Trying to convince a journalist to cover a story can feel like wrestling an octopus – elusive and slippery. More often than not, you’re left hanging, wondering if your pitch disappeared into the abyss. Blame is on luck; those assignment editors and producers receive upwards of 500 emails daily. Your brilliant pitch could be lost, doomed to languish in the depths of an inbox , never to see the light of day. But let’s face it, sometimes the problem lies closer to home – the pitch itself lacks irresistible news value.
Journalists don’t want to sound like they’re reading a product manual or a company’s victory speech. That’s why pitches about new gizmos, staff promotions, or shiny awards tend to hit a dead end. If you want a journalist to sit up and take notice, you need to serve them a piping hot slice of newsworthy goodness. They want to tell stories that matter, stories that captivate their audience and make them feel like they stumbled upon buried treasure, not just parroting a company’s talking points.
As someone who used to work as an assignment editor in the news, and thus was the recipient of 500+ emails a day, I know exactly what newsrooms are looking for – And what they’re not. I can personally attest to the fact that the overwhelming majority of emails do not get read all the way through, because there’s simply not enough time to do so. If the subject line didn’t catch my attention, the email got deleted. If the first sentence didn’t make me want to read the second sentence, the email got deleted. And so whenever I craft a pitch, I like to imagine as though I’m writing it to myself back when I was an assignment editor and ask myself, “Would I cover this?” That’s not to say that all the pitches we in the Strat Team send out get coverage (like I mentioned previously, there is quite a bit of luck involved), but we pride ourselves on sending out pitches that scream “newsworthy!”
But what makes a story worthy of the news?
In my days as a journalist, I measured a story’s worth by its impact. What makes a story impactful?
- Does it save me time?
- Does it save me money?
- Does it keep me and my family safe?
- Is it happening in my area?
- Does it teach me something?
- Does it make me want to tell someone?
- Is it memorable?
If your pitch can check at least one of those boxes, congratulations! You’ve got yourself some news value. If it fails to answer any of those questions, well, it’s probably just an ad – and that’s destined for the virtual graveyard. The key is to demonstrate the value of the story right from the get-go. Remember, the subject line and first sentence are the superheroes of your pitch. If they don’t wield power and grab attention, the rest of your message may as well be lost.
News is a precious resource – like that last slice of pizza everyone wants. Time on a newscast or space in a newspaper is limited, and journalists guard it fiercely. If you can get inside their heads, viewing every pitch through a “news lens,” you’ll skyrocket the news value of your pitches. And if luck decides to shower you with blessings (or maybe even a downpour), voila! You’ll find yourself basking in the glory of increased media coverage.