Thank you for your interest in working with FiveThirtyEight! We love collaborating with reporters, academics, analysts, visual journalists, computational journalists and other contributors from outside of our newsroom — they make up a vital part of FiveThirtyEight’s journalism. Unfortunately, we are currently not accepting new freelancers, but check back soon!
For when we start accepting new freelancers again, we wanted to give you a sense of what we look for in freelance pitches to ensure you have the highest chance of success, and to ensure we can give you the best feedback possible. Because of the volume of submissions we receive, we can’t guarantee a response to every pitch. If you don’t hear from us within one week, please assume we are not interested. If your pitch is more time sensitive than that, please include that in your pitch. At this time, we are only interested in receiving pitches for written pieces (though of course those pieces may have other elements, like charts).
What to include in your pitch, which should be no longer than five paragraphs:
- Thesis/hypothesis (1-3 sentences)
- We’re looking for pitches that make a clear argument — with appropriate caveats and counterexamples, of course. Say you’re writing an article about the changing strategies of the NBA, and how it’s becoming a guard’s game. Your thesis might be something like, “Over the last 20 years, shorter NBA players have been better than taller ones.” (We’d have lots of questions about that thesis!)
- News peg/why it matters (1-3 sentences)
- Say you’re writing a story about how a president’s approach to infrastructure spending is the best way to understand his approach to bipartisanship. You’d want to note why your pitch plugs into where the national conversation is or where it should be. That will usually require some broader news events or themes in American life that your story is tapping into.
- Evidence you have already marshalled, including links (1 paragraph)
- Say you’re writing an article about when the right time is to stop administering a COVID-19 vaccine because of potential side effects. We’d want you to point out what expert research says on the matter, and who you might call to get more reporting done.
- How much analysis is completed, and how you did it (including the program or software you used, if applicable) (1-3 sentences)
- For that story on short NBA players, for example, we’d want to understand the queries you ran on, say, Basketball-Reference.com, and what kind of calculations you ran, and what you used to do it.
- Expected length in number of words
- Note any visuals you would anticipate including, such as charts or tables
- Something like, “There’s a chart from the medical research that I think we could reproduce” or “there’s a huge public data set that reveals my thesis, and I think there are a bunch of charts that could be made, but I’m not sure how.”
OK, most of that is true for any news outlet you’re pitching; what’s different about pitching us?
What makes for a good FiveThirtyEight pitch
FiveThirtyEight’s mission is to produce empirical journalism, by everyone and for everyone, that advances our understanding of the world. What’s “empirical journalism”? It just means journalism that cites evidence. Importantly, that doesn’t mean only data. Evidence can include data, sure, but also reporting, first-hand experience, academic studies, history and more. That means you don’t need fancy data skills in order to pitch us. Rather, we’re looking to make sure that the argument you’re making or the story you’re telling is bolstered by more than just anecdote.
The “advances our understanding” part is important too. That means we’re looking for an original story or an original finding. If you can show us that your pitch adds valuable understanding to an important subject, there’s a good chance we’ll be interested in it.
We’re far more flexible, though, on what form that takes. A FiveThirtyEight story could be one that uses data or polling to add context to a major news or sports event. Or it could be one that features three experts adding context and analysis that goes beyond what a newspaper report would. Or it could be a narrative feature that centers a character and uses data to help explain the world they’re moving within. Or it could be an investigation that is driven by original data or analysis. Or it could be a piece of service journalism that uses evidence to help debunk incorrect narratives about something happening in the world. Or it could be … you tell us! The key is not to get trapped in what the stereotype of a FiveThirtyEight story is. We want you to do your kind of journalism and use our unique skillset to help make it even better.
When we read your pitch, we’ll be thinking about:
- Is there a clear takeaway or a clear sense of the story you’re telling?
- What broader themes in the news does your pitch speak to?
- What kind of reporting tools do you plan to use? Are they the right ones?
- What’s the scope of your project? Is the pitch calibrated to the scope you have in mind?
- How would this piece add to public knowledge or help reframe it?
How we’ll make your work better
FiveThirtyEight employs a lot of TLC in its editing process. We have an incredibly talented group of journalists, and we’ll work really hard to make your work shine. That means you’re going to be edited by several people, all of whom will offer their expertise in order to ensure your prose and argument are as incisive and well-supported as possible. The first round of editing will be by the story editor and the second will be by the copy desk; there may be quantitative and visual edits, as well. There will always be a fact-check, and you’ll be able to sleep as soundly as possible the night before your piece runs.
We’ll be interested not only in editing your prose but also in helping you test and hone the assumptions that underlie your analysis. That means we’ll want to make sure you’re doing more showing than telling, and working in evidence to bolster your thesis and claims. And we want you to show your work not just to us, but also to the reader. We think this creates lasting, definitive journalism that can inform and provoke our audience.
We will pay you!
We pay our contributors on a sliding scale based on the piece’s scope — you and your editor will agree on a fee before we greenlight the pitch. Generally, though, we pay $600 for a 1,000-word feature that requires some reporting or analysis, but is mostly a conceptual argument. Rates can go up from there if pieces are more complex — more reporting, more analysis, more research, etc. (We also sometimes pay a smaller fee for lighter-lift work — contributing to one of our chats, for example.) Our goal is to ensure pay equity across our freelancer corps.