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Food

Want To Be The Next Great LAist Food Writer?

FOOD WRITER CALLOUT
Want to try your hand at food writing? It's a good time!
(Woman at laptop photo: Adam Satria/Unsplash. Donut photo: Kenny Timmer/Unsplash. Breakfast burrito photo: Cesar Hernandez for LAist. Tres leches photo: Elina Shatkin/LAist. Taco photo: Gonzalo Mendiola/Unsplash. Ramen photo: Cody Chan/Unsplash.)
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Love writing? Have an adventurous palate? Got a great idea for a food story? Outstanding! LAist is taking pitches.

We're always open to pitches, but right now is an especially good time. The year is ending, a new one is beginning. Let's all move forward, together!

My goal with LAist's food coverage is to explore the ways food connects us — to one another, to our communities, to ourselves. I love using food as a lens to dive into deeper issues. These include culture, history, immigration, family, geography, sustainability… anything, really.

As the food and freelance editor for LAist, I have spent the last few years working, in some small way, to reframe the narrative I see in so much mainstream food journalism (and in some of my own work). Whether something is considered "high" or "low" cuisine (terms that have a lot of baggage), it should receive the same level of consideration and care. Often, the hidden — or not so hidden — POV of stories is white and middle-class (probably because so many food writers and editors are white and middle-class). I feel strongly that food and food journalism should not be the province of any single group of people.

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Cool. But what does that mean in practical terms? Here you go.

RESTO RELIEF 30K GRANTS
Dollar bills and coins.
(Bob Ghost/Unsplash)

Does LAist pay?

Yes. Typically $300-$500 for a reported story. Sometimes more. Sometimes less (like for personal essays).

Do I need to be a professional writer to pitch to LAist?

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No, you do not. It doesn't hurt if you have great bylines and pro writing experience, but you don't need these things to pitch me an idea.

Why? Because there's a lot of untapped talent out there. Because original ideas, a unique POV, a strong work ethic, and great writing chops are not confined to people who have received an official stamp of approval.

Because I know that some of the best ideas come from people who are Not Official Journalists. I didn't come to this profession from a traditional background. I didn't go to J-school and never took a writing class. I wandered into journalism through a side door. Everything I learned, I learned by doing, making a lot of mistakes along the way. I figured if I ever had a scrap of power, I'd try to open the door for other people and help them in the way I wish people had helped me.

FOOD WRITER CALLOUT telescope
Looking toward the future.
(Daniel Lerman/Unsplash)

What kind of stories is LAist looking for?

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I want stories that are unique and uniquely Southern Californian, stories that celebrate our local food culture while recognizing its intrinsic global connections.

These could be profiles, trend pieces, roundups, listicles, slice-of-life write-ups, hidden histories, personal essays or something I haven't dreamed of. Whatever the topic, you should use it as a springboard to explore deeper ideas and issues. Stories can be serious. Stories can be goofy. I am wide open in terms of subject matter and tone. What do I really want? To hear ideas I wouldn't have imagined on my own.

What kind of stories is LAist NOT looking for?

No reviews. No op-eds. No restaurant openings. No restaurant closings. No chef changes. (I'll make exceptions if a particular restaurant opening or closing has broader cultural or historical significance.) No event coverage. No profiles of prominent chefs (if we do these, which is rare, we do them in-house). No stories that are basically reworked press releases (I can smell these a mile away because I get a lot of press releases).

Unless you have a new angle, don't pitch me topics that LAist and/or other outlets have covered to death. Also, please avoid pitching topics that our reporters are already covering. You can check out our staff page to see what we've been working on. This should give you a good idea of what we've been publishing and what we haven't.

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What should a pitch look like?

One to two snappy, well-written paragraphs is ideal. That's usually enough to convey an idea unless it's a complicated concept that needs further explanation. Tell me your idea up front. Then, tell me a bit about yourself and your background in writing and/or food (again, it's okay if you don't have much of one).

Proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation tell me you are thoughtful and detail-oriented.

FOOD WRITER CALLOUT stop sign
Stop!
(Aleksandr Kadykov/Unsplash)

What should a pitch not look like?

Don't use this approach: "Isn't X cool? I'd love to write about X for you!" You are not just pitching an idea for a story, you are pitching yourself as the best person to write that story. You can convince me of that by coming up with original ideas and demonstrating familiarity with your subject.

Do I have to live in Southern California to write for LAist?

Probably. But not necessarily. You definitely need an intimate knowledge of current events, culture, cuisine, life, etc. in Southern California.

Are there specific parts of Southern California you want to focus on?

Yes and no. I am interested in everything everywhere. But I am especially interested in stories about neighborhoods that are either under-covered or poorly covered, often both.

Inglewood, South L.A., East L.A., Long Beach, the South Bay, the San Fernando Valley, the San Gabriel Valley, the Santa Clarita Valley, Orange County are just a few. But really, if it's an interesting idea, it can be from anywhere in Los Angeles or Orange County.

What else should I do?

Read LAist's food coverage on the regular. (You should do this for any publication you're pitching.) Look at what content we're putting out and think about what we're missing or can do better. Maybe you can fill some of those holes.

FOOD WRITER CALLOUT dog
This dog would be thrilled to read your story ideas!
(Charles Deluvio/Unsplash)

Why are you telling me all of this?

For reasons that are both practical and philosophical. I have never understood why editors and outlets aren't more open about what content they do and don't want. In most cases, this shouldn't be proprietary info. If you know what an editor is looking for, you're less likely to waste your effort and their time.

Also, a setup where an outlet isn't transparent about what kind of content it wants favors people who have connections at these places or are established in the world of journalism. That means it often functions as a de facto way of excluding people by race, class and gender.

For me, working with writers from nontraditional backgrounds is a deeply personal mission. It's also a practical necessity. It helps us reach new audiences and cover a broader range of stories. By being explicit about what I want, I am trying, in my small corner of the world, to level the playing field.

How do I reach you?

Email me at tips@laist.com. It helps if the subject line of your email has "PITCH" at the front of it. Example: "PITCH: how sloths and masa saved an Orange County cafe." I made that up. But I would totally read a story about sloths and masa.

GELATINX
The sweet and spicy mango gelatina from GeLATINX comes doused in Chamoy and topped with a small bottle of Tajin and tamarind candy.
(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Can you give me examples of LAist food stories you love?

I'd be happy to!

Now, some real talk from your editor

We have a limited budget. If we had a bigger pot of money, I would say yes to many more pitches. If I pass on something, please know that it DOES NOT mean it's a bad pitch. It just means it's not right for LAist at this time. Sometimes, I'll tell you why. Often, I won't because I don't have the time. Don't get discouraged. Go pitch it to other outlets then pitch me different ideas!

Love,
Elina Shatkin
(aka the Food Editor here at LAist)

What questions do you have about food in LA?
Elina Shatkin connects connect hungry Angelenos — through food — to the culture, history, people and neighborhoods that make up our city.