Hi. This experimental document is intended to improve the lives of freelancers and also editors at the Styles desk of The New York Times. By explaining very directly what we're looking for to anyone who wants to know, we hope to:
We don't speak for The New York Times, and this info may not be useful at all in dealing with other desks here.
One of the best ways to start publishing on the desk is through Natalie Shutler, our news editor. Here is some definition around what she's looking for.
A breaking news story is not a great place to start with a new editor. These can include big-ticket reveals & deals, divorces, deaths and scandals. It can also be: the clothing choices of political people, a thing that happened in entertainment that prompts questions, corporate spats, CEO issues, and activism, especially where it is historically unexpected. Also, interviews with people who have entered the news.
This is a great category for freelancers to start. Is there something obvious or subtle in the world that should be precisely articulated? An interesting company that symbolizes a bigger shift in society? A linguistic change? Some small examples: This teen consulting firm reveals something bigger about advertising. This queer Instagram dating community for anyone who isn’t straight or a cisgender man; Ludacris buying people groceries; everyone getting “canceled” in 2018; the dictionaries getting spicy and battling it out on social media. Serena Williams’ daughters’ doll became a celeb. The most popular toy in America last holiday season was an unboxing experience known as LOL Surprise.
A “trend” does not mean everyone is doing it. Trend pieces can be fun or serious. Voting patterns are absolutely trend stories — but they are political trend stories. Lots of these stories sit in plain sight. Anomalies are also interesting!
Editors across the desk handle stories like this. These often address topics like sexual consent, financial inequality, fame, generational and cultural change, and human appearance. They employ extensive and, ideally, definitive reporting. Examples include:
This profile of Jordan Peterson; this story about the future of San Francisco; these questions answered about Lindsay Lohan; this piece about Los Angeles real estate gone wild; this set of ideas interrogated about how to communicate in the culture; this story about humanity and products and freedom; the wild human interest story of these two sisters; this story that mingles changes in science with the changes in culture when it comes to hair bleaching; characters in the culture long after the spotlight has moved along; people finding ways to live; what happens when people die; questions about how we know what we know; questions about how to live with knowing that. Often, the way we get scammed now. And of course, the greatest mysteries.
We also look for stories in our specialist categories of beauty and self-care, love and relationships, and fashion and appearance. Much of that is assigned in-house and is harder to pitch but it's worth trying.
Pitching. Your email could go unanswered because of an accident, or lack of interest, or act of God. If you don't hear in a couple days, follow up! If you don't get an acceptance in a time frame you like, pitch elsewhere! Also, there are many other venues at The Times with different specialties and missions, from T to the Culture desk to Metro. It's not on you to always know which is the right to approach, but it helps if you read The Times and have a basic sense of what we do. Also sometimes we reject things for reasons that aren't intelligible or sensible from the outside. It often is us, not you.
Timing and process. It's good to ask about timing and process around publication, and to ask about pay rate when you get a positive response. Most editors handle a bunch of stories at once in a pretty linear fashion — we schedule and produce stories on a calendar that's irritatingly opaque to outsiders. Generally we are dealing with photography or art, waiting for an ideal publishing window, or in general dealing with timing considerations that aren't relevant to freelancers but are super important to us. Don't sweat it; do ask for what info you need.
Payments. We pay promptly through a centralized system, for which you will receive a contract that defines your rights. We base a story fee on a combination of word rate and on time required and difficulty of reporting. Expenses need to be discussed in advance.
Editing. All stories at The Times have at least two editors. Generally you will have a primary editor who sees you through most of the way. Later, a second editor will work on the piece. That second editor is not a copy editor. She or he is empowered to do as much editing as necessary, including killing pieces. Both editors are responsible for the quality of the story, but writers at The Times are their own fact-checkers, and need to be responsible for facts. Freelancers are required to abide by our ethics policy. If you have questions about a situation, editors are happy to advise. Finally, and not least, photo editors and visual editors are responsible for how stories are made as well and we need writers to assist in that work with them too.