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Attention Freelancers: Make that Perfect Pitch!

The field of freelance journalists is growing each year. As a result, it’s getting more competitive to get your stories published, regardless of whether your desired destination is online, in print newspapers and magazines, broadcast, or a combination of the above. Editors are inundated with story ideas from freelance reporters all day long, so how can you get your pitch to stand out in their crowded inbox?

AWJ has assembled a panel of top-notch editors representing the gamut of Chicago journalism who tell you what they look for in a great story idea. They give candid advice about pitching strategies, how to know the difference between persistence and harassment, how to (and whether you can) negotiate fees, and how to work with them once you get the gig. They share horror stories of what can go wrong, and they describe what it takes to cultivate long-term relationships with an editor.

The panel of editors include Cassie Walker Burke, Andrea Hanis, Sue Ontiveros, Lynette Kalsnes, Jen Sabella, and Claire Bushey.

Cassie Walker Burke is the executive editor of Chicago magazine, where she has been a staffer since 2002. She spent six years overseeing the magazine’s art and culture coverage and editing various front-of-the-book sections. These days, she primarily works on features and long-range planning. A former newspaper reporter, Walker has written for such magazines as Elle Decor, O at Home, and Interior Design, and she is the recipient of two City Regional Magazine Awards for reader service.

Andrea Hanis joined the Chicago Tribune in July 2011 in the newly created position of planning editor for business, working on a variety of stories and projects for the business section, including executive profiles and top workplaces. Previously, she founded and edited the award-winning Business of Life section of Crain's Chicago Business and was a travel and lifestyle editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. Andrea is a graduate of Indiana University-Bloomington and a native of Whiting, Indiana.

Sue Ontiveros has been a reporter, copy editor, columnist, and editor. She is the deputy features editor and Sunday columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, where she has worked for a zillion years (her words, not ours). As deputy features editor, she has created several of the paper’s lifestyle sections. Right now she is in charge of the food section and is overseeing the new health initiative the paper will be rolling out early next year. Both of those do and will rely on freelance writers. She’s a longtime member of AWJ and lives in Rogers Park with her family.

Lynette Kalsnes is editor of the arts and culture desk at WBEZ, and supervises the Pritzker Journalism Fellowship. Lynette joined WBEZ in September 2003. Along with arts and culture, she’s covered issues including science and immigration. Before that, she worked as a morning producer, and afternoon producer/reporter running the news desk. Her work has appeared on National Public Radio and Great Lakes Radio Consortium. Prior to joining WBEZ, Lynette reported for more than a dozen years at newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, Kalamazoo Gazette, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and the Medina County Gazette, earning several awards. Her radio reporting has been recognized by PRNDI, the RTNDA Murrow award, the Illinois Associated Press, and by the Chicago Headline Club with three Lisagor awards. Lynette is a fellow with the News Literacy Project and serves on the board of the Association for Women Journalists-Chicago, chairing the Program Committee. Lynette has a B.A. in journalism with honors from Michigan State University and studied abroad in England. Originally from Minnesota, Lynette resides in Chicago with her husband.

Jen Sabella is a senior Chicago editor at Before joining the DNAinfo team, Jen was the Chicago dditor at The Huffington Post, where she helped build a loyal local audience by covering everything from “dibs” during snowstorms to a seemingly endless string of political downfalls. She also worked as a wire reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times, covering breaking news, crime, and courts. The South Side native attended Columbia College Chicago, where she learned to write the news at the Columbia Chronicle before scoring an internship at the now-defunct Venus Zine. Jen moves a lot, but only around Chicago. She has called Mt. Greenwood, Uptown, Humboldt Park, Wicker Park, and Logan Square home over the years. She currently lives in Andersonville with her girlfriend, Ali, and their two overweight (yet adorable) cats. Fun fact: Jen is obsessed with karaoke, but has a pretty terrible singing voice. Fortunately, she has very good friends and family members who still hang out with her despite this.

Claire Bushey is a freelance health care reporter for Crain's Chicago Business and the managing editor of Rebellious magazine. Before that she spent five years as a Chicago-based freelance journalist, with stories in Crain's, Slate, The New York Times, and the Chicago Reader.

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