Service journalism seems to be becoming popular (again) and this type of writing offers lots of opportunities for freelance writers. But I’ve found that people are not always clear about what constitutes service journalism. There are loads of publications that use public service journalism, so I think it’s worthwhile exploring what this type of writing looks like, as well as highlighting several publications that are worth pitching.
What is service journalism and where should I pitch these types of stories?
Tim Herrera, one of the editors at The New York Times, says that the sole purpose of service journalism “ is to help people live lives that are more efficient, more productive, healthier, and smarter.”
In other words, articles that start with “how”, “why” or “what” tend to be public service journalism stories, as well as the oh-so-popular listicles like “7 ways to …..”
I think this is where writers often feel that service journalism is flimsy and frivolous; without any real gravitas or importance.
As freelance writer Astrid Van Den Broek says, service journalism is often scorned and is seen as less worthy than other forms of writing. “I feel like service pieces are seen as the sloppy seconds of journalism,” she says.
Yes, service journalism is different from hard news reporting, literary writing and investigative journalism, but it’s meant to be.
The truth is (for me anyway), that this kind of writing often provides useful and practical advice – writers tend to spot a common need or problem that the reader has and the article writers and journalists pull together offers a solution.
Once you start looking for it, you’ll see service journalism everywhere.
And the best bit is that once you know that the type of articles you are writing have a specific name, and that what you are pitching is service journalism, you can make sure that your query letters to editors have the key components of what makes a service journalism article great.
[Related content: 5 things that can help get your pitch across the line]
Every service journalism article needs to:
Offer helpful or practical tips and solutions or advice to the reader
Deliver less information (usually) but in concise, manageable pieces
Follow the same high standard as if it were any other article for publication
It’s also definitely worth knowing that service journalism is one of the most popular forms of journalism for readers (just think of all those how-to articles, explainers and guides that get shared amongst your friends).
[Related content: How to get started as a freelance writer]
3 places to pitch your service journalism stories
As I mentioned before, there are so many places to pitch your service articles – here are just a few to get you started.
If there’s one section of a publication that epitomises service journalism, it’s Smarter Living in The New York Times.
The tagline of this section is: “Stories to help you understand the world – and make the most of it.”
The articles tend to focus on relationships, travel, psychology, health and money, and many of the articles centre on helpful, practical and useful advice around a broad idea, but that is still targeted (either for a specific audience or by bringing in recent research).
This is a really helpful guide written by Tim Herrera, the editor about pitching.
Rate: Reported to be $1(USD)/word (for 1000-2000 word articles)
Lifehacker is always looking for freelance pitches on all kinds of topics, such as technology, food, mental health, parenting and finances.
This is a useful thread on Twitter where the Managing Editor of Lifehacker Virginia Smith explains what she is looking for in more detail.
Rate: Reported to be around $150-200 (USD) a post
Quartzy is focused on living well, and the articles on this site try to capture what living a good life means.
Articles cover lifestyle, culture, travel, food, design, books, technology and fashion, but the site says they are “equally concerned with the intangibles, such as family, friendships, health, and living a considered life.”
While not specific to writing for Quartzy, this is a useful guide to writing for Quartz in general.
Rate: Reported to be upwards of $200 (USD) per article
Most publications are open to service journalism ideas and pitches. Some of the most popular articles on Facebook from places like Vice, Buzzfeed, The Guardian and Vox are service journalism articles.
And remember it’s not only publications, but brands are also engaging in service journalism.
Really, the opportunities are endless for freelance writers who want to branch out (or even just have a name for) into this type of writing.
Had you heard of service journalism before? Do you write service journalism articles?