The Open Notebook is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides tools and resources to help science, environmental, and health journalists at all experience levels sharpen their skills. We do this through story-behind-the-story interviews, reported features on craft, annotations, profiles, an advice column, a database of successful news and feature pitches, and more. Learn more about TON here.
Before you pitch, please look over these guidelines.
What Kinds of Stories We’re Looking For
Our capacity for assigning stories is limited, but we welcome pitches for story-behind-the-story interviews and reported features. We also specifically welcome pitches for feature stories intended for our Diverse Voices in Science Journalism series, which highlights the experiences, perspectives, challenges, and expertise of science journalists from communities that are historically underrepresented in science writing.
What Not to Pitch
- We publish stories about the craft of science journalism. We do not publish stories about an area of scientific research or interviews with scientists about their science. Please familiarize yourself with our publication before pitching.
- We do not respond to pitches written by ChatGPT. It is extremely easy to tell when a piece of text was written by AI. Pitches written by AI will not receive a response.
What to Include in Your Pitch
Send a brief (no more than 500 words) query letter describing your idea, what makes it right for The Open Notebook, and how you plan to approach the story.
Your pitch should describe:
- Why you think this story is important
- How it goes beyond what has already been done on the subject, at TON or elsewhere
- The proposed story’s angle: What are the key questions you will ask and address, or arguments that you will make?
- Elements that the piece is likely to include, as well as sources that you may interview
- Note that TON stories typically include a heavy focus on science journalism craft, so we expect writers to offer lots of concrete, nuts-and-bolts strategies and tools that people can apply to their own work.
- We are very intentional about including sources with relevant expertise/experience who represent historically underrepresented communities and perspectives, as well as sources outside the U.S., including in low-income and middle-income countries (AKA the Global South). Please plan accordingly.
- If you’re pitching a story-behind-the-story Q&A interview, please provide some indication of why you think the story is noteworthy and what kinds of questions you’d like to raise with the writer. Do not simply tell us who you’d like to interview and what they wrote.
- Your background/credentials (and if possible, include links to a few pieces of your published work)
Please include your pitch in the body of your email (not as an attachment) and email it to email@example.com.
If you don’t receive a reply to your query after 10 days, please contact us by email to make sure we received the pitch.
What We Pay
We are committed to paying fair and competitive rates to all our contributors. We currently pay the following rates:
- $1,200 for interviews (assigned at 1,500-2,000 words)
- $2,000 for reported features (assigned at 1,500-2,000 words)
We pay promptly upon acceptance of the final draft.
(Note: We are seldom able to negotiate on rates, but there are occasionally special circumstances when we can do so, such as when the writer and editor agree that the scope of a story has expanded beyond the original assignment. We will never revoke an offer of an assignment because a writer asked for a higher rate, or think less of a writer for asking. We encourage all freelance writers to advocate for themselves.)
What You Can Expect
Our Editorial Process
If you are assigned a story, you can expect a rigorous editing process. Most stories published at The Open Notebook go through several rounds of substantive editing as well as copyediting and fact-checking. Once scheduled, our stories hew to a tight editorial and production timeline. We depend on writers to meet their deadlines and to communicate promptly about any anticipated delays in the writing, editing, or fact-checking stages. Not doing so leads to production delays, increases the risk of errors being introduced into rushed copy, and requires members of our team and/or other freelancers to adjust their schedules to compensate.
Source Diversity Tracking
We are committed to including diverse sources in our stories so that we can accurately capture the range of people whose voices, perspectives, and expertise are relevant to our stories. As part of each TON assignment, reporters are asked to collect certain demographic information from their sources; we provide step-by-step instructions for doing this and the process is very quick and simple. All such questions are completely optional for sources, and responses are kept completely confidential.