High Country News is an award-winning nonprofit newsmagazine. Since 1970, we’ve covered environmental, cultural, and social issues in the Western United States. We publish 22 times a year, and are always looking for new voices for our pages and Web site. This page describes our guidelines for written and photographic submissions.
HCN will consider pitches for well-researched stories on any natural resource or environmental topic, as long as it concerns the West. We define “resources” to include people, politics, culture and aesthetic values -- not just coal, oil and timber. Keep in mind that we have an 11-state region (OR, WA, CA, MT, ID, NV, WY, CO, NM, AZ, UT) to cover in a small news space; we want local stories that have significance across the entire region and that can be told in ways that go beyond what the daily newspapers report.
Our ideal articles are magazine-style. They include strong storytelling, compelling characters and scenes, a clear, jargon-free style, and a dedication to intellectual honesty. We want writers who can view topics with a critical eye and dig deeply into issues. We also would like our writers to be as diverse as the region they cover, and encourage Native American, Hispanic, and other minority journalists to send us queries.
We divide submissions into departments (generally 800 to 1,600 words; specific departments are listed below), of which we print 3 to 6 per issue, and narrative feature stories, from 1,600 to 10,000 words (most commonly 4,000 words), of which we print one or two per issue.
Our pay rates are negotiable based on the writer’s experience and working relationship with us. We generally pay upon publication.
E-mail queries are preferred; send them to editor at hcn.org and include “Story Query” in the subject line. We very rarely accept already-completed stories; we prefer to work with writers to shape the piece to our needs. Ideally, your pitch should explain why your story is appropriate for HCN, which department it fits, how it will advance any previous coverage we’ve done on the topic (please search our Web archives to see what else we’ve published), and how it will differ from stories in other publications. If we haven’t worked with you before, please also include a résumé and clips. It generally takes us at least a week to respond to queries.
High Country News Departments
This section, in the front of the magazine, is a mix of 400 to 1,500 word pieces covering a diverse array of topics and geographical locations through a variety of storytelling approaches. We're looking for newsy pieces, analysis pieces, profiles of interesting Western places and people (see our guidelines for Uncommon Westerner and Place) and the occasional essay. Each story should surprise the reader with its topic, conclusion or angle.
For examples of the sort of storytelling we're looking for, browse our "Currents" section in back issues of HCN starting with vol. 42 #6 (April 12, 2010), or check out the Atlantic Monthly's "Dispatches," Orion's "Sacred and Mundane," The New Yorker's "Talk of the Town," and New York Magazine's "Intelligencer." For this section we're also interested in ideas for visually-driven storytelling (graphics, lists of numbers, maps etc.) to be executed in-house (for a nominal payment), but will also consider completed submissions in this category (e.g. photo essays, completed infographics etc.).
"Currents" can include any of the following types of stories:
This is a news story about something intriguing that's happening in a specific place, but that is NOT necessarily a trend that’s occurring across our entire coverage area. Most of our stories have West-wide significance; this department is for very local stories that are nonetheless interesting.
II. HOW IT WORKS
This is a short news analysis piece meant to cover a current event or trend in an explanatory way. The best example is the Financial Page in the New Yorker. It should be pointed, focused, pithy and, above all, thoughtful. The writer should rely on a variety of sources, but the piece should be written with authority and in the writer's voice. It should not be merely a literal, pedantic account of how something works.
Uses one or more specific current events to highlight a trend that's happening region-wide. These stories should tell us what’s happening "across the West", without actually jumping all over the West in the story (which can be confusing, and dilute the focus).
Essentially, a one- to two-page infographic -- a way of telling a story about a current event or trend using a graphic-intensive combination of art and text. This is a flexible department, ranging from a Harper's-style Annotation that uses a graphic as its centerpiece, but relies very heavily on text, to a large map, series of graphs, etc. This department can also include issue-driven photo essays.
http://www.hcn.org/issues/40.23/as-interior-turns (look at the hardcopy magazine to see this graphic - Vol. 40 #23, Dec. 22/Jan. 5).
This is simply a Q&A. Questions should be sharp, and should draw the subject out of his/her comfort zone and into candid, unscripted conversation. The editor on the piece usually works with the writer beforehand to review, formulate, and polish questions. Though these may require an hour or more of interviews, they should be edited down to feel like a conversation (not a short question with a long-winded response).
Example: (2-page version)
This is a profile of a person who’s not only done notable things but is an interesting character in his or her own right. It should give us a sense of what this person is like, rather than simply describing accomplishments. Avoid a hero-worshipping, reverent tone. Profiles should have a hook connected to current news/happenings/events, but they shouldn't be issue driven. Generally, they should be light and at times even a bit whimsical, with a slice-of-life-ish quality to them.
From the New Yorker:
This is a short profile of a place in the West, much like Uncommon Westerners, on one page, big photo, and sidebar with some pertinent (but possibly quirky) info about the place.
VIII. AGENCY WATCH or POLICY WATCH
A focused story, with analysis, about something the federal land management agencies (BLM, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, BuRec) are doing -- changing management strategies, ignoring rules, drawing up new rules with big implications etc.
Reviews of books about the West, with Western settings, or by Western authors. These should go beyond summarizing a book’s plot or describing its characters to give us some insight or examine a theme or idea more deeply. We review fiction and non-fiction published in the current or prior year.
Word Count: 350 to 700 max
We think of this page, usually the last one in the magazine, as something of a literary oasis -- a place for sparkling, thought-provoking writing about the complexities of life in the modern West. While many of our essays have an environmental theme, we’re not interested in predictable celebrations of nature. (Please note that essays about wildlife watching, river trips, and fishing are usually tough sells for us.) We’re most interested in the unexpected ways Westerners relate, and don’t relate, to each other and their landscapes. Humor is most welcome!
Word count: 800 max
Please email essay queries to Contributing Editor Michelle Nijhuis, michelle at hcn.org. Please put the query or submission in the body of the email message; do not include attachments such as PDFs or photos.
WRITERS ON THE RANGE
Our Writers on the Range columns are syndicated each week to approximately 75 newspapers, magazines and Web sites. They also appear on our Web site and occasionally in High Country News.
We are looking for taut and pithy opinion pieces about issues that affect Westerners. The piece should be tied to current events, though we will consider less current pieces if they make strong statements about life in the West.
We are open to a wide range of philosophies, perspectives and styles, but are particularly interested in those that tackle public lands, wildlife, rural communities, recreation, water and energy.
Payment may range from $100 to $200 per accepted piece. Some rewriting may be involved. Submissions should be in single-spaced plain text in the body of an e-mail, with “WOTR submission” and the title in the subject line. No attachments, please.
Word count: 750 max
Please email Writers on the Range submissions to WOTR Editor Betsy Marston, betsym at hcn.org.
High Country News accepts good quality color or black and white prints (8x10 preferred) and 35 mm negatives and slides. Electronic images are welcome, as well, and should be saved as JPEG files, at 300 dpi or higher at about 7 inches on the long side. Email as attached files to cindy at hcn.org.
All submissions should include the name of the photographer as it is to appear in the credit line and description of the place or name of the subject for the caption. Please also indicate whether HCN should return the photo after use or keep it for our files. We pay for each use. We also need your name, address and phone number for payment purposes and for our files.
HCN will not return unsolicited photographs without a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Prices for individual photographs range from $35-$100 depending upon quality, published size, and location within the paper. HCN pays for work upon publication.
High Country News' purchase includes the right to publish the photograph/art in High Country News, to collect the work in an electronic archive, as well as the right to authorize reprinting for classroom use or for publication in small nonprofit newsletters. Other commercial uses of the work will be negotiated with the photographer/artist.
HCN will take the best possible care of all submissions, but cannot assume responsibility for loss or damage.
Mail photos to:
Cindy Wehling, Art Director
High Country News
PO Box 1090
Paonia, CO 81428
Or send e-mail to cindy at hcn.org