Recruiting Unpaid Content Writers


My marketing team and I are working with a new local online newspaper to build a SEO campaign as well as a recruiting campaign to bring in writers. We are pretty well versed on SEO, but I was wondering what would be the best way to go about pitching this to writers. Right now the newspaper is willing to share ad revenue with select writers who they feel will be long term quality contributors. However they also want to bring into the fold people who are willing to do unpaid writing. Ideally they want to convert those unpaid writers into paid writers via a revenue share, but after a period of time where they can evaluate their work.

I have seen a lot of sites like Bleacher Report and Patch and various other local for profit online papers recruit unpaid writers. What is their plan of attack? Email people? What might be a sample email pitch? Direct calls? Other than Twitter and LinkedIn, how can we find writers? When I was at another marketing firm, we had a similar project and the team did a lot of email pitches. And with no luck. I am very interested to hear what unique ideas people have found to work for such a campaign.


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asked Aug 26 '11 at 08:55
85 points
  • Also, does anyone have ideas on revenue split? Any thing that they have seen that worked for them? Thanks! – Aac 12 years ago

4 Answers


Here is how I would do it.

Let it be a chance for them to establish themselves as an expert. Pay them with:

  • an author box
  • an author page
  • a chance to brand themselves
  • rely on intrinsic motivation and focus on specific areas

Of course, you could let them add a link in the author box to support a charity/local event/etc as added incentive. Something like the article sites, but for local.

EDIT Here is a footer from the blog I added the local charity bit, but you can see how the authors are rewarded for their effort.

answered Aug 27 '11 at 05:44
Chris Kluis
1,225 points
  • Great idea Chris! A donation box or something along those lines is a nice idea. Last thing we want is people to think we are making money off their backs for nothing. We are also thinking about pitching it such that revenue share comes in after a set amount of traffic and advertisers come aboard. Being transparent may help in recruiting unpaid writers in the beginning. – Aac 12 years ago
  • What are your thoughts on the marketing? Promote revenue share? Promote a cause? That is where I am confused. How to best market to people who might not get paid for several months. And would you suggest reaching out to bloggers who already have small blogs? How would I find writers? Go to writing forums? Any forums you can suggest? – Aac 12 years ago
  • I wouldn't even think about revenue share. Then people eventually expect money and never rewrite if they do not get any. I propose using the author box as payment. If you're site has enough draw - being the go to guy for one the areas provide a lot of potential benefit. For instance, if you were the guy providing the fishing updates every week and you had a charter company then your business promotion aspects would be far more payment than you could pay me for views on fishing tips for January. – Chris Kluis 12 years ago
  • @ user2757. in terms of outreach, do you suggest I email bloggers and try to get them on the phone to give a pitch? Or pitch over email? – Aac 12 years ago


I learned in human ressource seminars that its better to pay nothing than just pay them little. Voluntary work sometimes has an intrinsic motivation. People do it because they enjoy it. If you pay them for their work, it has a diffrent notion. They will write for money, and for little money! So they will loose motivation to spend so much time for just a little bit of money and forget about their intrinsic motivation to write just for fun.

answered Aug 27 '11 at 05:25
31 points
  • This was supposed to be a comment to Ricardo. Now its on top of his answer. I'm new here. – Alinski 12 years ago


Regardless of the method you use to get people to write for free for this publication, I don't think is a good idea... You will get what you paid for, in this case, nothing or something of low quality.

How about starting by offering a flat amount for each article that is published? at least you'll be paying people something and that way you might be able to get more writers to participate and also find writers to work with in the long term. Good luck.

answered Aug 26 '11 at 10:22
4,815 points
  • The goal is to have everyone paid and not be a cheap content farm. However initially until we build out more advertising and partner relationships, it will be hard to accomplish with unpaid contribution IMHO. – Aac 12 years ago
  • If it's true that you get what you pay for, why is the Huffington Post using that very approach? There are plenty of people with great ideas who are willing to contribute their content in exchange for exposure (and inbound links). Guest posting/writing is a great way to increase visibility and build an audience. – Jon Di Pietro 12 years ago
  • I agree that guest posting/writing is a great way to increase visibility and build an audience... However, this is not about that, this is about "unpaid" content writers which is not the same. The motivation is not going to be there, and money is always a good motivator. – Ricardo 12 years ago


Kudos to Chris and the others for their answers.

The thing here is that this is a LOCAL online newspaper. Hence, your pool of potential writers is actually limited. You can't just hire a writer in New York to write about what's going on in Yorksville, Idaho (I made up the name).

How small is that town? Is there any local college in the area? If so, you may want to approach it. And by that, I mean actually showing up there and organizing a brown bag lunch, workshop or presentation. Maybe the local chamber of commerce? And association of retirees?

It shouldn't be too difficult to find a few good writers. They don't have to be world class writers. Bear in mind that locals don't read local newspapers because of the style of the paper, they read to find out what's going on in their town. Nobody expects a Shakespeare columnist. Focus on must-haves, not on nice-to-haves. A very successful owner of a local newspaper said that the key to his success were three things:

  • Names of local people
  • Names of local people
  • Names of local people

I would also add: pictures, pictures, pictures.

Good luck.

answered Aug 30 '11 at 07:15
A. Garcia
1,601 points
  • @ A. Garcia. The paper we are working on targets a regional metro. Meaning that it is targeting about 8 "towns" that total a population of about 500,000 people. Are there writer forums you suggest we take a look at to try an reach out to people? – Aac 12 years ago
  • A Garcia - trust me I understand local. I used the fishing column as an example of a hyper local guide offering free advice with payment being branded the local fishing expert. Colleges are always great and if there happens to be a junior college or college with a journalism school... GOLDMINE! You can then even ask the professor to make publishing part of their work assignement. I've used student groups a ton in the past. The students and teachers appreciate real work. I appreciate free work (oh and cheap recruiting). – Chris Kluis 12 years ago

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