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What are freelance press agencies and how they work with newspapers?

Updated on September 28, 2011

Press agencies

It is often surprising that so few people who read national newspapers know how the stories that fill the pages are gathered or where they came from. Cue press agencies. They are the little known secret middle man that deliver more 50 to 75 per cent of the column inches in national newspapers.

Press agencies are regionally based media organisations that gather day-to-day news specifically to supply national newspapers. They range in size from just two or three people working in a tiny office to vast organisations that employ their own news reporters, feature writers, photographers, PRs and accountants.

Each agency picks the best stories from their local area - the ones that are published by local rags - and re-writes them to a standard required by national newspapers. These are then emailed or sent on 'the wire' to the news desks in London (The system is identical in America). Many of these stories will be ignored but sometimes the best ones will be printed after they've been re-written in the house style by one of the office paper's office-based reporters.

These stories are typically human interest stories such as this and this. (If you google key words from the story you will notice that the same copy has been used by each newspaper) Major political, International and show-biz stories are left to the newspapers own specialist reporters to cover.

Why are press agencies around?

It would be virtually impossible for national newspapers to have eyes and ears in the far flung reaches of the country. Press agencies fill this role as acting as a messenger from the local news to the national news who are based in London.

London news desks will often hire agency reporters when they are unable to attend something themselves. For example, a London based newspaper will not have the time or money to send one of its reporters three hundred miles away to follow up a story that is at the other end of the country.

So why can't local newspapers do the job?

Local newspapers are busy filling their own newspaper. Besides, there is a big difference between writing for a small publication for 20,000 and some 9,000,000 around the UK and many local reporters are not trained enough for national writing.

Press agencies have grown in size in recent years to include feature writers who supply many of the stories that are used in women's magazines such as Take a Break and That's Life. Many of the largest have departments that are paid thousands of pounds by huge multinationals to generate stories for national newspapers.

They have become an attractive career option for journalism graduates and journalism students. They get to see the big stories and agency reporters will work directly with national newspapers. Many gain valuable experience are they able to move on quickly to the large newspapers.

Freelance writers and journalists who work by themselves would also do well to use the press agencies to deliver their stories. Agencies have a trusted brand name and a vast network of close contacts in media many media organisations. They also have the infrastructure to deliver stories on the wire directly prominently to newspapers.Unfortunately, freelance writers working on their own may often have their work missed or they may not be taken seriously.

It seems incredible to me that so much money and effort goes in to producing content for a handful of national newspapers. It just goes to show what a large industry it is.

The biggest independent press agencies in the UK are:

South West News Service - covering from Cornwall up to the West Midlands.

Caters- Covering Birmingham and its outskirts.

North News - Covering Newcastle and the North East

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