How to Pitch a Reporter and Be Heard
October 8, 2019
Today’s reporters – both print and broadcast – are always on the move. Pivoting from one story to another, preparing a “package” for the 4, 5 and 6 o’clock news, or an in-depth investigation for web AND print, you’ll rarely catch one with ‘down time.’
With a journalist’s world blurring past them, it’s understandably difficult to get their attention. Looking back on my days as a reporter, I rarely had 10 minutes to spare to hear out a disorganized, unfocused story pitch. The ones I DID hear – and pitch to station management – had a few things in common…
Here are five tips to grab (and hold!) a reporter’s attention:
Start with community: One of the biggest factors in determining whether or not to cover a story is how it’s going to affect our viewers. If your story only resonates with a small group, how does this small group impact the larger community? News organizations want stories that specifically speak to their local communities, because those are the people watching, reading, or listening.
Introduce your main character(s). Audiences – people – truly connect with stories when they can see an example of someone who’s been affected. Hurricane coverage is a great example – it affects the whole community, but the news spotlights those who’ve gone above and beyond to help, or highlights a person who benefits from generous donations. Viewers relate to personal stories; reporters call these people characters and their stories are the story.
Provide interviewees. Good interviews are the heartbeat of a good news story. Provide at least 3 potential subjects, or simply let reporters know that you have put thought into the story from their perspective, and make suggestions. Ideally, you’ll have three people already queued up ready to talk. News organizations sometimes pause when provided interviews (as Jurassic Park taught us, the T-rex doesn’t want to be fed…he wants to HUNT!), but they can benefit news organizations doing more with less.
Build trust – specifically, don’t exaggerate. If you’re having an event and only 20 people are expected to show up, don’t oversell it and say there’ll be 50. You want the reporter to trust you and your story. Build a good rapport with the reporters so they know they can come to you for future stories and get honest answers; if you’re lucky enough to have a reporter sell a story to their bosses, don’t put them in a bad spot with weak subject matter.
Be prepared. As stated above, reporters are usually doing five things at once. Keep it brief and direct. Reporters have to work around your schedule and availability, but don’t make them jump through hoops to get to you. Show them that the story would be easy to accomplish but impactful.
Extra Credit: Really learn their lingo – ask how much content they need and when they need it by to make deadline. Ask a broadcaster if they’re looking for a ‘vo/sot’ (shorter story) or a package. Make it clear you respect their (extremely) limited time, and that you want to make it as easy as possible.
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