HOW TO PITCH TO AN EDITOR OR COMMISSIONING EDITOR
Originally published on October 13th 2013 for my Masters in Journalism.
Pitching is the process of proposing a story idea to a newspaper or magazine. Firstly, by reading the publication, understand its style, interests and audience.
A COMMISSIONED PITCH
Julie, would you be interested in a thinkpiece from me discussing why we always seem so keen on bad news/tragedy stories? I know it’s not exactly a new topic but I think it’s always of interest and that I could say something fresh that is both provocative and entertaining. It’s prompted by the newspaper my postgraduate students produce – which is absolutely full of deaths and tragedies, etc. – so it could include some discussion of what we should be teaching trainee journalists about what makes a good story, etc. I think it could make a lively piece for your Analysis slot. Interested? Best, wishes Tony Harcup.
– Sent to the Press Gazette’s features editor.
Tony, freelance journalist and senior lecturer at The University of Sheffield, states that the informality was appropriate given his existing relationship with the publication. Structurally, the opening sentence details the pitch, its topic and style (thinkpiece or analytical article). The pitch offered a new take on an old subject. The idea, with its journalistic focus, is relevant to the Press Gazette’s readers. Adjectives abound to elicit interest and convey the style of the feature. Tony indicates he has the credentials to write the piece.
The notion of creating a need for an article or feature is crucial in whether or not it will be commissioned. This process of ‘selling in’ is elaborated upon here http://www.prmoment.com/655/is-there-a-secret-to-selling-in-a-story-to-a-journalist-in-public-relations.aspx
PITCHING TO MAGAZINES
The publication can commission you as you are well known
You can pitch.
Present in an impactful manner; know how to pitch (see advice below) and who to pitch to e.g. specific section’s commissioning editor.
It is recommended that you research this and call the publications’ switchboard to double check the name.
Interestingly, a pitch could be for an article that you do not intend writing. Such pitches contain properties e.g. a package of people whose contact details you have and are willing to pass onto the paper for a staff reporter to write the associated story.
PROCESS – There is great value in having a story that can be adapted for multiple papers.
1. If news is strong and you believe it will ‘fly’, send all-round i.e. to multiple news desks. Mark at top of email as ‘ALL ROUND’
2. Sell story to a company for a small cut who send to all news desks. You need to trust the company.
If exclusive, pitch to a Sunday or one daily newspaper. Magazine or newspaper features have to be exclusive but if they are not commissioned you can, with a firm nod to etiquette, pitch to a non-competing magazine.
I have access to interviewees but I need to retain sole access (avoids poaching of your interviewees)
I am able to deliver. To avoid confusion, be clear to all parties on how things will work (magazines and tabloids invariably pay interviewees, broadsheets like The Guardian do not)
I (will) have pictures – portraits and collects (previously taken pictures). Subjects need to be consenting and available (you will have a deadline).
Timings – get someone else if interviewees will not fit your schedule
Style– pitch in publication’s style
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) suggests you ensure the following:
The name and position of the person commission you
What you have agreed to do, how many words
How you will deliver the copy e.g. hard copy, disk, email (text or Word attachment)
How much you will be paid (The Independent, The Guardian and The Observer pay structures as so that you are, arguably, writing for the prestige).
The buyer’s market of freelancing theoretically reduces an inexperienced journalist’s bargaining power. Speak to the commission editor about the fee structure i.e. any payment for the subject/s. However, there is an issue of monetizing an interview. Will responses vary? Perhaps more sensationalised?
What expenses, if any, will be paid
Do you need to send an invoice and, if so, to whom
Further advice to freelancers is available from the NUJ http://www.nuj.org.uk/home/ e.g. in relation to contracts and copyrights.
UNDRESSING THE PITCHING PROCESS
“A magazine article is like a strip tease whereas a newspaper article is like being flashed on the subway.” Jennifer Khan, feature writer.
For this successful writer’s advice on how to structure your pitch to include a ‘nut grab’ see http://freelance.stanford.edu/reports/pitch/
Put short, succinct, precise pitch in main body of email
Relevant to publication NOW
Correct spelling and grammar
If necessary, get your email proofed
Remember lead times i.e. how far in advance publications require features/articles
Be polite, humble and charming
Your prior cuttings
Note things downs in everyday life
Talk to friends and family, contact them for what they think should be in the news
Social media – what is trending on twitter?
WHAT IS YOUR PITCH?
Endorsement (in email to editor say ‘publication’s top journalist suggested I contact you…). There is value in a short biographical sentence stating why you are writing about this and what you have done (via URL or cuttings PDF).
A yes will be quick. Obtain a deadline. A no is rare. Do not burn bridges.
Some publications pay you (often half of the commission) if your feature/article is written but not printed.
Freelancers do have different opinions on the pitching process e.g. whether to pitch by email or initially by phone and if there is merit in buying the commissioning editor a drink at networking events. However I am sure all will be heartened by this freelancer’s words:
‘The thing to remember is that ideas are the lifeblood of this industry. The right idea, no matter who it’s from, will receive positive attention from the most hard-bitten features editor’. – Dan Roberts, 2004
http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/node/38913 How to pitch to Cosmopolitan
http://books-for-sail.com/write-for-other-markets/20-write-for-magazines.html Dos and don’ts of pitching
http://wannabehacks.co.uk/2012/11/20/15837/ How to pitch a freelance article