You feel it in your soul. You hear it in the wind. You might be working a desk job, but in your heart you’re a Jalopnik writer, you just know it! Well, here’s how to pitch us a story that we would love to publish on this website.
Give us specific ideas. That means specific stories, not general topics. Don’t send us an email that you want to do a story on offroading, send us a story about... the group of Mad Max-wannabes who build desert vehicles to face their fears and fantasies about an impending political or ecological apocalypse! Do you see how one is a topic and the other is a story? That’s specificity.
Give us adventures that are interesting. It’s one thing to go on a road trip, but while that may be interesting to you personally, it’s not going to be interesting to a total stranger on the internet. Jalopnik traffics almost exclusively in being interesting to total strangers on the internet. It’s weird! But that’s what running a website entails. Your road trip alone isn’t interesting, but when you prove that learning to drive stick really isn’t as impossible as people make it out to be by buying a car sight unseen several states away and learning how to drive manual on your return trip home, then you have something with a greater meaning, a hook, a lesson. A simple test is to see if this is a story you can tell around the dinner table, not just to your most car-obsessed friends.
Give us reported stories. The backbone of Jalopnik isn’t an unending series of burnout videos, it’s investigations and big-J journalism. It’s what sets us apart. (And often gets us suspicious glances from PR people representing shady operations.) Of course, it’s tricky business trusting a story like this to a freelancer, so we want to hear from you who your contacts are, what legwork you’ve already done, and how much you have already investigated. It’s one thing to say that you get that there’s a story with auto manufacturing in Ohio, it’s another to present us with the bones of a fully-researched history of how things specifically went wrong for the residents of Youngstown, Ohio, who got taken for a ride by the zombie second life of the Studebaker Avanti.
In fact, that story came from a great example of what a pitch should look like, from when Vince initially emailed us:
I grew up in Youngstown, but I’m not old enough to remember the good old days, when the mills ran around the clock and the landscape was dotted with factories that ensured not just a paycheck, but a good living.
They almost all dried up during my childhood in the 1980s, but we reassured ourselves: At least we still have the GM plant.
It sounds like we won’t be able to say that much longer. Tim Ryan, the Congressman whose district includes Lordstown and most of Trumbull County, likened today’s news to “another Black Monday.” That’s a deliberate choice of words. Black Monday is the day referred to in 1977 when Youngstown Sheet and Tube — the largest steel producer in the Mahoning Valley — announced it would close one of its mills at the end of the week, throwing 5,000 people out of work.
The Lordstown plant opened to great fanfare in 1967, adding thousands of jobs to what was then a robust blue-collar economy. There was also a van plant and a stamping plant at one point. The first car to roll off the plant was an Impala, but it wasn’t long before it started making small cars, first the Vega (an unmitigated disaster on several fronts) and then the Cavalier.
Gradually, the plant’s employment dropped, with just one shift — employing 1,500 people — working when the news was announced Monday. The plant’s been on borrowed time since it got the Cobalt, the replacement for the Cavalier, and the writing was on the wall once gas prices dropped precipitously during the recession, allowing people to buy bigger cars and SUVs without feeling as much pain at the pump.
The story I’m envisioning is a history of the Mahoning Valley as seen through the plant, touching on labor issues (Vega production led to a landmark 1972 strike) and politics (the Mahoning Valley was reliably Democratic, but turned dramatically for Trump in 2016). I’m uniquely qualified to write this. As I mentioned, I’m a Youngstown native (like just about everyone of my age around there, I drove a J-car in my teens) and now a journalist based in the Cleveland area. I’ve written at length about the issues in the Mahoning Valley for Belt and POLITICO, and have even written a few Northeast Ohio-related pieces for Deadspin.
I look forward to hearing from you about this.
We initially passed on that pitch as we had no budget at the time, but Vince followed up:
Hi, Patrick. Thanks for the kind words. There is one story I think I had pitched previously to Jalopnik and never got any response. I wanted to see if it piqued your interest:
As I mentioned in the Belt story, after the mills closed, there were numerous efforts to recreate that industrial economy, but in 1987, a leading (if not entirely legitimate) industrialist looked to a once-trendsetting auto that had also fallen on hard times.
The Avanti was Studebaker’s last gasp in the 1960s. Designed by Raymond Loewy, a frequent collaborator with the company, the fiberglass coupe wowed by couldn’t sell enough. A pair of dealers bought the tooling after the company declared bankruptcy, but that company changed hands and it ended up in bankruptcy itself.
Enter J.J. Cafaro. His father Bill was one of the richest men in Youngstown, rising from the mills to become one of the must successful retail land developers in the country. J.J. (whose daughter Capri served in the Ohio Senate and made a Congressional run) was looking for his own identity, and saw it in Avanti.
He bought the company and moved it to Youngstown, taking up assembly space in an East Side industrial park and a showroom on Wick Avenue — not far from where the city’s auto mile was. New convertible and sedan models were planned, with the idea that it would become a preeminent luxury car.
It was a spectacular failure. Only 405 cars were made in Youngstown before the company closed up shop, with the rights eventually bought back by its former owner. It limped along in Mexico before finally succumbing in 2006.
Cafaro’s next act was as a cooperating witness. He testified against Jim Traficant in the Congressman’s bribery case, and was later rapped on the knuckles for an improper donation to his daughter. Of course, he’s counted as a close personal friend of Donald Trump.
The story I’m envisioning sets the scene of Youngstown in the 1980s and tells the story of Avanti’s brief moment in Youngstown.
I hope this story piques your interest as much as it does mine. It’s not time-sensitive, so I hope you’ll keep it in mind for next year.
Thanks for your consideration.
That’s, again, what a nice pitch looks like, and it turned out great.
Give us something we can’t get ourselves. Jalopnik doesn’t have an unlimited budget, hell, even my own bills for champagne and caviar to be sent directly to the office keep getting denied by the accounting department. Do you find yourself reading Jalopnik and screaming to yourself why aren’t they talking about the secret history of Soviet moon base plans, or this would be so much easier if they knew the little trick to doing an alignment that only I know, or there’s actually a little-known legal precedent for this kind of loan shark case. Whatever! If we don’t have it, and you know it, we’ll pay you to teach the world all about it.
Also, we do pay for good photography! Have you been out to a wild car event, a slice of local or international car culture that we never had the chance to go out and see? We’ve bought stories like that in the past and we’ll do it again! Show us your photos and the words you have along with them, and we’ll work it out.
This is where we fear we may be crushing a few hearts out there, but trust us, it’s for your good as well as ours.
If you find yourself asking “Can I write for you?” without any actual draft of a story you can show us, or worse, without a specific fleshed-out pitch, we may not even have time to respond.
Add to that don’t just send us car reviews. We love stories at Jalopnik. If your whole story boils down to “this 1992 CRX I drove was really good,” that’s not enough for us to justify buying. We have a whole staff of writers driving and reviewing new cars, old cars, weird cars, and all. It’s very hard for us to justify buying freelance reviews.
We don’t need to buy blog posts and news items. Again, give us something we can’t do ourselves. We have a staff of writers grabbing news items all through the day. We won’t be paying freelancers on top of that for the same job.
We won’t be buying stuff that needs a ton of work. If you’ve never written before, anywhere, you should probably start smaller.
If you feel a little crestfallen reading that, don’t despair. Look over your pitch again. There’s probably an angle in there you hadn’t considered before, something that gives it a sense of drama, of development, of education, of culture.
Update, January 9, 2019: We just opened up an email account dedicated to pitches! Write us at pitches at jalopnik dot com. And if you have secure information that you must keep anonymous, here’s our guide to securely contacting Jalopnik.
Finally, if you need some inspiration, here are more good freelance stories we’ve accepted: