Everything you need for a great story pitch (except the story)

Everything you need for a great story pitch (except the story)

Being able to successfully pitch stories is an important skill for young journalist. This guide will give you some pointers on finding story ideas and crafting your pitch.

Photo by Flickr user Rdikeman. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

To make a good pitch, you have to start with a good idea. So where can you find good ideas? The short answer is everywhere.

The longer answer is…really everywhere.

Story ideas can come from little things you see, hear or read. They can come from government data releases or corporate press releases. They can come from anniversaries or from things that are going to happen. Story ideas are everywhere. The hard part is turning those ideas in to good, sellable pitches.

So let’s say you go out this weekend and see an interesting new business downtown. You might come back to class Tuesday and say, “I found this place, and it’s pretty cool. I want to do a story on it.”

Your idea might turn into a killer story, but right now it is just an idea. You can make it into a story pitch by focusing up and explaining what aspect of the business you want to highlight.

This is the exact scenario one of my students encountered this summer, when he came across the Cruze Farm pop-up store. He thought it was a neat place and would make for a good microdoc. He was right, but he didn’t have a story yet.

Working with the rest of the producers, we talked about Cruze Farm and what makes it special and interesting. After 15-20 minutes of brainstorming, we decided that it was the “Cruze Farm girl” that was the unique aspect of this business. His pitch shifted from “I want to do a story about this business” to:

“I want to do a story about where the idea of the iconic Cruze Farm girl came from and why they chose the style they did.”

This pitch — unlike the first one — is for a concise, focused story that could be told in a couple minutes. Here’s how his story ended up coming out:

A good way to test your pitch is to think about what story people would produce if you gave them your pitch without any additional information. Would they all produce the same type of stories (good pitch) or would everyone produce a different, unique version of the story (bad pitch)? Your pitch should be focused and concise enough that everyone would produce about the same story.

In addition to having a solid story, you have to be able to defend your pitch. The first question you will always get is: why do we have to do this story right now?

Any media organization you ever work for will be stretched for time, money and space. You need to be able to explain to your editors why you need to spend your day reporting this story instead some other story that needs covered. If your story doesn’t need to be done today (or if you can’t explain why it needs to be done today), then it likely won’t done today.

Additionally, you need to be able to explain who this story will be important to. If your answer is “EVERYONE!” then your story is broadly too broad and/or underdeveloped. A good way to think of this is to ask yourself:

If I post this story on social media, who is most likely to share it or comment on it?

Whoever you answered is your target audience.

Finally, you want to be able to explain who you are going to contact (or have already contacted) to start reporting on the story, and you want to be able to give your editor an idea of the style of story you have in mind (e.g., a 1,000 word feature story, a short video, etc).