When you’re trying to get your local newspaper, radio or TV station to do a story about your project or organization, it really helps to be able to put yourself in their shoes.
You have to be able to think to yourself: “What is that journalist or editor looking for in a pitch? What’s going to appeal to them? And, what can I do to make it as easy as possible for them to produce the story I’m after?”
The best way to peer inside the mind of a journalist in this situation is to ask one!
So it was great to have Ashton Marra, the Assistant News Director at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, join us at Hubapalooza last week to talk turkey about how to grab her attention with a story pitch that works.
Here’s a recap of Ashton key pieces of advice:
• Know who you are pitching, and be conscious of their world!
Be aware of when your journalist might be really busy with other news (is there a huge festival that weekend, or perhaps it’s the day before a gubernatorial election?). For your local paper, find out when the press deadlines are so you aren’t bothering folks right at crunch time.
And, for larger media like WVPB or the Charleston Gazette-Mail, learn “the beats” – which reporter covers the subject matter that your story concerns? (On the right is a map and listing of the WVPB newsroom and each reporter’s beat. You’re welcome.)
• Connect your pitch to a bigger, statewide story.
“Convince me that your story matters to people in other parts of the state.”
For example, if you are trying to promote a physical activity initiative at your local elementary school, connect it to the broader issue of the obesity epidemic in kids. Or, if you’re launching a new grocery store or food program, talk about the statewide problem with food deserts and inadequate access to healthy foods in many communities.
• Bring a compelling character.
“I want to hear someone that is affected.”
In her example about a story WVPB did about a job fair, Ashton spoke about a young teacher that had been laid off and was having a hard time finding work. Or, in a story about a proposal to cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, the unemployed mine worker that was having to chose between paying his electricity bill or feeding his daughter.
When you can bring a compelling character to your pitch, you elevate it to a compelling story that West Virginians all over the state can relate to.
• Bring an expert.
• Bring facts.
• Bring contacts.
When your reporter is on a tight deadline, you need to give them a few options for folks to talk to. Maybe your first choice expert doesn’t return her call, or the editor wants the journalist to explore a different angle. Again, it’s about making your reporter’s life easy. Give them a list of people to talk to about your story, and up to date email addresses and phone numbers.
• Is there video? Is there audio?