This is a guest post by Lisah Silfwer.
I work at TV4, the biggest commercial channel in Sweden. I’m a news anchor and video reporter, trying my best everyday to find great stories and to convey them as clearly and promptly as humanly possible. It’s a tough — but fun! — job.
In this post I want to give you my best tips on how to pitch television news reporters.
What I do as a journalist and broadcast news anchor
Having a network of great news sources is absolute essential to be able to uncover and reveal great stories. Reality always outshines ones imagination and this is why real tips from real people so often is way better than what you can find yourself by digging in archives and by going through lots of reports.
But pitching a good story well can be tricky, especially if you’re traumatised, stressed or worried about your own safety. And let’s face it, it can be nerve-wrecking to pitch a story even if you’re none of those things!
Therefore, I’ve put together a checklist that could help you get it right when pitching a hard-working TV news reporter.
How to pitch television news the right way
1. Boil your story down to one sentence and focus on the conflict
Every story I’ve ever made could be summarised into one sentence describing the conflict. However you contact the reporter, lead with this. Say, “Would you be interested in a story on …” and then comes your sentence. This will help the reporter immensely to understand your pitch. We call it “The Thing” and we always ask ourselves, “what’s The Thing in this story?”. Deliver it early in your phone call or your email.
2. Remember, it’s “the thing”, not “your thing”
The TV reporter probably won’t be interested if a company tells them that the thing is that they’ve expanded their business and how great that is. Unless maybe it’s a listed company and they’re talking to a economy reporter specialising in their field. But if the company is hiring people in a segregated area where all other companies won’t, then it might be interesting.
3. There are two sides to every story — even yours
No reporter with integrity will be satisfied only covering one side of a story. For every good news story out there, there’s someone who really didn’t want that story to come out. Who is this person in your case? Who would really hate to see this story making the evening news?
4. Be prepared to answer real questions about real issues
This might sound basic, but if the story seems interesting, the TV reporter will probably take over the lead in the discussion and start asking the relevant questions. If you want the story out, this is good for you. Just make sure you’re prepared to answer the important questions instead of trying to give all your prepared answers. There’s usually a big difference.
5. Go directly to the reporter you want to pitch your story
If you want a great reporter, go directly to them. They are passionate about finding their own stories and if you pitch the desk or send out a press release, the lead will go to a news reporter currently not chasing their own stories. And make sure your story is exclusive, otherwise you’re probably just wasting their time.
6. We need solid evidence to substantiate your claims
The TV news reporter can’t just be talking to you. There needs to evidence in the form of documents or real people’s testimonials supporting your claim. If the only thing you have is your word, it doesn’t matter if the reporter believes you or not. It’s the reporters job to do some digging, but it’s in your best interest to at least point in the right direction.
7. Television is a visual storytelling medium, right?
Printed news always starts with the most important at the top of the article and then they work themselves downwards. This is why it’s so easy to quickly scan newspapers and still get a good a idea. But TV news doesn’t work this way. We’re more into visual storytelling. We have to think about things like contract, pull, point-of-no-return and climax. So help the reporter by suggesting visuals for the story.
About the writer: Lisah Silfwer is a news anchor and journalist at TV4 in Sweden. She’s also, as you might have guessed, Jerry Silfwer’s wife.