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How to pitch to Retropolis, The Washington Post’s history section

Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969. (Neil A. Armstrong/NASA via AP)
3 min

Retropolis is The Washington Post’s history section, enhancing readers’ understanding of the present by telling stories from the past. Have you come across a weird, wonderful or shocking episode from history that you can’t stop telling your friends about? Does a major event in the news have a direct analog in the past that few people know about? Did you find an album of never-before-seen photos of Marilyn Monroe and President John F. Kennedy in your attic? We want to hear from you! (Especially if you have that album.)

A good Retropolis story is:

  • Typically 800 to 1,200 words. There are plenty of exceptions, but we’re not in the market for novellas.
  • Generally related in some way to the news. The peg can be a specific upcoming event (say, a story about a past bombshell congressional hearing as the Jan. 6 committee convenes) or a broadly important topic of our time (stories related to pandemics, inflation, etc.). But not every Retropolis piece is news-pegged. Some episodes from history are so wild that they deserve to be told anytime.
  • Sometimes about history as news. We’re eager for pitches about historical and archaeological discoveries that cast the past in a new light.
  • Not an op-ed or essay. Retropolis pieces are fundamentally news stories, not opinion.
  • Focused on the narrative. The news peg and framing can be important, but the essential part of a good story is that it be a good story. Your retelling of the surprising/important/tragic events should be the core of the piece.
  • Centered on a single main idea. If you can’t capture the thrust of a story in a 70-character headline, we probably can’t either. Complexity is good, but make sure that your pitch isn’t sprawling and that you can summarize the takeaway in one concise line.
  • Sometimes more than just words. Even though most Retropolis stories are traditional print pieces, we always welcome good pitches for graphics-driven stories, interactives, photo essays, video- or audio-focused stories, or formats we haven’t even thought of.

We want pitches that:

  • Convey a strong sense of the shape the story will take, including the main characters, the story arc, the people you’ll talk to, and what makes the story surprising or important. If your pitch includes language such as “I will seek to answer the question,” you probably need to do a little more reporting before you pitch. You should be pitching a story, not a topic.
  • Come from a diverse array of writers. Our readers have a strong interest in the history of race and racism, and we’re eager for writers from a variety of backgrounds who can write on these and other subjects with authority. Not all of our contributors are experienced professional journalists; what’s most important is that you have a good idea and know how to tell a story.
  • Capture the tone and shape of a story without being a fully written story. We accept complete stories written on spec, but we don’t advise it.
  • Surprise. If your pitch makes us say, “That’s insane, we had no idea!” it has a strong chance of being accepted.
  • Show you understand Retropolis. Before pitching, please familiarize yourself with our archives.

To pitch us, please email Retropolis editor Aaron Wiener or send a pitch via The Post’s Talent Network. We look forward to hearing from you!