Guidelines for Freelance Writers
Dear Travel Writer:
Welcome to the cornerstone of what we do.
What follows is the most important information contained in these several pages. The Los Angeles Times values honesty, fairness and truth. We understand the difficulties of the profession, but we also know that our reputation—and yours—rests on ensuring that our readers receive the best information possible.
These guidelines are from our own code of ethics, constructed over many months and with much care.
The Los Angeles Times Ethics Guidelines for Freelance Writers
The work of freelance journalists appears in our paper and on our website alongside staff-produced photos, articles and graphics. Freelancers must therefore approach their work without conflicts and must adhere to the same standards of professionalism that The Times requires of its own staff.
One of those standards: We do not accept stories that result from sponsored or free trips, discounted or subsidized travel or media rates. If you have done so, please don’t submit your story.
Another: We generally travel anonymously so we have the same experience any traveler has.
More information about our expectations follows. If you have any questions, please e-mail me.
Thank you again for your interest in and articles submitted to the Los Angeles Times.
Catharine M. Hamm
Guidelines for submitting materials to the Los Angeles Times Travel section:
The digital world has made ours a small world. We are awash in information: guidebooks, blogs, travel websites, maps, apps, ebooks, etc.
Your travel experience may translate into a blog post, a print or an online story, a photo gallery in print or online, a video. Each of these requires a slightly different approach as does each kind of story.
But please note that we now will no longer consider any submission that does not have a strong visual component. We appreciate original art but will accept handout art if it is of good quality and meets our specifications.
The Travel section, both print and online, is looking for bold, original travel features that tell a great story. Stories should be sophisticated, compelling, complete and written with flair.
They should evoke a strong sense of place (sounds, colors, smells, tastes), time (when did you go?), expertise and personal perspective, and they should be written with a precise story angle.
To that end, we seek two kinds of destination stories: Weekend Escapes and destination features.
Regardless of which kind of story you’re doing, you’ll need to remember this:
We require first North American rights for stories.
Freelancers must approach their work and travel arrangements without conflicts and must adhere to the same standards of professionalism that The Times requires of its staff. No free trips, no media rates, no discounts.
The Travel section will not consider pieces written about trips that have been subsidized in any way (even if part of a trip was not comped). We may ask for receipts.
We cannot consider queries. Completed stories are considered on speculation only. Stories must be based on trips taken within the previous TWO years. To be considered, the story may not have run elsewhere or be pending publication elsewhere.
Because of the volume of submissions, evaluating your story can take as long as 12 weeks.
Note that to get paid, we will need to have contracts returned before publication. If you have not received them, please contact Catharine.Hamm@latimes.com or Marilyn.Ruiz@latimes.com. You must invoice to be paid; for print, on the date of publication, you will receive an email telling you how much and with instructions. For a blog, you are expected to keep track of what you need to bill.
Note that photos are not paid out of the travel editorial department, so the photo procedure requires a separate invoice. (See photo guidelines below.)
Weekend Escape, print or online
The Weekend Escape is about 400 words, and when we say 400 words, we do not mean 900. Please note that we require five photos to accompany each of the “categories” listed in the sample below. Note that the intro requires how much the trip will cost, based on what you paid.
Escapes can be trips taken in the West, which is anything from Colorado west but including Texas—but you must have taken the trip.
Here’s an example:
Intro: The Portland Hop. I know, it sounds like a dance craze in 1937. But really, it’s what you do when Southern California gets you down and you need to drink small-batch beer, eat Northwestern locavore meals, and see bike commuters in the rain. My wife, daughter and I hit Portland for a few days last August. Airfares aside, we spent about $550, including $170 per night on the Hotel Modera (thanks to the first AARP discount of my life) and $28 at Pacific Pie Co.
The bed: Once a Days Inn, the Hotel Modera (515 SW Clay St., Portland;  484-1084; hotelmodera.com; rooms for two start around $129 in spring) got a serious upgrade before opening in 2008. Its lobby and 174 guest rooms are done up in mid-century modernist style, punctuated with lots of original art, accompanied by an accomplished upscale restaurant, Nel Centro. We stayed two nights, ate well in the restaurant, and enjoyed being about six blocks from the central Pioneer Courthouse Square.
The meal: It’s tempting, but I’m not going to insist you try “totchos” (the marriage at last of Tater Tots and nachos), which we encountered at very genial Oaks Bottom Public House in the Westmoreland area. Instead, keep an eye out for the tasty and very casual Pacific Pie Company (1520 S.E. 7th Ave., Portland;  381-6157; www.pacificpieco.com; no single item more than $9). The bakers specialize in Australian-style meat pies and sweet pies. As is the Portland way, they value sustainability and local ingredients and offer pie-making classes. If the Moroccan chickpea pie doesn’t seduce you, the grass-fed beef braised in stout beer just might.
The find: In the trendy Pearl district, we browsed and bought at Oblation (516 NW 12th Ave., Portland; ( 223-1093; www.oblationpapers.com), “a 19th century print shop designing wedding invitations for the 21st century.” We didn’t need wedding invites, but our friend Lisa knew we’d appreciate such witty and gorgeous uses of good old paper and ink. We lingered long.
The lesson learned: Beware the maze of one-way streets near Hawthorne Bridge, which turned our hunt for the hotel into a comic misadventure. (Also, as you read all the NWs, NEs, SWs and SEs in local addresses, remember that the Willamette River separates east from west and Burnside Street separates north from south.)
For this format, we need these photos:
--An establishing shot that sets the scene for the location (for the Intro)
--A hotel image (to accompany The bed section)
--A restaurant image (for The Meal section)
--An image for “The find” or “The lesson learned,” which will share a page.
These can be simple-to-take images. They can be exteriors of the hotel or restaurant, your meal brought into better light for a shot before you eat it. These are doable even with point-and-shoot cameras or a phone that provide at least an 8 MP image (iPhones do). Try for a mix of horizontals and verticals. Photos on our website must be in a 16:9 aspect ratio, which means no verticals.
If the writer is unable to shoot a photo herself/himself, the writer needs to supply a phone number and e-mail address and phone for a pr person who can supply art at our request.
Destination pieces for print
We are not looking for everything you need to know about Shanghai; we are looking for the city from the vantage of its architecture or its fine arts or another angle. Find a salient thread for your story, be selective with your descriptions and historical facts and spin a tale that tells of a unique experience that can be replicated.
We want stories that will make readers get out of their chairs and go -- or at least enjoy the ride from their armchairs. We also want destination stories that reflect travel trends, stories that put us out ahead of the curve.
Destinations will vary according to our needs, but stories should have a compelling reason to be told, an “of-the-moment” quality that make them relevant rather just an “I went to Italy and did this, then I did this.” Stories should be written in past tense.
Here’s what’s required:
Your top four to five grafs should tell us where you went (besides the name, you need the geographic context), when you went and why you went and, of course, explain the angle you’re taking. It sets up the rest of the story.
The “nut graf”—the graf that explains why you are writing this story and foreshadows the rest of the story and explains why it’s being written now and why it matters—should fall no lower than the fourth graf.
The rest of your story will flow from there. Sometimes it helps to write stories with subheads, which help break the story into manageable pieces.
In all stories, be honest. Not every trip goes well. We know that not all hotels are great and that meals are sometimes lousy. We know that tour guides aren’t equally well versed and that weather can be bad. And, more important, our readers know it too because they are travelers. If something unpleasant happens, that’s part of the story, although this isn’t supposed to be a study on bad travel destinations either.
On lengths: When we say 1,300 words, we don’t mean 1,750 words. Our space is finite. Some would add, “as is your patience.”
Stories must be submitted by e-mail. We must see a manuscript first, then revised to our specifications, before acceptance.
Photos are a prerequisite for publication. We require good-quality digital photos, not color prints or slides. (See guidelines below for photo requirements.) Do not send digital photos to an editor’s personal e-mail because they will crash our e-mail system. Send instead to firstname.lastname@example.org or use DropBox or WeTransfer.
Destination pieces online
If you are pitching a story for online only—and we do run these—you will need to provide plenty of art. Online stories are much the same as print stories with a notable exception: You must be able to divide your story into narrative chunks with a photo for each chunk.
Length and pay are the same as for print.
Blog posts about something of interest to our readership may be submitted to us. They must be 200 words or less and must be accompanied by artwork. If the artwork is a publicity shot, you must obtain permission to use that photo from the source. You may obtain this permission (see form below) in writing or by email, but it must be sent to us with the submission.
We also can use video, and it must be accompanied by this same release.
I/we (NAME HERE) own the copyright to this photo/video/visual of (DESCRIBE HERE) and I/we grant permission to the Los Angeles Times and its affiliates, including in print, online and through social media.
In addition, you must include in your story all appropriate links and telephone numbers, which you need to verify before submission and for which we thank you. PLEASE DO NOT EMBED THEM. OUR CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS CANNOT READ THEM AND WE WILL HAVE TO LOOK THEM UP AGAIN. You can write them this way if your text: We ate at Adana www.adanakabob.com in an unlikely industrial area (etc).
Payments and other housekeeping
Print stories (other than briefs) vary from $200 to $750, depending on placement. Online only stories generally pay $500, but if they are used in print, we will pay depending on placement. There is but one payment; the contract you sign gives us permission to use in any medium. Original photos will be paid separately; no additional money will be given for handout art.
You must invoice for all stories; we will provide instructions.
Weekend Escapes pay $200, plus additional monies for original photos (no additional money for handout art). You will need to bill separately for those photos.
Blog posts pay $75 with no additional money for handout art (or $25 for an original piece of art).
Note that new vendors—that is, those who have not worked with us before—must return all paperwork (contracts) before their information can be entered into the system. After that vendor account is set up, payment can often take as long as 12 weeks.
Please negotiate the photo rate with the photo editor: Kathy.Pyon@latimes.com. Photos MUST have detailed captions and credits, preferably on a separate sheet.
How to write the IF YOU GO Guidebook that accompany longer features (not Weekend Escapes).
All guidebooks must have the following components:
- The best way: Tell the reader the best way to get there. (“Fly into Los Angeles and drive to Ventura, about 60 miles north.”) We will supply airfare information, but you must supply specialized information, such as train or bus fares and automobile routes.
- Where to stay: Names, addresses, telephone numbers, websites and current prices for recommended lodgings (based on a room for two). If you stay in only one place, it’s important to check out other accommodations that you might recommend. We need at least three hotels.
- Where to eat: Restaurant information should also include addresses, phones and websites and a range of prices for entrees, low to high. We need at least three restaurants.
- To learn more: The guidebook should include names, addresses and phone numbers for sources of more information on the destination and any other specifics (tour operators etc.) appropriate to the story.
The best way
The nearest major airport is Bradley International Field near Hartford, Conn., about 90 minutes’ drive south of xx spot.
From LAX, American, Delta, United and Southwest provide connecting (change of plane) service. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $560, including all taxes and fees.
Car rentals from most major agencies are available at the airport. It’s a 90-minute drive north on Interstate 91 to Brattleboro, at Vermont Exit 2 just past the Massachusetts state line.
Amtrak trains stop at Brattleboro once daily northbound, at 3:15 a.m., and one southbound, at 12:15 p.m., on their route between Washington, D.C., and Montreal.
Where to stay
Latchis Hotel, 50 Main St., Brattleboro, Vt.; (802) 254-6300 or (800) 555-5555, latchishotel.com. The newly renovated hotel offers rooms and suites in an Art Deco atmosphere. Doubles begin at $125.
Naulakha, 425 E. Lansing Drive, Brattleboro, Vt.; (802) 555-5555 or (800) 555-5556, naulakha.com. This is the former Rudyard Kipling home, and rooms can be rented for a week. Doubles begin at $225.
The Kellington, 350 E. Marian St., Brattleboro, Vt.; (802) 555-5555 or (800) 555-5555, thekellington.com. This is a 15-room hotel set in a Queen Anne home. Each room has a fireplace; breakfast is included. Doubles begin at $150.
Where to eat
The Common Ground, 25 Elliot St., Congdon, Vt.; (802) 257-0855, commonground.com. This is a vegetarian restaurant. Entrees run about $13-$17.
Peter Havens, 32 Elliot St., Kinsala, Vt.; (802) 257-3333, peterhavens.com. It features Continental cuisine, with the accent on seafood. Entrees run about $30-$45.
In the Latchis Hotel are the Latchis Grill, (802) 254-4747, latchisgrille.com, serving international cuisine (entrees $25-$45), and the Windham Brewery (same phone), a small-scale brewery serving ales, porters, lagers and specialty brews.
To learn more
Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, 180 Main St., Box B, Brattleboro, Vt.; (802) 254-4565, brattleboro.com.
Note the category for telephones. For some destinations, usually exotic or off-the-beaten path, you’ll need information on getting around or organized tours. If you’re uncertain, check with an editor or include it.
The best way
From LAX, Qantas has connecting service (several changes of planes) to Perth. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $2,236, including all taxes and fees.
To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 61 (country code for Australia), 8 (the area code) and the local number.
Independent travel requires a sturdy four-wheel-drive vehicle, plenty of camping gear and some outback experience. Four-wheel-drives can be rented from:
Hertz, 40 Frederick St., Broome, Western Australia; 9192-1428, hertz.com, from $99 per day.
Britz Rentals, 10 Livingstone St., Broome, Western Australia 6725; 9192-2647, britz.com, from $85 per day with unlimited mileage.
Where to stay
Mt. Hart Wilderness Lodge, P.O. Box 653, Derby, Western Australia; 9191-4645, mthart.com.au. $85 per person, based on double occupancy, which includes dinner and breakfast.
Beverly Springs Station, P.O. Box 691, Derby, Western Australia; 9191-4646, beverlysprings.com. Rates $71 a person, with dinner and breakfast; children younger than 10 free. Camping $5.65 a night per person.
El Questro Homestead, P.O. Box 909, Kununurra, Western Australia; 9169-1777, elquestro.com.au. This million-acre cattle station, set in some of the Kimberley’s most beautiful scenery, has tent cabins from $75 per room to $480 (including meals) per person for a suite.
Where to eat:
The Kimberly Common Ground, 25 Elliot St.; Broome, Western Australia; 9192-5741, commonground.com. This is Kimberly’s vegetarian restaurant. Entrees run about $13-$17.
Peter Havens, 32 Elliot St., Broome, Western Australia; 9192-5741, peterhavens.com. It features Continental cuisine, with the accent on seafood. Entrees run about $30-$45.
The Next One Goes Here, 32 Elliot St., 32 Elliot St., Broome, Western Australia; 9192-5741, peterhavens.com. It features Continental cuisine, with the accent on seafood. Entrees run about $30-$45.
To learn more
Australian Tourist Commission, 2049 Century Park East, Suite 1920, Los Angeles, CA 90067; (800) 369-6863, australia.com.
From Los Angeles Times Photo Department:
Specs: You want at least a 5MB capability; 6-8 is better, for most publications. For online, they photos must be a 16:9 aspect ratio.
JPEG or TIFF? JPEG quality should be high and baseline (“standard”) or TIFF option. Submit images by e-mail or by DropBox or WeTransfer to Kathy.Pyon@latimes.com. If you email the images, please send them to email@example.com. Size images at least 6x9 inches (8 x 10 or larger preferred) again, in size at 200 dpi or higher.
How to shoot: Exposure is critical. Fill the frame with your visual information. The more you have to crop, especially with digital, the less quality you will have. Send a variety of images. Horizontals and vertical, scenes, scenes with people, close ups of details.
What not to do: You may not alter the image. Period. No subtracting trees, no adding sky. If you couldn’t do it in the darkroom, don’t do it with Photoshop.
Submitting photos: Complete captions and credit information with your e-mail and phone contact for questions are required. DO NOT SUBMIT CAPTION-LESS work. If you are not fluent in PhotoShop, you can submit a word document with captions. Who, what where, when, why and how are the questions to answer. The basic info along with some feeling about the place, the mood of the place etc. can help sell or place your image. Please include your name and phone number. Your images are eligible for use on latimes.com. Print section published images will be used at no additional cost.
Your images will not be sold or distributed to any other parties other than those mentioned in our contract. Submission of your images to the Los Angeles Times will indicate your agreement to all terms listed.
For photo rates, please contact Kathy.Pyon@latimes.com
Transmitting photos: Wi-Fi, cable modem or DSL should allow you to send files over electronically. A slow connection, however, will often lose the signal and send incomplete images.
Where: Do not send to an editor’s individual mailbox. You can send to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Payment: Please e-mail Kathy.Pyon@latimes.com after the photographs run so you can get an invoice amount.
Questions? Feel free to call or e-mail as desired. Kathy.Pyon@latimes.com.
Captions, or cutlines, should add content/context to the photograph, not repeat what’s evident from looking at it.
But don’t project feelings onto people or creatures. If the person says how he or she feels and it’s worthy, use this as a quote. Conduct a short interview with your subjects. The more information you have to use, the better the caption will be.
Avoid clichés. What would never run in a story should not be written in a cutline. If you take your work seriously, don’t write a silly cutline or corny catch-phrase.
If something seems unusual, or not quite right in the setting, try to get more information—example: a bandage on an elderly man’s head.
Photo credit must be included, even with handout photos. If there is no photographer, provide the source of the photo (publisher, company that provided the photograph etc.). Photos may be used in print or on the web.
CAPTION WRITING: The 5 W’s
- DATELINE (IN ALL CAPS): CITY, STATE - DATE: (Example: BURBANK, CA – JULY 10, 2016)
- Describe the picture in the present tense using an “action” verb that best describes what the person is doing.
Examples: gestures, speaks to, waves to, walks, walks with, accompanies, arrives, arrives with, smiles for the camera, poses for photographers, brandishes and so on. Avoid using non-action verbs such as “is seen.”
- Structure the first sentence in this order: Who, what, when and where.
The subject: Always use full names and titles the first time you refer to someone; if you name him or her again in the second sentence, you do not have to repeat the full title. (Use “unidentified” and NOT “anonymous” to describe someone you haven’t identified.)
The action taking place (the verb and the objects of its actions)
The date the picture was made. Do not use the day of the week. Example: October 18, 2016
The place, city and state (or city and country if outside the U.S.)
- This is the “WHY” sentence.
- This sentence gives context to the picture and may explain why it is important.
- Sometimes it’s just the latest news about the subject with no relation to the image itself.
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 16, 2008: Martha Stewart stands outside Federal Court after her sentencing hearing July 16, 2008 in Los Angeles. Stewart was sentenced to five months in federal prison, two years probation and $30, 000 in fines. (John Smith/Los Angeles Times)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 21, 2008: Los Angeles Police Officer Nazik Halburian, right, receives a report on a stolen car from John Smith July 21, 2008 in Los Angeles. The city controller last month recommended that more than 400 desk jobs now assigned to sworn LAPD officers be performed by cheaper civilian clerks. (John Smith/Los Angeles Times)
SANDY, UT - APRIL 19, 2008: Alexis Witt holds her son Noah, right, and daughter Hannah at home in Sandy, UT on April 19, 2008. Witt’s husband, Army Staff Sgt. Dean Witt, died after receiving questionable medical care at a military hospital. (John Smith/Los Angeles Times)
--Check names and titles with subjects and mark with a CQ, which means “correct as quoted.”
--Do not guess on a name or any other fact. If possible, check with the subject and be careful. Name errors are among the most common.
--Make each caption specific to that image.
--Use spell check.