Freelance Writer Guidelines

Mother Jones is a nonprofit investigative news organization that delivers bold and original multiplatform reporting on the urgent issues of our time, from democracy protection and climate change to extremism and beyond. Much like our namesake, the 20th-century union organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones—who battled child labor and was once referred to as “the most dangerous woman in America”—we punch above our weight in service of fairness and justice: Our political scoops, deep-dive reportage, and narrative storytelling reach more than 10 million readers every month.

While most stories we publish come from staff reporters, we are always on the lookout for smart ideas from freelance writers, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds and who report on underrepresented communities. You can pitch editors directly via email—take a look at our staff page to get a sense of their areas of interest.

Fees and payment

Our rates are based on a writer’s experience, our experience with the writer, article type, and the difficulty of the reporting and editing required. For print, rates start at $1.75 per word. For online, rates start at $.75 a word. We pay 1/3 of the fee upon submission of a first draft, and the rest as soon as possible after publication.

What we’re looking for 

We commission stories that are revelatory and dynamic, the kind that teach readers something they didn’t already know—be it a dark force warping an issue or affecting a community, or an undercovered solution to some of our most intractable problems. For stories with a primarily local context, you’ll need to demonstrate their national relevance to our far-flung audience; meanwhile, international pitches should have a strong domestic connection. 

We’re interested in just about anything that will raise our readers’ eyebrows, but we focus especially on these areas: national politics, democracy protection and restoration, racial and economic justice, climate and the environment, corporate wrongdoing, and human rights.

Here are the types of stories we commission:

On MotherJones.com

  • Web articles: These short-form web pieces (under 2,000 words) are usually tied to the news cycle, and the overwhelming majority are written by MoJo staffers. However, we occasionally look for freelance coverage of issues our staff writers can’t get to—especially from freelancers with unique expertise or access on a topic. 
  • The Big Feature: Every week we publish a marquis longform web piece that gets more rounds of editing, custom art and social promotion. These stories aren’t limited to any specific issue area, and we’ve had some great freelance contributions in the past, including: 

“This Is What it Looked Like to Be an Abortion Escort Before Roe Ended.”
“How American Influencers Built a World-Wide Web of Vaccine Disinformation.”
“Can One Housing Project Radically Change Affordable Housing?”
“He Trains Cops in ‘Witching’ to Help Find Corpses. Experts Are Alarmed.”

In the print magazine

  • OutFront: OutFront is our front-of-the-book section, where stories range from roughly 800 to 2,000 words in length. OutFront stories require deep reporting, often scene writing, and give readers a deeper understanding of a topic or person than most web pieces do. They can be profiles, dispatches, or investigations, and we’re particularly interested in pieces that are stylish and voicey
  • Features: We run a handful of features in every magazine that range in length from about 2,500 words to 6,000 or longer. We love features of an investigative nature, including those about corporate wrongdoing and people and institutions abusing their power. We also gravitate toward stories that will challenge what readers think they know about a topic. And we’re always on the lookout for incisive profiles, especially if they shed light on issues important to our readers. Clear, stylish, evocative writing is a must.
  • Mixed Media: Mixed Media is the culture section of our magazine. We welcome pitches for 1,500- to 2,500-word reported essays, profiles, and culture dispatches, especially those that examine structures of power, explore identity, or illuminate cultural undercurrents. Our reported essays weave together media critique, historical/literary research, interviews, and/or personal narrative to make a clear argument. Profiles feature artists and thinkers pushing the envelope in surprising ways. Dispatches give us an on-the-ground (or from within-the-web) look at how a slice of society is reckoning with ideas and cultural trends. We are not as interested in reviews or Q&As. 
  • Mother Tongue: Mother Tongue is a 600-to-800-word column in which writers break down common phrases, tracing them back to their roots and inflection points, and that give us a sense why certain words and phrases help make sense of the world—or stop us from changing it. Recent columns have examined economic terms like “taxpayer dollars” to “ROI,” “housing crisis” and the implications of Joe Biden evoking the “soul of the nation.”
  • Econundrums: In this reported 1,000-word column, writers makes a compelling argument or reveal a basic problem or inequity around a topic related to the environment, science, health, and occasionally other topics that affect our readers’ daily lives. Recent examples include the case for over-the-counter birth control, the disturbing rise of online pre-K programs, the case for open access to scientific journals, and the lack of adequate pain medication for IUD insertion.
  • Food for Thought: This is a voicey and detail-rich 700-word column that examines political, environmental, and social issues through the lens of food. A Food for Thought piece could examine a single ingredient or trend to explore a larger structural problem; revisit a piece of history or news to reveal new meaning; center in on a surprising new research finding or solution; or draw on personal experience to interrogate a dilemma, be it environmental or cultural.

Photography

Mother Jones is committed to championing the best in photography and is always looking for exceptional photographers with a unique visual style. Primary outlets for photo stories at Mother Jones include online photo essays, print features, standalone single images, or very tight (4-6) photo stories for the OutFront section of the magazine.

Photo essay pitches most often should be pieces you have at least started, if not completed. It’s rare for us to assign a photo story idea from the early conception stage. You don’t need to have a full written component to your piece, as we will often assign a writer to the story, but the more reporting you’ve done on the story, the better. Please send a succinct synopsis of the story, along with a few images (or a link to the piece on your website), to photo editor Mark Murrmann.

Tips for successful pitching

  • Keep your pitch clear and concise. Feature pitches should be no longer than two pages, and in the case of shortform pitches, well shorter than that.
  • Make sure you’ve done enough pre-reporting to tell us what the story is, beyond the topic you’d like to write about. Do you have characters, a narrative arc, and a sense of what the main takeaway is? Also, make sure to check whether Mother Jones (or another publication) has written about the topic before. If so, how will your story be different?
  • Give us a sense of what to expect from your writing. A pitch is a great way to show off your style and voice. 
  • Tell us about the idea’s timeliness, its originality, and its potential for impact.
  • Explain why you’re the writer to do the story. Do you have unique access or expertise on the topic? Do you have grant funding that will help with your reporting? 
  • Let us know if your story lends itself to a gripping multimedia treatment. This might include suggesting video or audio components, or thinking outside the box when it comes to visual presentation.

What to expect after a pitch is submitted

Mother Jones editors meet as a group once a month to evaluate freelance pitches. Unfortunately, we can’t respond to every pitch, but please send a follow-up email if you haven’t heard back within a couple of weeks or if your idea is time-sensitive.

Ahead of our freelance pitch meeting, the editor you’ve pitched may have some questions for you about the idea and might suggest you rework the pitch in certain ways. During the meeting, we’re thinking about the pitch’s overall strengths and weaknesses, including its timeliness, originality, and potential for impact. We often have more questions after the meeting, and the editor may follow up for further reworking. Once a pitch is approved, you and your editor will discuss deadlines and payment.

Stories accepted for our print magazine usually have a lead time of several months. Once you’ve filed a first draft, it will go through multiple rounds of edits with your editor and a top editor, as well as copy edits and a thorough fact-check before publication.