Art of Column Writing
By Suzette Martinez Standring
2004-06 NSNC president
Syndication as an income stream, how do you break in? I am not referring to self-syndication or to traditional syndicates, such as Tribune Media or Creators Syndicate. Rather, what are newsgroup syndicates [traditionally called news services for multiproperty media corporations] looking for now?
For example, GateHouse Media owns about 404 publications and 350 websites nationally. Since 2008, my spirituality column runs twice monthly in The Patriot Ledger in Massachusetts, and other GHM papers nationally have the option of carrying my column.
If my column runs elsewhere, I do not get extra money other than what The Patriot Ledger pays me, but the national platform has expanded my abilities to get paid in other ways, such as book sales and teaching opportunities.
Things have changed. Back then, you had to be one of the more popular columnists to get distributed through a newspaper chain or otherwise syndicated. Even then, papers preferred to feature nationally known columnists.
Imagine my surprise when I called Lisa Glowinski — Gatehouse’s general manager of More Content Now, the company’s in-house syndicate — to find out what it takes to get syndicated today. Her answers likely apply to all parent publications for newspapers.
First, what are you writing? If it is community focused, then go to community publications. Local columnists now have the advantage, especially if you write about the community. Local voices are now preferable to featuring national names.
However, if you have a broad appeal, make contact with a media group’s syndicate. Generally, editors are looking for new voices in different age groups or ethnic backgrounds, or specialty topics.
Good news! New writers with no following have a chance. If you are “green” but interesting, let the editor do a “test run,” that is, publish your column for a period of time to see if there is reader response. If successful, you can negotiate deadlines, fees, and rights.
Glowinski said, “If the content is interesting, or it’s an expertise or voice I’m seeking, there’s no need for a big following. I judge on if this person is an interesting writer or if it’s a topic I don’t already have in my lineup. What new spin is that person bringing?”
Will you get paid? The fee per column ranges from $25 to $200, she said. Sometimes the chain’s distribution service will not pay more than what a writer already collects from her newspaper but will offer the column nationally, which expands a writer’s exposure. Decide what it’s worth to you. However, the amount of pay or added pay will depend on various factors. Will the content be exclusive to the syndicate? Does the writer already have a large following? How difficult is it to find what you are offering? For example, it’s easier to find food and parenting columnists compared to health content.
A media group’s syndicate will expect you to promote your work to your audience through social media and other forms of publicity. Syndicates are moving away from the PR business for their writers. Also, linking local blogs to other member newspapers nationally is no longer done.
Take the next step. Send three column links or attachments to an editor in charge of syndication to offer a flavor of your subject, viewpoint and style. Good luck.
[For closely related information, see the Guide to Syndication at columnists.com — Editor]
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This piece first was published in the April 2016 issue of The Columnist, the monthly membership newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.