Winding up for a successful story pitch

By on August 12, 2013

This is one in a series of posts offering quick internship advice by students wrapping up their summer programs. Read the whole series here.

Pitchin’ isn’t an easy game. And if you are an intimidated intern, you may feel bound for failure.

Here are some tips. Even if you get just one win out of this advice, well, you’re welcome.

1. Use Pew Research Center to find your pitch

This website’s research will, I guarantee, provide you with some starting ground for finding good pitches. Don’t overlook the national angle of the statistics available on this website, even if you are interning at a hyper-local organization. You can localize almost any of the research or discover that your community is an exception to a national trend. For instance, in researching stats on Palo Alto, Calif., I discovered how the rise of multigenerational homes played out in an affluent and immigrant-heavy area.

2. Research for redundancies

Pitching a story that the organization has already written — or, even worse, written while you were interning — is pretty embarrassing. It is a clear sign that you weren’t keeping up with your newsroom’s products. So dig into search to examine the landscape before entering the battlefield.

3. Don’t start too much, too soon

My editors somehow always knew more than me about everything I pitched and brought up appropriate concerns for many of my pitches. A lot of times, a reporter has already run into a dead end on the trail I want to pursue. You don’t know all the inner workings of the office, so don’t start calling expert sources or sending out emails before they give you the go-ahead. You can have those names ready in your pitch but too much research too early on isn’t worth it and could end badly.

4. Tell the story of your discovery …

… especially if the story is interesting. But even a quick, “I was downtown and overheard someone talking about …” puts the listeners in the place and adds that hint of legitimacy that may just reel them in.

5. Don’t pitch it all away

There may be times when a rush of 10 ideas will come to you in one day. It’s possible a pretty decent one could get overlooked by your editors. If you have got some great evergreen stories, don’t feel the need to overload your editor with all your ideas at one time. I’ve found that sharing a list of three or four ideas every so often in a weekly news cycle works better. For a quicker news cycle, like the one I saw at KCBS Radio, you could definitely increase your game and show off your muscles all at once.

6. Preview in email, expand in person

Some of my ideas could go in many directions — some that I haven’t even thought about. I found it helpful to send my editors a quick two-sentence rundown of each pitch in an email and then request a 10-minute sit-down after they had pondered my ideas. It can also pique your editor’s interest, allows you to spice up your email with quality links and sets the conversation at a higher information level from the start.

7. Take ‘no’ for an answer … and then come back

Occasionally (or possibly, more than that) your well-thought-out, focused and evidence-based pitch will miss the mark. Who cares? Learn what you did wrong and brainstorm some more. After all, you’re an intern — make some mistakes.

Karishma Mehrotra is a rising sophomore at Emory University majoring in journalism and international relations. She has interned at Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s PolitiFact, KCBS Radio, Palo Alto Weekly and UC Berkeley’s Daily Californian. She is also the assistant news editor at the Emory Wheel.