On November 29, HackPack.press gathered at Yellow Door in Moscow to focus on video journalism and how to pitch video stories to top publications. Here’s a short highlight of the key lessons learned.
Know who you are pitching to
Naira Davlashyan, videographer for Agence France-Presse in Russia and CIS: The first step is Googling and understanding who you are pitching to — both the publication and editor. We often receive pitches and content that completely don’t make sense for us. It’s simple. Understand who you are working with.
Albina Kirillova, producer at RFE/RL: Often people don’t watch the stories that we produce. To get an understanding of the publication, you need to view their stories.
Peter Klein, founder of the Global Reporting Centre: We always receive story ideas, but focus on less covered global topics. Some journalists don’t look up what specific organizations need and instead focus on their idea. But you must look at what that organization is looking for. For us that means global topics.
Formulate your pitch correctly
Davlashyan: A pitch should have a certain structure, including an idea that works for a specific media market. It is important to understand that ideas for a global market are different from those for a local market. Freelancers often propose local stories. It is possible to sell any type of story, but you need to come up with an approach that matches the media outlet.
The best example of a pitch was from our Belarusian stringer. He once sent an email with the subject: ‘Lukashenko. Carrots. Seagal.’ There’s no way you will pass that up.
Klein: Don’t rush with the material. Not all publications want to receive a completed product. Editors don’t simply buy a prepared product, they want to also participate in its preparation and share in your idea. This is important. So you need to find the golden middle ground. If you have an idea of the characters in your story, how to portray them and are connected with them, then this is pretty good. But don’t finish it before someone has accepted the pitch. If you film it and it doesn’t fit the format of that specific publication, then you’re going to have problems.
Get in touch
Kirillova: The waltz on email with business etiquette scares me more than helps you. If the freelancer has enough time to do that, it means that they aren’t busy with anything. Because I just don’t have time for that. Tops I can respond with ‘Sec,’ ‘Thanks’ or ‘OK.’
Best is to write to me on Facebook without adding me as a friend. Facebook doesn’t violate my privacy. There is never a reason to call. I will always check the other folder in Facebook.
And if you don’t get an answer, then write again and again. Sometimes procrastination takes ahold of me and I forget to respond. So be persistent.
Davlashyan: It’s also best to approach me or my colleagues through Facebook. There is simply no time for a phone call. Very concisely write about yourself and the specific idea.
Don’t ask about money first
Kirillova: The biggest mistake that people make when they come to an interview is that the first question out of their mouth is ‘How much money?’
Money should be the last item we discuss. Our response to this is, ‘Who are you and what could you offer us?’ It then results in a very strange dialogue which ends pretty rapidly.
Davlashyan: Yes, ‘How much cash’ is a very real problem. The other issue is a general laziness. We pay good money, but when you receive a response from a freelancer, ‘Oh, I have to get up at 6 a.m. to film something for 10 minutes?’ This causes me to rethink whether I will call them a second time.
Demonstrate these skills
Davlashyan: In Moscow there is pretty intense competition and we seek freelancers with experience. We are looking for the crème de la crème. It is very important for us that they can speak English or French, have a hard work ethic and set of contacts. When you write to us, demonstrate that you know a foreign language. Also working in Agence France-Presse is a fairly technical job. That means that we mainly want breaking news from stringers — fast and high quality.
Kirillova: Next to a good stringer, you feel slacker. They always are bringing something and you never hear the question ‘What do we need to do next?’ To be a good stringer, it is important to know the context, story and facts around the issue to ask a speaker the right questions.
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Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Sylvain Szewczyk. Second image of (left to right) HackPack founder Justin Varilek, Naira Davlashyan and Albina Kirillova courtesy of HackPack.press.