Choose a target outlet/reporter. If your story is a big one be sure to select a target outlet that has the most reach. Statewide issue? Target the newspaper of record for your state (e.g. LA Times, Chicago Tribune, etc.) Local Issue? Target outlets that cover that area. Make sure the reporter is a good fit. Have they written about this issue before? Pitching a story about a piece of legislation to a reporter who doesn’t cover politics won’t work.
Read the reporter’s prior articles. Read their articles and note their interests, themes, and the way your story would extend their subject matter further. When you make your pitch, let the reporter know how your story might fit into their prior work. Try to see it through the reporter’s eyes—how will this piece be of interest and need to the reader? How will it meet the goals of their publication and assignments?
Pitch a story—don’t pitch your organization. Your organization by itself is not newsworthy; however, as part of a broader story you can get your organization’s message out. Think of what makes your story newsworthy and how the reporter you’ve selected might cover it. Prepare your pitch from that point of view. Make your pitch by email and give the reporter a day to respond. If you don’t hear back, perhaps the next step is a call. When you call, refer to the email you sent. Regardless of whether the reporter has seen it, re-send it as a courtesy as you are speaking to allow the reporter to scan the email and respond.
Be respectful of the reporter’s decision. The reporter will let you know if they think the story is newsworthy. If their response is no, be respectful of their decision. You will be more successful by respecting the reporter’s right to say yes or no, while providing them with meaningful reasons why the story is a good fit for them. Is the story an exclusive? A take or angle that hasn’t been done before? Is it a highly timely topic or cutting edge? All of these ideas will help your pitch be successful.
Get straight to the point. Reporters are always working on deadline and their time is precious. Let them know immediately what your story idea is, and what your reasons are for thinking it’s a good idea. If they agree, follow through quickly with the next steps. If not, why not? This conversation will help you refine the pitch for another reporter and also help you build a better relationship with this reporter.
Don’t call repeatedly. Many reporters will leave a voice mail message or email auto reply if they are unavailable. If you leave a message, one message in a day is plenty. Refrain from using their cell phone unless the matter is genuinely urgent. They’ll appreciate your courtesy by using the means in which they prefer to be contacted.
Consider using Twitter. Many reporters will post on Twitter where they are and what they are doing that day. This will help you time your call for after they’re done. Some reporters will also respond to direct messages through Twitter faster than an email or phone call.