Essays April 15, 2020

How to Pitch Study Hall

A Study Hall exclusive.

Study Hall is a bit like Cat Fancy for the media industry: we publish stories for fans and industry professionals who already know plenty about the subject matter. Our litmus test for a pitch is whether the story is interesting, useful and true; whether it adds new information or analysis to an existing conversation in the media; and whether Study Hall is uniquely suited to publish it. Here’s a guide to pitching us, with story formats, logistics, and some general tips.

Story Types

Reports and Features

Study Hall reports can range widely, from deep dives into cultural phenomena to investigations of bad business practices. In general, we like to spend reporting resources on media stories that are under-covered elsewhere. It’s fine if readers need to already be familiar with the themes and characters of the media industry to get into the story. An example is Spenser Mestel’s story on the death of NYT en Español, which we covered in more detail than other outlets.

We also publish zoomed-out stories on forces that have been reshaping the industry under our feet. Study Hall staff writer Allegra Hobbs’ reporting on intellectual property does this: there wasn’t one big, culminating event to cover, but sustained attention showed that selling IP had become a major profit motive in journalism, and spending time reporting it out gave us new insight. We also love profiles of influential media figures, like Jessica Wakeman’s piece on New York Times Style editor Choire Sicha.

We want all reported features to be original, well-sourced, and well-argued. They typically go through multiple rounds of edits, have a longer timeline, and are fact-checked.

Essays

Study Hall essays are heterogeneous: We’ve run an elegy to keyboards, a history of Twitter’s blue check, and an annotated draft of a Leaving New York essay.  The media connection can be explicit, or it can be a vibe: some stories feel like media stories even if they are about, say, a goat who is famous on the internet.

We run a series of media memoirs on odd jobs in the industry, ranging from Boomer content farming to party reporting. These are more narrative-driven than our other essays and work best when they connect a unique, idiosyncratic experience to a trend in the media industry as a whole.

We also love reported essays, entertaining rants on something you love or hate, and pieces that dissects phenomenon that no one has named yet. We stay away from broad, introductory pieces or op-eds: we need a discrete subject or a sharp and focused take to tell readers something they don’t already know.

Q+As

Q+As are in-depth conversations with subjects with some connection to media, whether that’s an anonymous accounting staffer, a New Yorker staff writer, or the author of an up-and-coming newsletter. We like to commission Q+As from writers who are good interviewers and  have a unique angle on the topic. It’s great when these conversations involve some amount of shop-talk: journalists sharing their favorite note-taking systems or recommending the most reliable voice recorders.

How-To Guides

How-to guides can be reported, like Luke Winkie’s etiquette guide to sharing drafts, or be first-person narratives, like Jonny Coleman’s advice for taking a client to small claims court. They should offer clear, specific directions for performing a certain task, but writers are welcome to have fun with the format within those guidelines.

We’re always curious about skills that are common for specific beats that other journalists might not possess — handling hostile sources, digging through business records, acquiring film screeners — so get in touch to share useful tools that feel second-nature to you.

Pitching

We endeavor to respond to every pitch email, but as a two-person editorial office, it isn’t always possible. If we haven’t responded within a week, feel free to send us a follow-up email before taking the pitch elsewhere. If a story is timely, urgent, or an exclusive, note it in the subject line.

Please limit your pitch to two to three paragraphs: introduce the subject and explain what you’ll do with it. There’s no need to have a fully developed thesis in the email — it will likely change as you write — but provide some sense of why you think this story is important and why you want to write it for Study Hall. If the piece involves reporting, give us a sense of how you plan to perform that reporting.

Always include links to clips, ideally stories that are written in a similar format or style to the one you’re pitching. (If you’re pitching an investigation of Facebook ad sale numbers, for example, link to another piece of reporting rather than a personal essay.) Clips from school newspapers or blogs are totally fine. If applicable, also include links to sources and background information as you mention them. If we’re interested in the topic but want to propose different angle, it helps to have those links in the email.

Final approval

With the exception of breaking news stories, we will always send writers a preview version of their story one to two hours before we plan to publish, with a headline, dek, and image selection that are either final or indicative of how we’re planning to frame the story. We do our best to honor all final headline or copy changes that do not contradict our style guide or introduce inaccuracies. Writers can always reject an image selection and have an article run without illustration.

Payments

We pay via Justworks for US vendors and PayPal for international vendors, covering transaction fees in the latter case. Payment will reach you within two weeks of invoicing. We pay on completion rather than publication, which is a payoff for a slower publication schedule — you will likely be paid before a piece runs. It is helpful for us to be able to hold some pieces after they are completed and paid, but feel free to let us know if there’s an important reason a non-timely piece should be published ASAP (for example, you need the clip for an application). For features and most stories over $800, we offer a 50% advance on receipt of an acceptable first draft; if the editing process for a shorter piece is taking over a month from the filing of the first draft, we can also usually pay a 50% advance. Our kill fee is 50%, and in most cases, we will go through at least one round of edits before killing a story.

General Advice

  • If your pitch involves a thesis, make sure it is provable and defensible. Avoid a thesis that is either so general that it is impossible to dispute or one that is a stretch; if it is a stretch, indicate how you’ll back it up in your email.
  • Not everything has to connect to everything. It’s fine for a story about your desktop organizational system to not become a reflection on late capitalism. If you see a clear connection, go for it, but there is truly no pressure to make every pitch a commentary on the zeitgeist.
  • Familiarize yourself with existing writing on a subject before pitching. Check to see what else has been written about it; if you find out that someone else has already written the piece you want to pitch, build on the existing reporting rather than throwing the idea out. Since we have limited resources, we don’t want to duplicate analysis or reporting, but there’s almost always a way to contribute something new.
  • A piece of general pitching advice that is relevant to Study Hall: look at how frequently an outlet publishes the kind of story you’re pitching, and whether those stories are written by freelancers or staff writers. It will give you a sense of whether editors are looking to fill a quota for your genre of pitch, or whether it has to be really exceptional for them to say yes. In general, most of our longer features are commissioned out or written by staffers, and shorter blog posts are usually also written on staff. As of April 2021, the easiest pitches for us to accept are Q+As, guides, and reports from an area of the media ecosystem we’re not already covering.

Email Erin Schwartz at erin.schwartz@studyhall.xyz or Vicky Mochama at vicky@studyhall.xyz. Our rates are around $250 for Q&As and range from 30c to 40c/word for reporting and essays, depending on experience and complexity. You can also email Erin with feedback for what you’d like to see covered more frequently on Study Hall or any questions on this guide.