Submission Guidelines

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High Country News is an award-winning nonprofit monthly magazine with a robust website that tells the complex story of the Western United States, through coverage of its people, communities and landscapes. 

We showcase diverse, engaging storytelling, highlighting the many different human experiences unfolding across the West. We welcome pitches from writers who bring a variety of experiences and perspectives to the magazine, including writers of color, LGBTQ+ writers, disabled writers, and writers from other groups traditionally underrepresented in the media.

To submit a story idea, consider which section of the magazine you’re pitching; detailed guidelines and the best contact for your initial pitch are listed below. All pitches should include the word “query” in the subject line and should be emailed to the addresses below. No phone calls, please. 

We are not interested in writing that mythologizes the West, nor that follows offensive lines of thought. We welcome writers with a strong point of view and a good story to tell. To avoid clichés, stereotypes and common tropes in describing Indigenous people (many of which are also applicable to members of other underrepresented communities), we recommend studying the NAJA-HCN bingo board

A few additional tips: If you have them, please include links or clips showing previous writing you’ve done. Check out our archives before pitching to make sure something similar to your idea hasn’t appeared in HCN before. And please pitch us original writing that you haven’t already published elsewhere.

We get lots of pitches, so please be patient. If you don’t hear back within a week, feel free to nudge us again. If you don’t hear back after two weeks, then HCN is most likely not a good fit for your piece. Here are more detailed, section-specific pitch guidelines:

Reportage, news and analysis

Our front-of-book reportage, news and analysis pieces range from 800-2,100 words. These in-depth, reported pieces shine a light on the West in all its complexity, exploring ideas that resonate throughout the region by closely examining the events that impact life here. Many successful stories in this section examine the relationship between people and the landscape, often through place-based reporting. From an analysis describing how the Klamath River now has the legal rights of a person to this investigation of border wall impacts on one wildlife refuge drawn from FOIA documents to a close look at the downside to a popular conservation bill, we’re looking for stories that go beyond breaking news to find a deeper understanding of the West. 

We pay on publication, between $0.25 and $1.50 per word, depending on the writer’s experience and our experience with the writer. Our kill fee is 25%.

Stories in this section are produced by one of three desks: Indigenous Affairs (covering tribal nations and other stories that center Indigenous voices); West-North (covering Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming); and West-South (covering California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado). 

Please keep pitches brief, between 200 and 300 words. Tell us, in an engaging and jargon-free style, what the story is, its scope and what’s at stake, and why High Country News is the best place to tell it. 

If the story spans desks or you’re not sure who to send it to, pick the editor overseeing the region you write about most often.

Features

Features at HCN are defined by more than their word length, which varies widely from 2,800 words up to 10,000 words (most are in the 4-6,00 word range). Features can take many forms, from an investigative piece to illustrated nonfiction, but they are all rooted in narrative and exhaustive reporting. When sending pitches, please keep them to two paragraphs (three at the absolute most) and include up to four links on other coverage on the topic. In the pitch, be sure to explain how you will be reporting the piece out, your access to sources, and enough context to give your story meaning, stakes, and urgency.

HCN’s budget for freelance features is limited this year due to covid-related cutbacks. However, the department is committed to helping freelance writers apply for funding from outside organizations, to ensure that they are paid a robust rate. When pitching, please include any ideas for additional funding, and if the pitch is accepted HCN will be active in seeking out opportunities, assisting on applications, and grant reporting following the publication of the story.

Essays, perspectives and op-eds

Essays and perspectives usually run 750-800 words, at $400 flat.  

These first-person pieces connect with (and sometimes complicate) readers’ understanding of the Western U.S. and/or Indian Country, while asking questions that resonate for readers anywhere. Whether your piece considers life growing up amidst oil refinery pollution, or the haunting recorded call of a wolf who’s been shot and killed, or an Indigenous framing of wild orca abductions for aquariums, it should be, above all, well-written and compelling. 

Op-eds usually run 750-800 words. Payment is considered on a case-by-case basis. Recent examples include an opinion piece in favor of geotagging, an opinion piece on how to “see” buffalo, and an opinion piece on ending the destruction of Indigenous lands through border wall construction.

Because so much can depend on execution in essays, perspectives and op-eds, we ask that you pitch a completed draft. 

Reviews

Note: These guidelines focus on book reviews, but we’re also happy to consider reviews of movies, podcasts, visual art or other forms of media. 

HCN reviews books of poetry, nonfiction or fiction, preferably within a month or two of their first release. We do not review books written for an academic audience or for a hyperlocal audience; self-published books; guides or how-to books; or children’s or young adult books. Because of our editorial calendar, it’s best to pitch several months out. 

A great HCN review explores a book’s individual story — as well as how it fits into a larger literary, historical, regional and cultural context. We prefer to celebrate good books instead of tearing down problematic ones.

Examples of recent reviews we love: 

Feel free to check in first to find out whether we already have plans to review a book that you’re considering pitching. Before you send the complete pitch, get a free advance review copy (ARC) from the book’s publisher or author and flip through it or skim it to make sure that it’s worth reviewing, in terms of the writing quality and ideas.

Photography and illustration

High Country News welcomes inquiries from photographers and illustrators interested in collaborating with us. In our visual storytelling, HCN publishes striking documentary imagery that encourages readers to make an emotional connection to the “unblinking journalism” for which we are known. We work with photographers and illustrators who understand and share our passion for the diverse communities and landscapes of the Western United States and are adept at portraying the complexities of this region with beautiful, nuanced and impactful photography and illustration.

To be considered as a contributor to the magazine for assignments, please send a brief message about yourself, with a link to your online portfolio. HCN also welcomes pitches for photo essays and other projects. However, please do not send unsolicited stock imagery for licensing consideration. If you are interested in being considered for image licensing, please ask to sign up for our monthly newsletter, in which we highlight our stock image needs, by emailing [email protected].

Updated November 2020

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