Whether you have a grandmother who knew Eleanor Roosevelt, an autistic son who can play all of Mozart’s music or a wife who is studying to be a high-powered lawyer while working as a nursing supervisor, you have a story to tell. Newspaper editors need these local stories for their publications on a daily and weekly basis. The key is to get the newspaper and the subject together, and to do that, you need to know how to pitch an idea to a newspaper editor.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
Write a basic outline of what your story is about for yourself, to get the facts straight in your mind. Remember to include the who, what, why, where, when and how of your story. For example: “My grandmother met First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt Aug. 29, 1943, when she visited New Zealand during World War II. My grandmother, Elsie Jones, was a schoolgirl there at the time. Jones is alive and well and living here in the community today.”
Find out the appropriate editor to whom you should pitch the story. The grandmother story would be a lifestyles or people profile story, so the features or lifestyle editor would be the right person. Call the newspaper office and ask the name, phone number and e-mail address of the appropriate editor.
Write a brief proposal for the story. This doesn’t have to be any formal piece, but it should entice the editor, and convince him the story would be a good fit for the newspaper. Include your contact information and name. E-mail the proposal with a subject line that makes it clear this story is local. Editors get hundreds of junk e-mails every day, so it’s important to grab their attention.
Call the editor—when she is not on deadline. You can find out when the newspaper's deadlines are by calling the front desk and asking if the editor received the proposal via e-mail. You can either talk to the editor about the proposal right then on the phone or set up a time to come into the newsroom.
Make a list of contacts for the story. In the case of the grandmother story, make a list of people who knew her then and now, and people who might be relevant to the story, such as local historians or others. This will make information gathering easier for the reporter assigned to the story.
Gather some relevant photos together. In the grandmother example, if there’s a photo of grandma shaking hands with Eleanor Roosevelt, get it out. Newspaper editors like to run historic photos whenever possible because many of their readers are interested.
Tips and warnings
- Make the story appealing to the readership, but don’t embellish it beyond what it is.
- Search the newspaper for other stories that may have a similar feeling to yours. This will give you an idea how the newspaper “plays” a story.
- After the story is published, send a thank you card to the reporter, editor and newspaper. They rarely get praise or a “thank you,” so one card can go a long way.
- Don’t try to manipulate the reporter, the editor or the story. If you want the story published, leave it to the professionals.
- Never ask to see the story before it is published. This is taboo in newspapers and may cause the editor to drop the story entirely. You have no right to see a story before it’s published in a legitimate newspaper. Asking to see a story before publication also may get you labelled as a troublemaker and make the editors and reporters wary of you in the future.
- It is unethical for newspapers to alter photographs, so don’t ask editors to do it.