Pitch Guidelines

Thank you for your interest in pitching to the Chicago Reader. We are primarily a staff-written publication, but we also run narrative features, neighborhood news stories, criticism, videos, and audio works that come from freelance contributors.

The Reader maintains a small core of dedicated freelancers and accepts pitches on an ongoing basis from new voices. Women, nonbinary people, and contributors of color are urged to pitch us, using the loose guidelines below (but do tailor our requests to your areas of interest and expertise). Please be aware, however, that we do receive a lot of pitches and must be selective. These guidelines are meant to help you craft a pitch that will cut through the clutter and pique our interest.

We will assess the likelihood of you completing the story as planned based on what you include in the pitch. While we are traditionally a prose publication, we also encourage submissions of photos, illustrations, video, or other multimedia pieces that could run online or in print. Pitch guidelines have been outlined for these areas below.

RULES OF THUMB

We rarely accept completed stories. If you send us a finished article that is more than 500 words—we will not read it. We don’t have time.

We accept both reported stories and op-eds.

If you’ve never written for us before, we recommend that you start by pitching a short story—one that is 300 to 1,000 words that you can report and write in a day or two—as opposed to a lengthy feature that might take weeks or months to report and write.

Don’t presume we are as knowledgeable about this topic as you are. Help us get into the story the way you would if you were telling the story to a friend who knew nothing about the topic.

There are several sections of the paper that are open to freelance submissions:

City Life:

The friendly front-of-the-book section accepts submissions for “What the hell is this place?” This feature includes a photo of an unusual aspect of the built environment in the city (a place that makes you go huh?!) and a brief explanation of what the object or structure is. We’re also looking for submissions to “Sightseeing,” a history-focused short essay that highlights little-known tidbits from our weird city’s past. These pieces are 300 to 600 words in length. Send City Life pitches to Salem Collo-Julin at scollojulin@chicagoreader.com.

News & Politics:

We publish pieces on just about any topic, and we’re always looking for stories our readers can’t find anywhere else. But we’re especially focused on these areas:

  • Policing
  • Incarceration
  • Surveillance
  • Immigration
  • Labor and housing organizing
  • Gender and queer issues
  • Reproductive rights
  • Environmental justice

Strong pitches have clear, compelling narratives and are centered in the communities and experiences of the people most impacted.

News & Politics pieces can range anywhere from 600 to 3,000 words in length and can be written in a fact-forward, newsy style or, for longer works, employ the literary journalism approach the Reader is known for. This can include news features on local policies or conflicts that underscore the stakes and opportunities for change; explainers and service journalism pieces that provide readers with tangible information about key issues; and investigations that expose systemic harms or injustices.

Send pitches to Shawn Mulcahy at smulcahy@chicagoreader.com. In two to three paragraphs, your email should describe your pitch; include a summary of the story, a “nut graph” that describes the main takeaway of the piece, whether it’s time-sensitive, what makes it original or important, and an outline of your reporting plan and sources.

Arts & Culture:

We take a broad view of culture. To us, it’s anything made or created by people in the community that make Chicago a weirder and more interesting place. Here are some areas of interest:

  • Up-and-coming artists, writers, filmmakers, and performers (we prefer Chicagoans, though we will consider people visiting here on tour)
  • Food news and profiles that aren’t necessarily tied to restaurants
  • Crafts, fashion, design, and other things people make with their hands
  • Ideas (eg academic scholarship or particularly entertaining crackpots)
  • Neighborhood hubs and characters
  • Video games and online culture
  • History
  • Sports
  • Critical essays about movies, books, comedy, visual art, etc.

We are especially looking for reported stories. If you pitch a review or any other criticism, please show us you have serious expertise. Movie and theater capsule reviews are generally assigned three or four weeks in advance.

For theater, dance, and performance arts, send pitches to Kerry Reid at kreid@chicagoreader.com.

For food and drink, film, and small-screen stories, send pitches to Taryn Allen at tallen@chicagoreader.com.

For visual arts, architecture, book, and literary arts pitches, send pitches to Kerry Cardoza at kcardoza@chicagoreader.com.

Music:

Pitches for print or online feature stories go to Philip Montoro at pmontoro@chicagoreader.com. Pitches for concert previews go to Jamie Ludwig at jludwig@chicagoreader.com. Please observe a minimum lead time of four weeks if possible.

No genres are off-limits for concert previews: pop, rock, hip-hop, metal, punk, hardcore, country, reggae, soul, gospel, footwork, house, techno, cumbia, salsa, rockabilly, bluegrass, classical, opera, jazz, improvised music, sound art, and all forms of international and traditional music. The breadth and depth of the Reader‘s coverage is its greatest strength, and you’re invited to increase both in any direction you can.

Features include artist profiles and interviews, album or show reviews, and less categorizable things, among them a history of labor songs born in Chicago, an accounting of the ways Obamacare repeal would hurt musicians, and the neighborhood-rooted Block Beat series, a multimedia collaboration with The TRiiBE. The Reader is also eager to hear from reporters and writers who can engage with the business and politics of music, such as Cook County’s attempt to collect back taxes from small venues by redefining “live music or culture.”

Photography and Illustration:

Photo essay pitches can cover a wide range of topics across all our sections, but first and foremost should have a basis in communities, life, culture, politics, and issues specific to or originating in Chicago. The best pitches are specific and have some research behind them.

Please take time to see if your idea has already been covered by the Chicago Reader. If we have, please indicate why you will offer a new angle or update. In addition to narrative-based photo essays, we also accept pitches that are more conceptual, artistic, or document Chicago in a unique way. Both documentarian and studio shoots are welcome.

In addition to general pitch questions below, for photography pitches, please address:

1. What is your timeframe for the project? Is there an urgent hook or event tied to the project?

2. Have you done any initial shooting? If so, please include one or two shots (no more!)

3. Do you have sample images or a mood board to represent tone, lighting, or style you see for the project?

We also accept letters of inquiry from freelance illustrators and photographers that are interested in potentially receiving assignments throughout the year. Send contact information, links to portfolios, and a description of your work to James Hosking at jhosking@chicagoreader.com.

chicagoreader.com:

Our digital presence offers the opportunity to quickly report on and respond to Chicago’s breaking news and stories of interest, and to cover oddball stories and events not included in the print edition. Digital pitches can and should be timely, and if the story itself isn’t happening in Chicago, effort should be made to find local sources or secure a local angle. Send digital pitches to pitches@chicagoreader.com.

Pitch Questions

For general pitches that may not fit into these categories, please email pitches@chicagoreader.com with these questions answered in your pitch (500 words MAX):

  • What is your story about?
  • Why should the Reader‘s audience care about this story?
  • How long will it take you to report and write this story? (Be realistic.)
  • What if any reporting have you done already?
  • What is the proposed word count?
  • Do you have any personal connection to this story that we should know about?
  • Do you have any conflicts of interest that might compromise your ability to report this story fairly and without bias?
  • What previous experience do you bring to this story? For example, if you are a veteran tech reporter and this is a tech story, tell us that.

Please include three links to previously written/reported/produced stories.

Email your answers to pitches@chicagoreader.com and use “Pitch query” with your story’s slug as the subject line.