Senior Journalist

May 4, 2023 (Updated )

One of the most challenging yet rewarding aspects of journalism is aiming to write for different publications, and eventually achieving that goal. There is no better feeling than seeing your byline in a title you respect, and even more so when you’ve worked hard to reach the editors of that magazine or journal. When you finally make it into those pages, it can be an exhilarating, career-topping moment.

While some set their sights on specialist magazines or writing for a national title, others might aim for a particular topic of coverage, such as showbiz news or politics. For many journalists, the holy grail of ‘making it’ is to be commissioned by the broadsheets — the titles historically defined as ‘newspapers printed on larger sheets of paper’. While they now take many different sizes, they are still considered to be more serious in their reporting.

Yet, writing for broadsheets doesn’t come easily, nor is it a guaranteed experience for everyone. As many journalists will have discovered, it can take years of experience before you will be considered for a commission or staff position, and even then, the pressure can be on to keep that good relationship.

Here, two experienced editors and writers share their advice and tips on how to approach broadsheet journalism.

Start From The Beginning

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Lara Kilner (L) and Qin Xie (R)

For freelance editor and writer Lara Kilner, pitching to the broadsheets meant doing thorough research. Like when pitching to any publication, she began by reading the broadsheets and making note of their style and the regular features that she could contribute to.

“I focused mostly on those that involved interviews with famous names,” she explains. “I’m fortunate to have built up a lot of relationships with entertainment PRs over the years through my staff jobs, so I could utilise those contacts to rustle up potential interviews.”

Although it was impossible to guarantee coverage, Kilner’s respected reputation among her contacts meant she was still given access to high-profile names, in the hope she could secure one of the regular broadsheet interview slots. “I understood these would be the kind of slots that editors would likely be up for freelancers filling, as opposed to cover interviews that they would have their regular writers for,” she says.

“Then I researched who the right editor was to contact. Twitter tends to be pretty helpful with that. I also got in touch with pretty much every contact I’ve made over the years, however tenuous — from ex-colleagues who are now editors on broadsheets, to a lovely editor who used to work at a magazine before I worked there, but we know a lot of the same people.

“It didn’t lead to immediate work, but I was on their radar, and they eventually accepted pitches from me.”

Adjust Your Expectations

While the process took time, Kilner was eventually able to secure a commission, which went on to become several commissions. However, not everyone has such a positive experience.

For Qin Xie, a freelance journalist, editor, and the author of the Money Talk newsletter, attempting to corner the broadsheets early on in her career was quite an unpleasant experience. She recalls: “At a meeting I managed to wrangle with an editor early on in my career, I was asked whether thought I would be able to write better than a (white) staff writer about my own heritage.”

Journo Resources
“Most of us have to choose between prestige or making a living. It’s not about trading in your morals at all, but more adjusting your expectations.”
Qin Xie, freelance journalist and editor

After her initial shock at the suggestion, Xie increasingly felt that there was actually only a small budget for the piece — that the editor preferred to spend on art direction, which is why he wanted to ask an in-house writer to write it for free.

While Xie notes that “not all encounters would be as jarring as this”, the essence remains. “Unfortunately, my personal experience with broadsheets is that they often only commission people based on who they know and the strength of the clippings they already have, rather than the strength of the idea alone. Often, broadsheet editors don’t have much time or budget to work with, so they would prefer to run with who they know rather than take a chance.

“At a certain point, most of us have to choose between prestige or making a living, unless you’re backed by a trust fund or are lucky enough to have found a well-connected mentor early on. The sooner you realise this, the sooner you can stop living in abject poverty. It’s not about trading in your morals at all, but more adjusting your expectations.”

Building Relationship With Editors

While it can feel like you’ve hit the jackpot when you bag that initial broadsheet commission, most writers will tell you that you’ve only really faced the tip of the iceberg. Essentially, now it’s a case of maintaining a healthy editor–writer relationship, in the hope it will lead to further commissions.

“It doesn’t always work,” admits Kilner. “Getting your first commission from an editor is only half the battle. I was given a commission from one broadsheet editor after weeks of chasing a pitch. She ran it with almost no edits, told me she really liked it and I thought I had a breakthrough with a new outlet to contribute to. Alas, my follow-up pitches have been met with complete silence.”

As a result of not hearing back, Kilner has chosen to move on from that pitch and the editor to focus on “friendlier, approachable, more responsive editors I’ve connected with”. While resilience can pay off, and it certainly is advisable to keep pitching the ideas you think are good enough to make it into a broadsheet, remaining realistic and putting your hard work to better use is also important.

So, if you do have reliable editor contacts who reply and regularly commission and pay you, don’t let them go.

Tips For Pitching To Broadsheets
Lara Kilner shares what she has learnt.

1. When you first introduce yourself, mention any previous roles you have held and if you are now freelance at the end of the pitch. Then, as you build up a few broadsheet pieces, mention who you have written for recently and stop mentioning your old job.

2. Some editors might be snobby about where you have worked previously, but for the most part, broadsheet editors are a pleasure to work with.

3. Keep pitches succinct but friendly, and always be polite. Don’t tell the editor your idea will be perfect for them — they can decide that. And never question them saying no, even if you feel they are misguided, because that will really grind an editor’s gears.

4. Follow up on a pitch after a few days if you haven’t heard back, then maybe once more saying it’s a final chase. After that, leave it or you’ll just annoy them.

Hopefully by providing good copy that sticks to the brief, always meeting deadlines, being polite and professional, and happily making any changes asked for, an editor will be keen to take your work again.

Karen Edwards
Karen Edwards

Karen Edwards is the senior journalist at Journo Resources. She focuses on practical, advice-led pieces on various sectors across the industry — feel free to get in touch with her if you have suggestions on what we should cover!

Outside of Journo Resources, Karen writes for print titles such as High Life by British Airways, Grazia, and Metro, alongside digital platforms including IndyVoices and Telegraph Travel.

Header image courtesy of Sarah Shull via Unsplash