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Q&A: Effective A1 story pitches

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QUESTION: I think I have good story ideas. But I have trouble getting my pitches past the A1 editors. How can I write better budget lines so they take a chance on my stories? — R.K., California

Bad story pitches — as expressed in budget lines — usually come in two forms.

Take a look: A too-short budget line written something like, “Acme School District unveils its new budget for the coming school year. We take a look.”

Full story: A too-long budget line that begins in the past and recounts in excessive detail all that has happened leading up to this particular story.

Both usually fail to clearly state the news at the heart of the proposed story and the impact of the news. A1 editors study budgets from several departments looking for stories with broad appeal. They want to avoid routine process stories or stories of interest to a narrow audience. Impact is a first important measure of appeal. Impact might a matter of precedent (e.g. first; last; biggest), scale (e.g. in dollars, people, geography), universal experience (e.g. something many people or organizations face), or human emotion, as in a story about a death or courageous act or happy ending.

If you have a good story, articulate the news and its impact in clear, concise terms that someone unfamiliar with the subject can grasp. Avoid jargon and vague references. Cut to the chase. Think of how a freelance writer might frame the pitch to the New York Times for regional play.

In the school example above, A1 potential might be how drastic a cut is expected, or that the district has struggled for years and this could put them under state control, or what the loss of a band program will mean to the students. If you have some preliminary information, put it in the pitch.

In the second example, a little context goes a long way. Do not recount the long history of the district or delve into other issues unrelated to the budget. This may be how you think about the story, the subject, or your beat, but the people studying budgets just want the essence of today’s story pitch so they can quickly compare to other contenders.

And if possible, update the budget line. Maybe send an update e-mail to your online and print editors. Once the kernel of the story is clearly stated, it is easier for people to become invested in your story and work with you to shape it.

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Written by mroberts8

February 2, 2010 at 5:26 pm