It could have been a scene out of a freelancer’s nightmare. Instead of pitching a story via email, freelancers were pitching to an entire panel of editors — and an audience.
That was the setup at the Asian American Journalists Association Philly chapter’s First Pitch, a master class on pitching held last November at Temple University. During the event, five Philadelphia editors critiqued pitches from freelancers. Some stories even made the cut: listen to Mary Schilling‘s story about South Jersey’s annual muskrat dinners on Newsworks.
Ultimately, editors aren’t always the last word, said David Preston, assistant city editor at the Philadelphia Daily News.
“If you have a pitch, don’t let me or anyone else tell you it’s no good,” he said. Maybe it’s not ready yet, he said, but if you’re passionate about it, you should stick with it.
Below, we recap tips from the editors at the event.
- Be surprising. “Tell me something I don’t know,” said Sandy Clark, deputy managing editor for arts, features and entertainment at the Inquirer. “Give me something we haven’t done before.”
- Make a case for your story. Clark said she wants to know, “Why would people care?” and “Why now?”
- Reach out to sources before the pitch. It gives your pitch credibility if you’ve already lined up interviews, said Eugene Sonn, audio news director at WHYY.
- It isn’t enough to have a good story. You need to be clear to editors about your angle and how you plan to approach it. This was the number one criticism that editors had during the event. After one pitch about an annual muskrat dinner, Sonn said he needed to know: What kind of story is this? Is it a National Geographic-type story? Is it a story about a tradition under siege? Is it a story about a quirky thing that happens every year?
- Give the editor specifics. Tell the editor when the story could run — don’t make an editor do that work, said Philadelphia Magazine news editor Brian Howard. For example, tell the editor, “This should be a front-of-book item for your April issue for X, Y and Z reasons.”
- Show that you’re capable. Sonn said he wants to hear past work so he knows that a reporter can handle producing her own pieces.
- Know the outlet you’re pitching to. Some outlets, like the Daily News, will be tougher because of things like union restrictions and because it has a “tiny” freelance budget, Preston said.
- Sometimes it helps if your story doesn’t look like all the others. News outlets can’t cover everything, so pitch a story that focuses on an under-covered issue. Said Preston, in a response to a pitch about a Chinatown-focused story: “I would be the first to admit that we do a lousy job of covering Chinatown and other ethnic communities. So I would be interested in stories like that.”
- Be up front about any personal interest or involvement you have with the story topic. That is not the kind of thing editors want to find out about later, said Brian Hickey, Northwest Philadelphia news editor at Newsworks.
- Don’t ask for payment until you’ve delivered. The same goes for pitching another story before you’ve finished the one you’re working on. Both are turn-offs, Clark said.
- Don’t take it personally. Rejection is inevitable, so try to learn from it, said freelance radio producer and event organizer Yowei Shaw. If your pitch is rejected, ask the editor why. Try to have a conversation with her about why it didn’t work.
– Juliana Reyes