Thinking of writing for the Carillon? Let a staff writer help

yep! you can write these things too! Wikimedia commons, manipulated by Kate Thiessen

It’s easier than you think

At the Carillon, we’ve been blessed countless times by students who choose to contribute their work to this paper. We love being able to promote student voices and give people the opportunity to be paid for writing on topics they’re passionate about. However, being a student myself, I can absolutely understand that after spending nine hours working on essays for class, writing more words for a newspaper isn’t appealing to everyone. So, to try to make it seem a little more appealing and approachable, I came up with some tips and tricks that I use when coming up with article topics for my own submissions, as well as some tips for interviews if you have ever considered a news-based piece.

The first thing I do when I’m trying to pick a topic for an article is go to the Carillon website’s main page and find their Pitch List, which right now is located at the top of the page beside the button you can use to contribute pieces to the Carillon. The Pitch Lists are put together by the editors for each section of our paper (News, Sports, Arts & Culture, and Op-Ed), and will give you a great idea of the type of material the section’s editor is trying to find for that week. They’ll normally have a few specific article prompts, as well as a few general ones. Also available on the Pitch List page are the e-mail addresses for each section editor, which you can use to contact them if you’d like to claim any listed pitches or pitch them a relevant idea of your own. 

I’ll be honest with you folks – pitching your own ideas will be scary the first couple times. I was definitely hesitant to bring my thoughts to the table when I first started last May. Fortunately, the Carillon has also been blessed with some genuinely incredible human beings as our editors. The harshest critique I’ve ever received from them has been something along the lines of: “I feel like that would be better received if you came at it from “x” angle instead” – and they were right. All of our editors also write pieces each week, so they have first-hand experience of the nerves you get when sending that email, and any critiques or recommendations they make are there to help your writing reach its full potential. 

Coming up with a pitch for an article can be a really fun process when done right. It’s good to pick something you’re already passionate about; that way, it’ll be easier to stay motivated when writing, because you’re personally invested in getting the information out. You can take it in a different direction by choosing a topic you’d like to learn more about, so you actually get paid to learn. I find this approach is useful when writing News articles or Op-Ed pieces, as the breadth of topics you can choose from is enormous, and this helps narrow it down a little. You could write on a social issue you’re passionate about, on a policy change that you’d like to learn more about, a scientific discovery that you’re nerding over, or even something that pissed you off that day that you think others may relate to.

Another great way to come up with pitches is staying up-to-date on local businesses, events, art, and music. The Carillon is always looking to feature local groups that are working to make a positive impact, so if you have a little diner that’s your go-to or a band that you think more people should check out, why not write an article about it to give back to them a bit? In the past we’ve accepted everything from book reviews to band interviews to live theatre and art show critiques; we’re always excited to have a broader reach in what we cover. 

Some pitches you think of may require interviews to be done – by you – which can also initially be very intimidating. My first recommendation here is: when you’re trying to find the right person to interview, make sure you’re looking for someone who’s genuinely passionate about the topic. When you’re asking to interview someone, you’re asking them for a favour, and I can say from experience that some interviews can be as dry as chapped lips in January if you get someone who doesn’t really care. On the flip side, several times I’ve had interviews turn into hour-long conversations, because we both were enjoying talking about the topic so much we lost track of time. Honestly, that’s where you’ll find the best information, because you’re showing the interviewee that you genuinely respect their expertise and want to learn from them. I always aim to make an interview feel as natural as possible, and the best way to do that is making sure you’re familiar with some of the material beforehand. 

I cannot stress this enough, though: do not ask someone for an interview only to waste their time. Do not ask someone for an interview and expect them to do all the leg work. The best interview questions you can come up with are the ones that show you’ve done some research, and you’re trying to dig deeper into a topic. Try to avoid “what” questions, unless you’re asking what their opinion on something is, as these questions are better for defining terms than getting deep responses. If you ask more “why” or “how” questions, like “why does “x” have the impact it does,” or “how do you feel “x” could be done differently,” you’re more likely to get a well-thought-out response with supports for their viewpoints. 

You’ve also got the best chance at receiving a “yes” when requesting an interview if you include the direction of your article and the types of questions or topics you’d like to ask them about. People generally don’t like going into things blindly, so if you’re asking someone for an interview, you need to be specific when laying out your expectations for that interview.

With those tips in mind, try contributing to the Carillon!

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