You know what kind of work you want to do, so research publications and outlets that might use it. Identify the job positions and the people who hold those jobs – news editors, features editors, section editors, picture editors, TV/radio producers. You may find this information on the publication’s website. Otherwise you can ring the place, and ask the switchboard for the relevant name.
Decide how best to approach them for the first time. Many commissioners are happy to be contacted by email. With fast-moving material, where they will see the need for a quick decision (news, in general) think about a phone call. With slow-moving material (travel pieces, timeless features) a letter may still be best. As you continue to work for someone, identify how they like to be approached.
Work out what you are offering. You may be sending them something already done on spec – an article or series of photos – which has the advantage that they can judge it easily without having to worry whether you can deliver the goods. When emailing an article, you can include it both within the body of the text and as an attachment. If you are putting up an idea in order to seek a commission, you could include addresses for your own website or sites where your material appears.
When offering a news tip-off or story, or the idea for a commission, you have to be cagey not to give away the secrets before getting their commitment – contact numbers, names etc. If you have chats in pubs or on the phone with commissioners, at least email them or write a letter immediately afterwards to establish some sort of record that the idea is yours.
Whether phoning or emailing, think about what you want to say. Don’t just rattle off what your idea is. Try to explain why it will appeal to readers, listeners or viewers and say why you are a good person to be doing it.
Think about the next step, too. On the phone, if they seem to be distracted, you can offer to put your idea into an email and ask for their email address. If sending an email, finish by saying you will phone to find out their reaction in a certain number of days. This gives you some feeling of being in control.