Submission Guidelines

High Country News is an award-winning nonprofit magazine that tells the complex story of the Western United States, through coverage of its communities and environment, in the belief that the West holds lessons of national and global importance. We publish 12 print issues a year and maintain a robust website, providing unique insight and analysis to a region with special significance to millions of people. This page describes our submission guidelines for writing and photography.

Please note that we cannot reply to every query. If you have not heard back from an editor within seven days of your pitch, consider following up with a polite email. If you have not heard back from us within two weeks, consider us overwhelmed. 

WRITING

High Country News will consider pitches for in-depth reportage, analysis, opinion, essays or criticism in an effort to cover all the complexities of the West. We are open to experimentation, but often the story of the West can be told through the broad frameworks of science and nature; politics and economics; social and environmental inequalities; and arts and letters.

Deeper themes to consider include conservation and preservation; food and agriculture; recreation, health and well-being; water; environmental justice and racism; climate change and energy; post-colonialism and the legacy of conquest; the rural-urban divide; environmental law, policy and philosophy; public lands and resources (including water, wildlife, rangelands, minerals, timber, etc.); and military and nuclear activity and legacies.

A strong pitch will articulate a clear understanding of a compelling story within one of these frameworks or themes. We are especially interested in stories and perspectives from underrepresented communities where they intersect with these issues. The best pitches challenge readers to consider the modern West in a new light or to reimagine the West in some important way.

We’re looking for ideas that unsettle the West. 

We currently have four associate editors to consider pitches. For stories from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington or Wyoming, please pitch Associate Editor Emily Benson at [email protected]. For stories from Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, or Utah, please pitch Associate Editor Paige Blankenbuehler at [email protected]. Our Indigenous Affairs Desk centers Native voices for an Indigenous audience; pitch Associate Editor Graham Brewer at [email protected]. For reviews and criticism, pitch Associate Editor Maya L. Kapoor at [email protected].

Further, we divide submissions into front-of-book, feature, and back-of-book stories. FOB stories include in-depth news and analysis, ranging from 800 to 2,100 words. Features include investigations, long-form narrative, deep-dive explainers, or big-idea essays, 2,800 words and up. The back of the book is where we explore the ideas that shape the West, through reviews, criticism and short essays, from 800 to 1,500 words. 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%.

All pitches should include the word “query” in the subject line, and should be emailed to the addresses below. No phone calls, please. We do not accept pitches from public relations professionals, advocacy groups or other biased parties. We assign stories to professional journalists and independent writers.

Pitch stories with relevance beyond the current moment: Our lead time can be up to six months for front- and back-of-book stories and a year for features. If we haven’t worked with you before, consider a pitching a short piece first.

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. We have been covering the region for nearly 50 years, so please review our online archives and tell us how your story advances our coverage.

Indigenous Affairs

The tribal affairs desk is dedicated to centering Native voices for an Indigenous audience. The desk puts three-dimensional storytelling from Indian Country in conversation with other stories throughout the West. A strong pitch will include a deep understanding of current Indigenous issues, with demonstrable knowledge of specific tribal nations or communities. 

Avoid the WD4 Rule (and other stereotypes). According to Indigenous journalist Duncan McCue, the WD4 Rule refers to the ways in which Native people typically make the news: To be a Warrior; beat your Drum; start Dancing; get Drunk; or be Dead.  You can read more on Native stereotypes in journalism from McCue’s website here.

You can avoid clichés, stereotypes and common tropes by using the NAJA-HCN bingo board. These rules often apply to other under-represented groups in similar ways. We recommend using them for pitches. 

Here are some examples of successful tribal affairs stories:

• Elizabeth Warren’s claim to Cherokee ancestry is a form of violence

• In southern Utah, Navajo voters rise to be heard

• National Congress of American Indians roiled by claims of harassment and misconduct

• Why don’t anti-Indian groups count as hate groups?

• The teenage whaler’s tale: Internet death threats hound a young Alaskan after a successful hunt.

Features, essays and criticism

Our feature stories seek to expand and challenge our readers’ understanding of the West, through investigation, in-depth reporting, thought-provoking essays, deft profiles or some other alchemy of great writing and storytelling. Essays and criticism should be sharp, fresh and unexpected. In these, as in all our submissions, we are especially looking for pitches from diverse writers who bring a variety of experiences and perspectives to the magazine, including writers of color, LGBTQ writers, and other underrepresented groups. We welcome writers with a strong point of view and a sense of story, especially if they challenge prevalent narratives about the West and the people who live in it.

Here are some examples of successful features, essays and criticism:

Features:

• Death in the Alpine: Social media is changing our relationship to risk, with deadly consequences

Essays and criticism:

• Your stoke won’t save us. The idea that outdoor recreation leads to meaningful conservation rests on a big ‘if.’

Here’s a sample pitch for a recent feature essay by Editor-in-Chief Brian Calvert, for “Down the Dark Mountain, or how to face grief in the age of ecocide”:

It seems to me that many people, and especially HCN readers, are facing despair in what is today called the Anthropocene, or what others call the ecocide. I would like to write a feature essay that explores different ways of addressing this new kind of grief and despair, using the ideas of a California poet as seen through an emerging group of environmental philosophers called The Dark Mountain Project. This essay will inform readers about the ideas of this Western poet, Robinson Jeffers, and how his work runs through the philosophers. It will ultimately argue for the pursuit of beauty and justice as salves to daily despair. The dominant themes will address climate change, exploring not only the human impact on the world, but its reciprocal impact on our overall well-being. It will be written in first person, with a participating narrator who will take readers on a journey through a Dark Mountain retreat in Spain, and through the memories of the narrator as he grapples with grief in the age of ecocide. HCN has done little with Robinson Jeffers in many years, and nothing with the Dark Mountain Project, an emerging, controversial movement led by the “recovering environmentalist” and writer Paul Kingsnorth. I suspect the idea of facing grief this way will be new and relevant to readers at the pointy end of the Anthropocene.

Front-of-book and reviews

Front-of-book stories cover a diverse array of topics relevant to the West. These are most often dispatches, profiles or analyses. To pitch the FOB, find an insight into why the West is changing, describe a person in a place solving a problem, explain a new policy, point out a hypocrisy, explore a conflict over values, or tell us how something works. Surprise us  and our well-informed readers. We’re looking for hard-nosed reporting, deliberate writing and a good story well told. You may also have an idea for an infographic, a pure Q&A interview, or some other unusual story form. We’d welcome those, too. For book reviews, we are looking for innovative comparisons of ideas, either in concert or contradiction, of books publishing in the next year.

Here are some examples of successful front-of-book pieces:

Here are some examples of successful reviews:

A brief pitch for the front of the book might look like this:

What fire researchers learned from Northern California blazes

The recent fires in Northern California provided a testing ground for researchers who have long advocated for controlled burns. As climate change continues to lengthen fire season and contributes to more wildfires (in combination with fuel load build-ups from decades of poor management), I propose to write a story to inform readers about the use of fire to fight fire. The dominant narrative is of science and nature, and the story will be told through a first-person reflective observer, who journeys to California to learn what she can from researchers — especially a charismatic young firefighter — and put that knowledge in the context of the latest fire season. 

PHOTOGRAPHY

We’re always looking for great photographers and artists who work in the West and are interested in the issues we cover. Typically, we reach out to photographers for stories we already have in motion, either for stock or assignment. We accept pitches for photo stories that show surprising aspects of the West or offer intimate looks at communities or people doing something unique. We rarely use photo stories featuring only landscape images, and we rarely use standalone images (except for funny ones, for our back-page humor column, Heard around the West).

If you have a photo story or essay you’d like to pitch, or if you want to introduce us to your work, please send a link or a selection of images for review to [email protected]. We need quality, high-resolution images saved as JPEG files, at 300 dpi or higher at about 10 inches on the long side. For larger files, send via electronic transfer, such as Dropbox. Please send only electronic images.

All submissions should include the name of the photographer as it is to appear in the credit line and a description of the place or name of the subject for the caption. We also need your name, address and phone number for payment purposes and for our files.

Prices for individual photographs range from $35 to $100, depending on quality, published size and location in the magazine. We pay more for cover images. Photo stories for the magazine (also published online) pay $300 for one page, $500 for a spread. Web-only images are $50 for singles and up to $400 for a web gallery (which includes use of one image for print, to promote the piece). HCN pays for work on publication.

High Country News’ purchase includes the right to publish the photograph/art in our print magazine and digital efforts, including social media outreach, to archive it on our website, and to authorize reprinting for classrooms or publication in small nonprofit newsletters. Other commercial uses of the work will be negotiated with the photographer/artist.

Updated April 2020.

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