Pitching and the Newsroom: An Inside Perspective

Want to know how to get a reporter to write about your pitch? First, you have to think like one.

I am one of the many people who started their career in public relations in a newsroom. I loved being a community writer for the best newspaper ever published, and it helped me understand the needs of the media once I transitioned to public relations. So, let me tell you a little about pitching short leads from the point of view of a (former) reporter, and the key things we should all keep in mind.

Reporters are not the enemy (but they will ask those questions you don’t want to answer):

It’s easy to feel like the reporter is against you, either ignoring your pitches completely or asking you all the questions you can’t quite answer. It’s important to understand that reporters are not the opposition, but they do have a job to do, a boss to please and an audience to engage.

You (or your client) may prefer to avoid certain questions, but it’s the reporter’s job to ask them. The better you anticipate them, and provide answers, the easier it will be for the reporter to go back to his or her editor with the information they need. Know the questions you don’t want to answer, and figure out what information you’re willing to provide. The reporter is going to ask them, not because they want to make you uncomfortable, but because it’s their job.

Reporter's notebookAs a reporter, I never got used to asking impolite questions, but I could never end an interview without crossing them off the list. I learned that those who answered “how much?” and other equally invasive questions quickly and matter-of-factly got the most control over the angle of the story. The more an interviewer tried to hide an answer, the faster that question became the focus of the story.

(Read more about nailing a media interview here.)

It’s not all about you (and it’s not really about the reporter either):

It’s all about the audience. An editor is constantly on the hunt for stories that appeal to the newspaper’s audience, and provide readers with the information they need and want. It doesn’t always matter if the reporter cares passionately about your story idea. If the outlet’s readers don’t care, the editors won’t care. And if the editors don’t care…it’s not going to happen.

Not only is it important for you to put yourself in the reporter’s shoes; it’s important to put yourself in the reader’s shoes, too. It’s not always about why a reporter would want to write your story. It’s about why someone would want to read the story you’re pitching. If you’re thinking about the same challenges as the editors and reporters, you have a much better chance of meeting them halfway and getting a story that makes everyone, from their publisher to your client, extremely happy.

Holidays—the best untapped opportunity:

One of the best ways to pitch the story everyone will jump on is to take a closer look at the calendar.  There are times of the year when everyone is busy, PR campaigns are in full swing and the media’s attention is stretched thin. But what happens when people go on vacation, holidays come around and everything in your office slows down or closes completely?

You may be at home, you client may be at home, but the reporter and the editor are likely looking for copy on a very slow day. The Christmas-themed pitch could get lost in the shuffle, but focus on the pitch for the day after Christmas. The same goes for snow days, summer days and any time the news cycle slows down. Take the time to reach out to your target contacts, and help them find something exciting to fill their pages when the newsroom gets quiet.

Call them back:

Timing is everything in the newsroom. Reporters have daily deadlines, seasonal stories and a never-ending need for copy that engages the reader. Because of daily time constraints, reporters and editors are often focused mostly on what needs to happen in the next hour, not days or weeks. Keep that in mind, and remember to call back. Your client’s pitch may be unforgettable, but it only takes a second for the reporter’s entire day to change.

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Your pitch is in there…somewhere.

Like many reporters, I kept a file on evergreen stories to sift through on slow days. The managing editor had an even larger arsenal of such stories, and she would gladly rifle through them to assign stories when copy was needed. Those pitches are vital, but you have to remember that priorities in the newsroom can change in an instant, especially when a story breaks that a goat got loose in the county and all the deputies rushed off to chase it.

Well, maybe that only happens in southern Virginia, but you get the idea.


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