Pay rates are extremely important to most freelancers, or at least they are to me. In fact, they are the very reason that I freelance.
A newspaper that has some freelance work available probably already has in place a rate that they pay freelancers, but if not, they should be willing to negotiate with you. I have all kinds of rates that I get. One is $1.25 an inch, another is $75 for an 1,000 word cover feature, and another is $50 for about 800 words.
I had one paper that just told me to bill them. I pondered over what to charge for a while and then decided to pitch them the rate I was getting from another paper. Lo and behold, they accepted it on the spot. Several months later they asked me if I could reduce my price, but I had built that request into the original price I requested.
I like to get an average of $15-20 an hour but sometimes it doesn't always work out. At first all that matters is that you are getting paid and then you can figure out an average later and even turn your nose up at some things or pass them off to someone else. Now that is a good feeling.