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How to pitch story ideas: tips from journalists

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How to pitch story ideas: tips from journalists

Sherry Ricchiardi | April 09, 2015

During media workshops around the globe, participants often complain, “We have great story ideas, but we can’t get editors interested. Where are we going wrong?” 

During discussions, it usually becomes clear: They are operating without a clue about how to organize, focus and provide the kinds of storylines that have news managers gushing, “Wow! This is great. How soon can you get it here?”

Jack Watling, planning editor at NewsFixed, a pitching and commissioning platform connecting freelance reporters across the world with editors, offered some practical advice on nailing the pitch in a recent post for Rory Peck Trust. 

On the top of Watling's list for improving story pitches: Create a template.

“Writing pitches should not be time consuming. Write a template with sections for all the key information. That way writing them becomes quick and easy, and you know what information you need before you pitch." You can see the easy-to-use template Watling created here

In his post, Watling also offered the following tips:

Be story focused.

“If you have a story about reuniting families, focus the pitch on how the government does it and how you are going to tell the story. Avoid words like `may,’ `might,’ and `likely.’ Editors want to know what is definitely known so that they can judge whether there is a story.”

Indicate key sources. 

“As a freelancer, the editor is unlikely to know who you are . . . if you indicate the voices that will appear in the piece and the key sources you intend to use, it shows that you know how you are going to report the story and demonstrates that you can deliver.”

Provide technical and logistical details. 

“Say when you think you can deliver the story and the format in which you can deliver it. If you are offering accompanying photos, say so.”

Give a deadline. 

“An awkward and all too common predicament for freelancers is to know when to pitch to a second editor if the first has not responded. The length of time provided should depend on the time sensitivity of the pitch. “The sentence simply needs to say, `if interested please respond within four hours. After this point, this story will be pitched elsewhere.’ Even if the editor does not commission, this tag often prompts them to write to decline.”

Portfolio. 

“Put a final link to some previous samples of your work. This should come at bottom of the pitch.” 

Tips from the lips of successful freelancers, gleaned from years of listening to reporters talk about what does and doesn’t work for them. 

  • Every story proposal should be neatly packaged with all the usual safeguards: Check spelling, facts, grammar and tone. Most editors are not interested in cutesy sales pitches or long-winded paragraphs. Best advice: Have someone read the proposal before pushing the submit button.
  • Include a working headline and brief summary or nut graph. This could change as you get deeper into the story, but it provides a quick overview and road map for the pitch. 
  • As briefly as possible, explain why an audience would be interested in this story. Outline the main sources and documentary evidence. Use bullets to streamline the information.
  • Provide an outline of photos, graphics or other visuals that will accompany the story. If it is a multi-media package, list and describe the major components.
  • Lay out a reasonable timeline. This should include how many days it will take to research and cover the story, edit photos/videos and check information for accuracy.
  • The final word: Keep it simple, focused and timely.

When it comes to pitching a story, what has worked for you? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below. 

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via dotsandspaces.

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