They used to be called "stringers." Newspaper editors would measure these reporters' articles with a piece of string and pay by the inch for their articles. Today, newspapers refer to these freelancers as news correspondents or contributing writers.
I work as a news correspondent for the newspaper, The News-Gazette, in Champaign-Urbana, IL . Am I going to buy my next mansion with this freelance job? Nope, but I wouldn't quit it for the world. It provides me a regular "writing paycheck" each month, loads of experience in interviewing people and meeting deadlines, and a chance to meet interesting individuals I would have never met before. I've interviewed people such as a champion dressage rider, a 90-year-old Humane Society Garage Sale volunteer, and a soldier getting ready to go to Iraq. I've covered coffee shops, town meetings, and youth hang-outs. I've made between $50-$300 a month and usually cover a library board meeting, village board meeting, and school board meeting each month. One of the biggest benefits of being a news correspondent is I see my articles published quickly, and this provides me with a lot of published clips.
If this sounds like a gig you'd like to explore, feel free to email me at email@example.com with any questions. I found my news correspondent's job through the want-ads in The News-Gazette. The ad asked if anyone lived in an outlying area and liked to write. That was me! I emailed the regional editor and told her I was willing to drive to cover meetings or interview anyone she wanted. With my first assignments, I delivered the articles before deadline and did anything my editor asked. After she knew she could trust me, I started to get more assignments, including a few features on the front page of the Living section.
If you don't see an ad like this in your newspaper, email or call the regional or managing editor. Explain that you are a freelance writer, who would like to gain some newspaper writing experience. Be willing to drive farther to remote meetings at first. Take any opportunity presented to you. You can always take better assignments or different jobs once you get to know the editors and the way the newspaper staff is organized.
I'm glad my articles are not measured with a string, and I'm paid a little more than just by the inch. But I wouldn't give up being a "stringer" as part of my freelancing career. Explore this freelance option for yourself. It may open new doors for you.