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Need Work? Think Weeklies – Part Two

By Tony Dolle
Jim Low’s article, “Need Work? Think Weeklies,” featured in the May Outdoors Unlimited, prompted me to add to what he wrote. Low was correct when he said weeklies are a growing market and a great venue for those looking to syndicate their work.
Yep, that’s right, syndicate – and survive. Well, not just survive, but probably flourish, especially if you find yourself looking for a job or extra income. It isn’t that hard, despite what you may think. You can use not only your writing skills, but also your photography skills, to earn enough income from 10 newspapers to pay the mortgage and buy groceries.
This is especially easy for an outdoor columnist (that would be you) with some time on his or her hands due to job loss or a writer (again, you) who wants to supplement a regular job. Low suggested finding 15 newspapers and writing two pieces for each every week, for $20 per piece. Good advice. Not a bad business model.
However, why not write only two pieces a week and sell the same two pieces to those same 15 weekly newspapers for the same $20 (or more) per article? That’s called syndication. That’s easier and leaves you with a bit more time for other pursuits. Well, in theory anyway.
Two friends (one in the mid-1970s and the other in the 1990s) did exactly this with outdoor columns in Missouri and Tennessee, respectively. Both utilized outdoor columns, re-writes of their state fish and game agency press releases and their own photographs. After creating an outdoor “package,” they drove to nearby towns with weekly and small daily newspapers. They would go to the newspaper’s office and invite the editor to lunch, where the writers pitched their columns. They sold these newspaper packages, localized to each newspaper’s community, for $10 and $40, respectively.
Their philosophies were similar: “I eat lunch, he eats lunch, let’s eat lunch together.” That idea worked more often than not and both ended up with more than 15 newspapers running their outdoor packages. They made pretty good extra incomes and kept it up until the demands of full-time jobs and their families forced them to give up the columns.
“Good weekly newspapers are thriving because they make themselves indispensible to small, local audiences,” Low wrote.
The outdoor packages my friends created helped facilitate that very idea for small papers they worked with. The papers were too small to afford a full-time outdoor writer, even though the papers’ readers enjoyed articles related to the outdoors. The writers helped the newspapers solve a problem.
Making sure their columns pertained to the newspapers’ coverage areas kept the writers in their editors’ good graces. They sent their packages early in the week and wrote of events to come, not past.
They wrote about the readers, not themselves. One of the writers hooked up with two newspaper groups (each with six newspapers per group) and his packages were sent to papers that turned him down when he had stopped by months earlier. The newspaper groups paid for use of his column in all of the groups’ newspapers, even if some papers didn’t print his material. Talk about a good deal!
I’ve met other writers who have done similar types of syndication – most out of necessity. If I found myself out of work or needing to supplement my income, syndicating an outdoor package to weekly and small daily newspapers would be one of my first moves. I might not get rich, but I certainly would have paid work I could use for many endeavors.
Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Call your state fish and game agency and get on their media lists. Almost all of them send out media packages on a weekly basis. Regular information about hunting and fishing seasons, limits and changes in regulations are always important.
  2. Call marinas during the fishing season and create regular reports on where the fish are biting and what they are hitting.
  3. Offer to take photos (no charge) for every retail business in your paper’s coverage areas that holds a big buck (deer season) or longest beard (turkey season) or biggest fish (summer months) contest. Use the photos in your weekly packages.
  4. Interview the winners and use the interviews as column material or for a how-to article.
  5. Once you get a newspaper to buy your package, don’t forget about them. Once a month, send a thank you note. At least once a quarter, stop by and take the editor to lunch. Be sure to put the newspaper editor and staff on your Christmas card list, if possible.

Of course, you can think of many, many more ways to help yourself, but the idea is to make it happen. ◊
A member of OWAA since 1979, Tony Dolle is OWAA’s first vice president. Dolle is also president of Advantage Communications and a freelance writer and photographer. Contact him at tdolle@ducks.org.
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