Age supper club. If your story is compelling, we will run it.

2. What do you typically look for in a pitch beyond the subject matter?

Clarity. Can the pitch be described in a sentence or two? It also helps if the writer’s pitch shows a familiarity with Gothamist. That means they’ve read our work on the subject and their pitch complements or advances it. If the pitch involves something we haven’t covered, it still fits our style and voice.

3. Do you have tips for freelancers looking to get the attention of editors? What strategies did you use when pitching in the past?

Be as specific as you can. Let’s say you pitch an article about the onerous process of applying for affordable housing in New York. There are almost too many ways you can approach this topic: Are you going to speak to people who have tried, failed, and succeeded so we can glean from the lessons they learned? Or are you going to talk to experts about the best possible ways to navigate the process? Is this piece supposed to be more illustrative or service-y?

You should have these kind of questions sorted out and your pitch whittled down to its most essential parts before sending it to us. Brief is always better. Two sharp sentences will cut through my email-addled brain and have me asking you for more information. Tease me!

4. What are some of your favorite features Gothamist has published since you took on freelance duties last year?

Many of them are in this year-end post we did in December—they read like a list of some of the issues we think are most important to New Yorkers: gentrification, labor struggles, prison reform, corruption.

They also don’t have to be heavy to be thoughtful: This piece about Manhattan palm readers deftly weaves introspection with shoe leather observation and is really fun to read. This story about Australians in New York City may best embody the ideal Gothamist pitch. It takes an impression that many of us share (“Why do I meet so many Australians?”) but is difficult to quantify, and reveals that not only has the number of Australians in New York quadrupled over the last decade, but that the increase is largely due to the country’s support of the most recent Iraq War. I don’t know anyone who goes to cocktail parties anymore, but I’d bet that story kills at them.

5. How much do you pay at Gothamist for freelance pieces?

$200 to $500 is a typical range, but more for longer or more complex projects, less for shorter, simpler stuff. And we pay promptly.

Image by Mark Lennihan
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