Think Like a Journalist When Pitching Your Story Idea

June 28, 2016 5:16 pm Published by

Always put on a journalist’s hat before you pitch your story to the press.

Delving into a journalist’s mentality may require some advance work and the formulation of a pitching document, but a little time upfront is worth the investment.

Your pitching document should include the words of wisdom from Pat Curry, assignment editor of WGN-TV. Curry once told me to “put the who, what, when, where and why in the first paragraph of your pitch and never bury your lead.”

Think of your lead as your headline and it should only be a 5-8 words. The shorter the better. Your lead should read like a billboard or a bumper sticker. It should be clever and memorable.

Think visually is the daily mantra of Harvard professor, Sally Sharp. Sharp, former editor of the Austin American-Statesman, reminds writers to think visually when pitching the press via phone or in writing.

Also, Sharp highly recommends short paragraphs especially when it comes to quotes. She said quotes are the exclamation point in your written materials and the quotes need to have impact.

Other words of advice are from Betzy Torres, former producer from the Today Show, who always said, “What is the holy sh*t factor of your story idea?”

While talking to PR people on the phone, she always said, “Why will our viewers care?”

Dealing with the press can be brutal, but as objective PR professionals, we make journalists’ jobs easier by creating clever leads and possible headlines.

Another tip of importance is accuracy and this includes correct spelling. If you spell the reporter’s name wrong, expect your pitch to be deleted immediately.

The late George Lazarus of the Chicago Tribune, collected envelopes with his name spelled wrong and hung them behind his desk. He once said, “If they can’t spell my name right, they probably can’t get the facts right.” Needless to say, it would take years until your name was removed from his wall of shame.

Accuracy is important when it comes to attributing statistics and figures in your press release.

Martha Nichols, Harvard professor and founder of the online magazine talkingwriting.com, recommends incorporating links from reliable sources into your materials including cover letters.

So the next time, you pitch the press, remember to:

  1. Put your who, what, when, where and why in the first sentence
  2. Don’t bury your lead.
  3. Think visual
  4. Don’t be afraid to use short paragraphs
  5. Incorporate an impactful quote
  6. Point out the holy sh*t factor
  7. Accuracy is key. Use spell check and AP-style.
  8. Provide links to attribute statistics and figures

Good luck!

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