I know how it feels to find something that seems to be the perfect news story. In that moment, you imagine your name going down in investigative journalism history. You’ll be on Newsnight, asked to go to the Houses of Parliament for tea and the Queen will award you with a Knighthood. You know timing is of essence: you need to jump on it before anyone else gets wind.
You quickly gather as much information as you can before giving your editor a ring. They pick up the phone and with your heart in your mouth you vomit out bits and pieces of your incredible find then await a response…suddenly they’re asking you lots of questions, questions that you haven’t found out…you stumble over a response, ‘not sure yet, I’ll find out asap!’
While browsing the web I was VERY excited to find a pretty profitable company advertising for ‘volunteers’ to do what was effectively waitressing/waiter jobs, but not paid. I couldn’t believe it. I studied the advertisement, got a bit of advice from public service body DirectGov, tried to call the company a few times but after getting no answer I thought it was best to full steam ahead. I called the local paper and told the editor what the company seemed to be doing, she asked: had I had a look into the legalities? Who had I spoken to? Um….no not properly and no one.
I looked like an amateur (I was) and she politely declined my scoop. So as it turns out, a half cooked idea is never going to win you Journalist of the Year award.
If you think you’ve come across something worth looking into you need to spend some time contacting people (in my case I should have got a response from the company), and more importantly, asking for advice from someone more experienced than you. While doing your research you might find there isn’t a story there at all, or you might find the missing puzzle piece that makes it complete. No matter how amazing that thing you’ve just stumbled upon seems, if you haven’t researched it properly no editor will want to know.
If you do find that last puzzle piece, send out a clearly constructed email (read this to find out how) and even if the editor doesn’t have space for your idea you’ve still made a good impression, making them more likely to read future pitches and commission you in future.
Act like a professional and you’ll get treated like one.