The Art of Pitching with @stuartmcgurk @RosieBlau @FinloRohrer and @stokel at #CIJWellTold Long Form and Narrative Journalism Festival. pic.twitter.com/YkafA9Eo4q
— Andrew Garthwaite (@AndGarth) March 2, 2019
Having an idea is one thing, pitching it effectively is another. This afternoon’s panel brought together Stuart McGurk of GQ, Rosie Blau of 1843 and Finlo Rohrer of BBC News. Hosted by Chris Stokel-Walker, the three discussed what makes a good pitch to them.
Rohrer says, “One of the most important things is you can immediately see it on the page.” For him, the person needs to have a coherent idea of what they want to write and that needs to come through in the pitch. He wants to know how you’re going to approach it in detail. You should be able to answer the obvious question: “What’s the headline?”
“Most stories need some pre-reporting,” says McGurk, “You need to have done some digging.”
Blau agrees. “The worst thing you can do is pitch something you don’t yet know yourself,” she says.
When editors’ inboxes are constantly receiving pitches, they make quick decisions about your pitch. A pitch that is too long won’t get chosen because it tells the editor you don’t know what’s important within the story. “It can always be shorter,” says McGurk.
If you catch the interest of the editor, they will then ask questions to get more detail from you. Blau believes the pitch reflects the quality of your work, explaining, “if you haven’t taken the time making it short, I can’t rely on you writing the piece properly”.
Editors are busy, so pitching at the right time in the production cycle can make all the difference, but generally, first thing in the morning is a good idea. To get McGurk’s attention, he says to email him “first thing when I’m in ‘coffee, email, getting admin done’ mode.”
On top of this, write a specific subject line to catch her attention, “‘Hello’ or ‘An Idea’ is a rubbish subject line,” Blau says.
She says the magazine relies on freelancers, and welcome their pitches but have to reject many of them because they are not detailed enough. “People keep pitching subjects instead of stories,” she says.
This is such a common issue with pitches – a topic isn’t a atory https://t.co/YzTAmy8RBX
— Louise Ridley (@LouiseRidley) March 2, 2019
You need to think about the way you're going to structure your article. @stuartmcgurk says, "an understanding of structure is really important. If I know someone's been thinking about that then you're already ahead of everyone else pitching to me." #CIJWellTold
— Well Told (@welltold) March 2, 2019
Insightful conversation on the art of pitching #CIJournalism #CIJWellTold #CIJWellTold2019 pic.twitter.com/hEG456U9jY
— Lea Vitezic (@LeaArden) March 2, 2019
“Tell the subject through the story is always the mantra,” adds McGurk.
Blau wants to be surprised, and a surprising pitch is more likely to be picked. She says, “There should be a sentence you can tell me that makes me think ‘that’s amazing!'”
If you’ve been unlucky enough for your pitch to be ignored, it’s always worth chasing up.
Rohrer says, “You definitely should follow up.” Even if your pitch isn’t right, it’s worth finding out. “I’ve always tried to give people feedback on why we haven’t taken something.”
For those who haven’t freelanced before, it can be hard getting an editor to take a chance. Blau says, “I really want to know you can do it.” If you haven’t got long clippings to include, say what you have done that makes you specifically qualified to write this. For new writers, she asks they “include two things of what they’re most proud of writing.”
Words by Corrie David