learning pages / Practice

4.9 : Pitching stories to editors.

When you are attempting to challenge the dominant discourse, persuading media outlets to commission your stories can be more difficult. A good pitch could help. Journalists use pitches to persuade editors that their suggested topics are worth covering.

Journalists use pitches to persuade editors that their suggested topics are worth covering. There is no universal rule on how a pitch should look. But the most important thing is to clearly explain what is important about the topic and why the audience should be interested in it, too. 

At the same time it is important to realize that you should make your pitch only once you have researched the topic and understood the background. The set of questions below can help you to formulate pitch and identify any areas that you may need to develop further. These are intended as broad guidelines, not strict prescriptions. Below you will also find some further tips on how to prepare the case for your editor.

  1. Why is the topic important? Why should the audience want to go through it?
  2. What makes it newsworthy? Why do we want to report on the issue now?
  3. What information needs to be included? What angle would you like to use to tell the story?
  4. What kind of information and data will you need to back up the story? Who are you going to speak with? What institutions would you like to contact?
  5. Do you plan to use any special elements, such as infographics?

And here are some tips to help you persuade editors that responsible reporting on migration or development is a good idea:

  • Pitch stories, not topics. Show how you can communicate the issue in a compelling way with human stories.
  • If you are planning a trip or visiting an organization, contact an editor beforehand, so that you can offer to pitch stories from the location. That way, you can adapt your approach or do additional reporting to meet the editor’s requirements.
  • Include your pitch in the body of your email, not as an attachment. Make sure it gets read as fast as possible, with no unnecessary obstacles.
  • Where possible, pitch the story idea face to face rather than writing it and filing it unsolicited. Many editors like to ‘front-edit’, helping to shape the story and put it together.
  • If your pitch is time-sensitive, make that clear. And be sure to allow plenty of time for the editor to respond before any deadline.
  • If you don’t receive a response for a couple of days, it is sometimes OK to send a follow-up email. Sometimes people are simply busy and a lack of response does not mean rejection.
  • Try to avoid pitching the same story to multiple outlets at the same time. But if you do have to do this, make sure you let all the editors know that you’re doing it.
  • If you haven’t worked with an editor before, make sure to include some background about yourself at the start of your pitch.
  • Make sure any important sources have already agreed to work with you before you make your pitch.
  • Emphasize the responsibility we have as journalists to uncover the truth and to tell authentic stories.
  • Talk about the importance of promoting a more positive discourse that values freedom and human life rather than national security and economic advantage.
  • Talk about the responsibility we have as a society to uphold human rights and provide refuge to people who are fleeing persecution.
  • Point out how in-depth personal testimonies and interesting new angles make for compelling stories that audiences may not have encountered before.
  • Share examples of good reporting on the issues, to show what impact it can have.

For more ideas on pitching to editors, read this article in The Atlantic.

You may also like other articles

4.1 : As opportunities to travel shrink, opportunities to communicate across the world have improved rapidly.

While the opportunities for media houses to send journalists abroad have been shrinking, the ability of journalists to cover issues taking place on the other side of the world have been greatly increased thanks to recent advances in communication technologies. In fact, most coverage on global issues is now done from behind a desk. Fortunately, it is possible to produce high quality coverage on global issues, including migration, from this setting. All it requires is a fresh approach and a shift in perspective.

4.2 : Is a desk-based approach to global journalism possible?

Media outlets must cover landmark events and issues. But at the same time they have the opportunity to do something more, to offer the audience a deeper and more diverse picture of the reality around us, even without being on the ground. And journalists, by following this approach, can enrich their portfolios with unique and groundbreaking stories.

4.3 : Changing your approach to desk-based research.

There are a few preliminary steps you can take to begin with if you would like to enrich your desk-based coverage: starting with some broad research to give you an overview, compiling further resources to follow up, changing your routine a little and considering the criteria you want to select news coverage from agencies and other sources.

4.4 : Collecting findings from behind a table: tips and suggestions.

In the old days, reporters had to rely on expensive and unreliable communication services to develop their stories. Nowadays, journalists have a universe of new technologies to communicate across the world – reliably, instantly and for free (or almost). This is the ‘new normal’ for news coverage and journalists have to adapt to make the most of these new opportunities.

4.5 : Balance and analysis.

Covering culturally and geographically distant contexts brings a variety of challenges. How do you achieve the right balance? How can you feed it into the bigger picture? How do you avoid the dangers of depoliticization and other common pitfalls of Western coverage of the global south? How can you analyse a subject you are not yourself an expert in? And can you make these unfamiliar contexts relevant and accessible for your audience? Fortunately, there are tools which can help.

4.6 : Before you start.

Planning is the essence of good coverage. Before you go anywhere or start your work, define precisely what you are interested in. Then do the research – find out what is already known about the topic. Do not forget additional, contextual information while doing so. Write down from where and from whom you could get information, and how could you use it. And finally, categorize your sources – from those simple to obtain to others more difficult to reach – and begin with the latter.

4.7 : Giving your story a hook.

A hook is a technique to make your story engaging, going beyond the ‘five Ws’ of journalism: who, what, when, where and why. Put simply, it answers the question ‘So what?’. Another perspective relates to narrative technique to open your story to hook attention in order to keep reading/watching/listening. Here we deal with the former one. These can be, for example, various events or reports.

4.8 : Making entry into a community.

It is important to get voices of people whom the issue you cover somehow relates to. Therefore, it is important to enter the community itself when covering migration and/or development issues. Find tips and suggestions how to do that.

4.10 : Live reporting.

Being in the field is a unique opportunity to bring something special – such as live reporting. Find inspiration about what you can do and how to do it.

4.11 : On the ground.

You are in the field – with all the challenges that brings. How can you proceed to find valuable content? Leave enough time to be able to distance yourself and gain perspective. Do not overestimate your memory and don’t forget about accompanying visual materials. And be flexible!

4.12 : Stories through the concept of nonuniform modernization(s).

As journalists, you will often encounter stories taking place in unknown environments, in culturally unfamiliar or geographically distant contexts. In these cases, it is often useful to use an analytical tool to grasp the topic in a structured way. One useful approach is the concept of nonuniform modernization.

4.13 : Dilemmas in the field.

Fieldwork brings a variety of challenges and even dilemmas for journalists. Some common examples of these are covered here. They include cooperation with NGOs, international organizations, local representatives, community members themselves and fixers.

4.14 : Working with your fixer.

One of the ways to overcome the challenges journalists face in unknown contexts is to cooperate with a fixer who will be able to fill you in on the background and help you access the stories you need. There are websites such as www.worldfixer.com or www.hostwriter.org where you can find more information. Another option is to engage with groups on social media and ask other journalists for advice.

Scroll to top