Old News Won’t Help You, and More Tips on How to Pitch a Reporter

Photo credit: detail of a photo by Doug Miller, retrieved via Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license. Click for more information.
Photo credit: detail of a photo by Doug Miller, retrieved via Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license. Click for more information.

A few years ago, I wrote a long(ish) post on how to pitch story ideas to reporters without being annoying. A couple things have happened recently that make me want to add some new tips to the list.

First, a reporter acquaintance of mine has been sharing some of the pitches she’s gotten lately which are particularly awful. And there are a lot of them. I won’t repeat the pitches, but I do want to highlight some of the mistakes these pitches make – so that other public relations folks don’t make the same mistakes. Bad pitches waste everyone’s time.

Second, I’ll be leading a session at the 2015 meeting of the National Association of Science Writers on how public information officers (PIOs) can pitch stories effectively to reporters and editors. Hopefully, this post will spark some conversation and I can learn new things to share at that session.

I still stand by everything in my original post on pitching reporters. Everything here is in addition to what I wrote there.

Now, on to the tips!

Old News Won’t Help You

Any pitch to a reporter that references a story that has already appeared in another news outlet is probably going to fail. For example: “Our research, as you might have seen on Good Morning America, finds that blah blah blah.” I’ve seen a lot of pitches like this, and I don’t understand them at all. A story idea does not become more attractive if it has already been covered by another news outlet.

I’ve had reporters contact me to make sure a news item hasn’t gotten widespread coverage already. I’ve never had a reporter contact me to make sure they won’t be the first person to write about it.

Don’t Tell Reporters What They Want

These pitches tend to come in one of two varieties, which I’ll call “we wants” and “you wants.”

A “we want” pitch may say something like, “we all want to feel sexier” or “we all love a cold drink on a hot day” or whatever. These pitches are, frankly, creepy. Reasonable responses to these pitches may include: How do you know what I want? Why do you think we want the same thing? Why are you talking to me like this? It’s pretty unlikely that a reporter will read one of these pitches and think, “Gosh – I do want to feel stronger/younger/whatever – I think I’ll write a story about this!”

A “you want” pitch is, if anything, even worse. These pitches include lines like, “You’re going to love this story” or “You’re going to want to write about this.” Maybe I’m just an obstreperous grouch, but I don’t like being told what to do by people I don’t know in an unsolicited email.

If you tell a reporter what she wants to do, I suspect that she will want to delete your email.

Don’t Offer To Be a Ghost-Writer

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but PIOs should not offer to write stories on behalf of reporters. I am tempted to write this in all caps.

But, apparently, I do have to say this. I know of numerous instances where well-known and well-regarded reporters at respected news outlets have been approached by public relations folks who offer to write stories for the reporters – all the reporter has to do is slap his or her name on the story. Sometimes, the pitch is presented as a favor. For example, something along the lines of “I know you’re busy, so we’d be happy to write this for you.”

This is a slap in the face to any reporter that has a modicum of self-respect. Only pursue this course if you want to make yourself anathema to the reporter you’re contacting.

No Follow-Up Calls

There are reporters who like to be called after being sent a pitch via email. I know this, because I have met them. But they are in the minority. In my, admittedly anecdotal, experience, I’ve met two reporters who don’t mind follow-up calls. Every other reporter I have ever met does not want follow up calls. So, that tally comes to two reporters who like follow-up calls versus hundreds and hundreds of reporters who do not like follow-up calls.

Here’s why. Reporters have deadlines. They have work to do. If the phone rings, they are really hoping that it’s that source they left a message for. They are NOT hoping that it is someone they don’t know who wants to tell them about that email they haven’t had a chance to read yet (or have already deleted).

Your follow-up call is not only taking up their time, but possibly tying up their phone line when one of their sources is calling.

Don’t do it.


3 thoughts on “Old News Won’t Help You, and More Tips on How to Pitch a Reporter

  1. Kim Krieger

    Your comment RE: follow-up calls made me laugh. When I was a reporter I hated follow-up calls too, except from the occasional really awesome PIO who knew exactly what I covered and what I’d find significant. So when a former colleague of mine said “hey, I’m slammingly busy, if you pitch me something important and don’t hear back from me in 48 hours, call me,” it freaked me out. He WANTED follow-up calls? I’ve only done it once, with much trepidation. Don’t want to take advantage of my privilege.


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  3. Pingback: [BLOCKED BY STBV] What Reporters Can Do to Work More Effectively With PIOs › Communication Breakdown

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