When I first began my career in television news nearly 15 years ago, it was a straight-forward job: read the newspaper, determine what’s newsworthy, research, do interviews, and craft the story. We had several hours to make it happen – an amount of time that today feels wondrous, even indulgent. Today, Canadian journalists are required to do much more with less. Increasingly, reporters are being replaced by digital journalists who record their own video, write and edit stories, file for news radio and web sites and post to social media.
The old news adage of feeding the beast feels particularly relevant, only today the beast has a voracious appetite and a bottomless pit for a stomach.
Do your Homework
In my final years as a television journalist, my sole focus was on parenting issues. But you wouldn’t know that by the pitches I received. Often, I would get generic emails pushing for coverage about various products, businesses or people - with no connection to the content I pursued day in and day out. On a rare occasion, an organization would mention the name of my segment and pitch a story that offered value to my audience. While I didn’t always bite, in these cases I would always respond and then file their name in my contacts for future stories.
Invest five minutes into reading up about a specific reporter’s area of interest.
It may not yield fruit immediately, but it could plant a seed for future engagement.
Make it Matter
You are undoubtedly excited about your particular product and you want to hawk it. Getting the media on board involves thinking less like a salesperson and more like a skeptical reporter!
Ask yourself, “Who cares?” And then ask, “Why would they care NOW?”
For example, a reporter likely would have deleted a pitch about a virtual babysitting service or local grocery delivery provider nine months ago. Today, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, those businesses reflect a unique lifestyle shift happening right across Canada. A news story might not centre around these businesses, but they could have a voice in a broader piece about how the pandemic has shifted the way we access services. Present your pitch in a way that connects with that current climate and the reality of the audience.
Write and Release
Journalists are accustomed to being tenacious and dogged in their approach at getting information, but they do not appreciate such qualities outside the newsroom! Email and follow up with a phone call, and then leave it up to the reporter to decide whether they want to run with it. And don’t forget:
There’s a good chance some sort of breaking news, such as an emergency or government announcement, will trump your hard work.
And that’s okay. It happens. Pestering a reporter won’t change this. In fact, it will make it tougher to get your pitch on the news, while potentially tainting your personal reputation.
Over the last two decades, I have worked in numerous newsrooms across Canada, and the majority of journalists I’ve worked with are bright, inquisitive and hardworking. Get to know them. If they can attach a face to your name, they might read past your subject line. And in today’s fast-paced, resource-stretched newsrooms, that’s a great start.
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