Ask Me Anything: Handling Missing Stories

Jen asks,

I’m starting into freelance writing (pretty casual, after my 9-5) and in order to build up clips, I contacted a local free newspaper about writing a piece for them.  In the end, I sent in a full piece (450 words) for consideration and the editor said to me it would be run in their January Issue.  (editor’s response: “Thanks. Will run it in January.”)  There was no payment, and I knew that going into it.

I checked the issue today and my piece wasn’t run.  There is, however, a piece on the same subject matter, using some of my ideas.  So, presumably, they’ve re-written my article cherry-picking from my ideas and adding some of their own. There was no credit given to me.

Personally, I don’t think that was appropriate of the paper to do.

Can you offer any insight?  Is this typical?  Is the publication out of line? Do I need to get a thicker skin?

I’d like to write the editor and say that I’m very disappointed her publication would take my article, re-write it, and pass it off as their own content.  Is that out of line?

Writing the editor certainly makes sense in this situation — but I’d suggest trying to get the full story first. Ask why the editor chose not to run the article after saying that he or she would — there may
be a reason you might not expect. I managed one of those free newspapers for quite a while and we made a point of using content that came in (it certainly beat having to write it ourselves), but occasionally pieces got lost in the shuffle or an editor might simply forget that she had an article to run. If that was the case… well, these things happen, especially when an editor doesn’t have to worry
about payment and other details.

That said, if the editor can’t give you a reason why he or she didn’t run your piece, especially after accepting it, it was certainly inappropriate for the paper to run such a similar article rather than yours. At the very least, the editor should have contacted you and told you that your story wasn’t going to run and, if they used ideas out of your article, they should have given you credit for your work. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot that can be done. If there was money involved, I would suggest asking for a kill fee, but the best the editor would be able to offer you would be an apology and perhaps another chance to write for this paper, assuming that you want to work with this editor again.

Once you’ve written to the editor and discovered whether there was a reason your article was dropped, it may be best just to move on. While you can spend time getting an apology out of this editor, that’s time you could be working on bigger and better things. Personally, I’d write this publication off and move on. It’s not necessarily a question of growing a thick skin — it’s perfectly right to be angry if someone takes ideas out of your work and uses them in their own articles without giving you credit. But, in this particular case, getting angry won’t get you anywhere and there are better uses for your time.

Do you have any advice for Jen on dealing with this situation?

Do you have a question about the business side of freelancing? Ask it in the comments and I’ll answer it next week.

3 Comments

  1. Jennifer Vaughn   •  

    Hi Thursday, Just a quick note to say thank you for the in-depth reply to my question.

    Since reading your advice, I wrote to the editor of the newspaper asking why my piece hadn’t been run. She replied and said that my piece got mixed up with the other one and that mine will run in February.

    Guess I’ll wait and see what happens in February!

  2. thursday   •     Author

    @Jennifer, That sounds like good news — keep us updated on what happens next month!

  3. Jen   •  

    Hi Thursday, My “missing story” did appear in the February edition of the newspaper as the editor promised in our follow-up communication. Thanks for your guidance in helping me navigate the issue like a pro! -Jen

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