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Category Archives: Pitching tips

Pitching – timing is of essence

When it comes to pitching articles timing is very important.

Thanks to the internet we now expect our news to be up-to-the-second and the same goes for comment pieces and timely features. So as a journalist, you have to be constantly on the ball.

Spotted something in the news you’ve got something to say about? Draft a pitch and send it off straight away. Don’t sit on it, someone else might get there first or by the time you get round to putting words on the page it’s old news.

The same goes for timely features. Got an idea for a Christmas related piece, Mother’s Day or interesting charity story? Plan ahead and pitch your idea well in advance.

Someone approached me with their sob story of how they’d been trying to adopt for years but because of a complicated adoption process system they hadn’t been able to. It was a good real life story and she told me about it slap bang in the middle of National Adoption Week. Perfect right? Wrong. Too late.

Two weeks before and it might have been great but by the time I’d found out, all adoption coverage has already been sorted and the magazines and newspapers are finalising what they are going to fill their pages with next week.

Here is a list of all the themed days/weeks in the year.

You could write a feature on:

–        Being Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Trans. It could be your experience, someone else’s or even better – three people with an interesting and themed story to tell for LGBT History Month in February

–        A story about…being a cat on October 29

–        A great grandmother, grandmother and mother story for Women’s History Month in March

–        Or something about towels on May 25

You might have some better ideas.

Press Gazette sometimes have a list of the big diary stories of the week ahead, read this – it might give you some news hooks for comment pieces that you can pitch in advance or straight after, getting you well ahead of the game.

The Guardians open newslist is also very useful for this. It lists the stories they are working on based on events coming up – again you can get ahead of the news.

The TV guide is another great tool. Take a look at what documentaries are going to be shown, perhaps there is going to be a big expose that you have an insider’s take on or know someone who does? Or maybe there’s a new reality TV show starting and you have a strong opinion about the concept (e.g. there has been some negative feelings around ‘The Undateables’ – this opinion could be a comment piece about why you disagree with it, think about the media backlash on the ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’ series).

Sometimes it’s the news hook, or theme that could make that article idea that usually wouldn’t fit within a publication perfect as a one off. So all these dates/themes/occasions are just more opportunities to get something published. The more pitches you send the greater your chance that one of them will get a yes.

If you’ve just missed it, don’t panic. There is always next year so keep a diary of ideas.

One of the most frustrating kick yourself no’s you can get to an article idea is: ‘good idea but too late’.

Don’t miss the boat.

Pitching – do your research

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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!’

They’re not interested.The Queen and Bruce Forsyth

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.

Pitching – cut to the chase

The most important thing to remember when pitching article ideas is – keep it brief. Sum up your idea in three or four sentences and draw the editor in with your first line.

They are very busy people and if your idea is buried under two paragraphs of waffle they will probably have stopped reading and you won’t get a reply.

As a very naive 21 year old I thought I’d try my luck and pitch to Cosmopolitan magazine (my freelance boss recently told me she tried to pitch to them after 6 years of working as a journalist only to be told she wasn’t experienced enough). Me and my older sister had written a painstakingly true account of our love lives and we decided it was hilarious (I still think it’s hilarious, but that’s probably because it’s about me and people I know).

This was my pitch –

Dear Ms. ****,

I am a freelance journalist and have an idea for a real-life article I wish to pitch. I believe this article is perfect for Cosmo’s readership because it has been written by two sisters; aged 21 and 24, who are avid readers of the magazine and tells a tale of unashamedly real relationship reports. Unpretentious and painstakingly honest it will have readers everywhere recalling similar experiences. (sales pitch not needed – cut to the chase)

Charisma; why do we fall for it every time?

The structure is centered around three accounts of real life encounters from the two sisters with the so called ‘charismatic predator’, starting with an introduction to the concept and ending with why we should give the less charismatic contenders a chance.

The tone is; satirical, humorous but with serious undertones and hugely self-deprecating.

The idea in detail is an analysis of charisma, how this trait has us head over heels and how those men in possession of it use it to lure us females in.

“We’ve all been there. Bowled over by charisma, there is no other word to describe this certain special something some men seem to have innately inherited. A trait so blinding we ignore anything which may mar our perception of this brilliant new man. Sent from heaven, karma for all the failed relationships gone before.”

“Following a recent and lengthy conversation with my older sister on the subject of men I realised she was unaware of the truth about charisma. There is a type of man I have been rediscovering since the age of my first heartbreak at eighteen. We will call them assassins.”

Even more paragraphs of waffle…

Another particular gentleman…

“Your immediate assumption is that he’s a player. Right? Or failing that, in a very serious relationship with a very beautiful girl. But wait…he starts to talk about his unlucky love life. How everyone thinks he’s gay.  You even catch a tweet on his page on Valentine’s Day stating his sincere and heartfelt thanks at The Daily Mail for including such a lovely crossword that day, ‘So all us lonely hearts out there have something to busy ourselves with this evening.’  Huh? Surely not? He’s beautiful. This can’t be right…He has fans. Loads of them, and most of them female! Hmm.”

The reality..

“After a few months in mourning a bit of a bombshell gets dropped. It turns out your best friend actually was withholding some vital information relating to our poor boy the whole time. But was so terrified to burst your sickeningly naive, happy bubble she had kept it from you until now. A friend of a friend knew him. Very well in fact. ”

blah blah blah…

Our research is our real life experiences. Cosmo is the sex, love, life and relationship bible. This feature is a real and honest relationship report.

I have never worked for The National Magazine company before. Too see examples of my work for other companies the easiest way is to do this online. I have a number of articles at http://thenationalstudent.com. If you type ‘Rhian Jones’ into the search bar you will see everything that I have written so far. Here is an example of another article that was printed in Lancaster Universities newspaper; http://scan.lusu.co.uk/carolynne/features/2011/06/13/lancasters-sexy-slut-walk/ (no one will do this, link straight to your own website).
Please don’t hesitate to contact me for any further information or to see the finished article. I appreciate the time you have taken to read this email and hope it is something that will be of interest to you.

Ignoring the content (that’s a whole other issue) compare this to a pitch I sent to the Independent recently –

Hi ****,

I’ve got an idea for a Notebook blog entry.

Unpaid internships – if you don’t ask, you don’t get

If students and graduates carry on accepting unpaid internships and work experience stints nothing is going to change. I have no sympathy for people who say that is their only choice. If you make sure your contribution to that workplace is worthwhile then why on earth would you roll over and accept nothing in return? What about when they have to ask for pay rises in the future, negotiate house prices, sell themselves in an interview for a proper salaried job?

At eighteen and over they have to learn to stand on their own two feet, no one is going to fight their corner for them. If they sit in an interview for an internship and have impressed the boss enough for them to let them into their company then they have every right to negotiate a pro rata salary. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If everyone refused to work for free, unpaid internships would fast fade into nonexistence.

NUS campaigns and call for law changes are all very well and good but are as effective as someone’s mum ringing their boss up and giving them a good telling off.

My idea? ‘Just say no!’

As an aspiring journalist whose done work experience and negotiated payment with the company after I considered what they offered unfair, and someone who is increasingly frustrated by the expectation of writing for free, I’ve got a few things to say on this.

Let me know your thoughts,


– I found out exactly where I wanted it to go (the Notebook blogging section)

– Rang the newspaper to get the right contact

– Thought what the headline might be

– Made sure the first paragraph got to the point

…………………………………………………………………………………………..And it was printed!