Pitch Perfect

By on August 9, 2017

This is one in a series of blog posts from the MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 selected each year who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Applications for the 2017 MJ Bear Fellowship are now open – you can learn more here.

Crafting the perfect pitch to editors is an art that continues to baffle most budding journalists. While there is no magic formula for pitching, here are some pointers that can help land that coveted assignment.

Capitalize on your context

Every journalist, by virtue of their specific background and location, has something unique to offer. For instance, I have strong contacts in a remote village in Bangladesh because my grandparents hailed from there, and can capitalize on those connections to get ideas and information. A distinctive context gives each journalist access to unique story ideas that would be hard to reach for others, and if packaged well, those ideas can make a terrific pitch.

Be clear

Many pitches, no matter how well-worded, lack clarity. This may happen because the writer is trying to cram too much information into one piece, or is focusing on a broad theme instead of a specific angle. Even if the idea of the story is crystal clear in your head, if it cannot be explained in one sentence, it needs further clarity.

Have a news hook

One of the best ways to sell a story is to link it to a current event. For example, almost every topic covered post-U.S. election was linked to Trump. Editors receive a barrage of pitches every day, but one that is linked to a recent event creates a sense of urgency and importance.

Keep it concise

With hundreds of emails to sort through everyday and an inbox full of story ideas from stringers, editors of most major publications are incredibly busy. So no matter how enamored you may be with your idea, keep the pitch short and to the point and make your potential editor’s life easy.

Use numbered lists

Pitching an idea for a complex issue in the form of a list using bullet points and numbers is more effective than writing long rambling paragraphs. You’ll make it easier for your editor to quickly understand the story and it will help you outline your idea.

Make it counter-intuitive

Counter-intuitive story pitches, just like clickbait headlines, are bound to capture an editor’s interest — even if it’s just for a short period. To sustain that interest it is important to have the facts and figures ready to back up the claim, which requires significant research.

Visualize the piece

Coming up with your idea for a pitch is a good start, but being able to evoke how that story would look to the reader is even better. Briefly describing how a designer might make use of infographics, slideshows and creative fonts can help shape your pitch into a stronger one.

Establish credibility

Amidst the anxiety of pitching their stories, journalists often forget to pitch themselves. This can be a costly mistake because if the editor is not convinced of your ability to pull off the assignment, your pitch, no matter how robust, might be rejected. So make sure to establish your credibility by mentioning any prestigious publications you have written for or relevant awards or fellowships you have received. When I am pitching any story related to the environment, I mention that I am the winner of 2016’s Asian Young Environmental Journalist of the Year Award, in lieu of answering why I should be the one writing this story.

Of course, what’s most important is that you have a good story idea. If you use these tips, you’ll be able to more effectively show editors just how amazing your idea really is, and get that assignment. Happy pitching!

Sohara Mehroze Shachi

Sohara Mehroze Shachi

Sohara is a 2016 MJ Bear Fellow. She and her team have developed an app called Newstant that allows users to download news content to a smartphone and then read or listen to it offline. She explained that this is important in Bangladesh because, while a large number of users have Android smartphones, wi-fi connectivity is sparse. Newstant categorizes news and allows users to customize it based on their preference and prior browsing habits. It also can convert text to speech so that users can listen to it hands free while driving or working, and it has an incident map to keep track of area specific information. In addition to her work as co-founder of Newstant, Sohara writes freelance for various national and international outlets including the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Dhaka Tribune where she previously worked as a sub editor and feature writer. She also works for the climate change team at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bangladesh. Sohara is serving as the Vice Curator of the Dhaka Hub of Global Shapers Community, a network of hubs developed and led by young people who are exceptional in their potential, their achievements and their drive to make a contribution to their communities. She also leads the South Asia hub of Climate Tracker, providing support to youth journalists and climate activists. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Yale University. While she was a student, she also studied Southeast Asian Urban Development at the National University of Singapore and Foreign Policy Analysis at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Sohara recently was awarded the South Asia Media Fellowship by the Asia Pacific Network (APN) to report on climate change and food security, and last year she was awarded the Climate Tracker Youth Fellowship to cover COP 21, the UN Climate Change conference.