March 2006: Make sure your story pitches are a hit with the media

 

 

 


 

March 2006 Vol. 11 Issue 1
Make sure your story pitches are a hit with the media

When I first started pitching stories to the media, I felt like I spent more time swinging and missing than hitting the ball. Thanks to some advice from co-workers and journalists, I’m not striking out like I used to.

Making a media pitch can be as easy as calling up a reporter and telling him or her what you had in mind. More often, successful pitches are more about good work than good luck.

First, consider what journalists are looking for.

My college journalism textbook News Reporting and Writing, defined the following as elements of a good news story:

  • Impact — A story is interesting only if it affects real people. All stories must have impact, so before you pitch a story, ask yourself: how many people are affected by an event or idea? How seriously does it affect them?
  • Conflict — Struggles between people, nations, or with natural forces make good stories. Ask yourself: does this story demonstrate a conflict? If so, who are those in conflict? What is the conflict over?
  • Novelty — People or events may make interesting stories because they are unusual or bizarre. Ask yourself: is this story really unusual or just unknown or unpopular?
  • Prominence — For better or worse, names make news — the bigger the name, the bigger the news. Ask yourself: do readers know who this person is? Are they interested in hearing more about this person?
  • Proximity — People are more concerned about things that happen close to home. If the topic is broader in scope they want to know how it will affect them or their community. Ask yourself: how does this story affect your community?
  • Timeliness — News, as the name suggests, should be new. It also can be tied to a holiday, recent event, trend, or something expected to happen. Examples include the State of the Union address or Valentine’s Day.

Mike Loizzo, a news reporter and on-air host for WBAA radio at Purdue, said he’s open to pitches about any kind of story, but he’s especially interested when it’s clear the pitcher has done his or her homework.

Finding a solid story is part of this homework, but it also involves being prepared. For example, I find it helpful to write out what I want to say to journalists before calling them. That way, I don’t forget anything while I’m on the phone and I share the same information with each journalist I call.

Warm-up tips for story pitchers

Here are four tips to help you get reporters swinging at your story pitches.

  1. Know the publication or station you’re pitching to. Be ready to (a) refer to previous stories as examples, and (b) tell how the audience will appreciate your information.
  2. Relate your pitch to journalistic triggers such as relevance, usefulness, and interest. The more impact, conflict, novelty, prominence, proximity, or timeliness a story has, the more likely it will spark a reporter’s interest.
  3. Don’t pitch yourself, pitch a story idea. Instead of saying, “I can talk to you about calving,” say, “This is the time of year a lot of farmers are preparing for spring calving. Did you know that . . . ”
  4. Be ready to provide other sources for the topic you’re pitching.

Homework also means presenting the stories in such a way that readers can understand.

“Relate it to the average listener,” Loizzo said. “Be sure to speak in layman’s terms.”

In other words, talk like you’re speaking with your mother. You’re not talking to a third grader, but you’re also not talking to a biochemistry professor (in most cases).

Finally, journalists like if you’ve prepared a list of people for them to talk to.

“If you’re able to line up the people involved so I don’t have to play phone tag or try to persuade them to do a story that’s even better,” Loizzo said.

He added that he likes to interview people who are lively because that transfers well to the radio.

Find out more about what makes news by speaking with someone in AgComm or by picking the brain of a local reporter.

Remember, not every pitch results in a story. There are only so many column inches or minutes on the air for news, but if you tailor your story to what the reporter needs, you just may hit a home run.

Kay Hagen, kjh@purdue.edu

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