Quickfire Q&As with commissioning editors

Updated:April 2016


How can you get your foot in the door as a freelancer? We spoke to commissioning editors from BBC Arabic and the Middle East Eye to find out.

Tarik Kafala
Head of BBC Arabic

14-Tarik-Kafala-Justin-Sutcliffe.png

Tarik has been head of BBC Arabic since July 2013, and has worked for BBC News for 24 years in Arabic and English, on TV, radio, digital and documentaries. He was Middle East Editor for the BBC News Website (English) from 2004 to 2012. He also set up BBC Media Action’s training programme in Libya in 2012-13. 

He tweets @tarikkafala.
 
Tarik has canvassed answers from various BBC Arabic commissioning editors for the following questions: See below.



1) Who freelances for BBC Arabic and what do you commission?

Samir Farah, Programmes Editor: "Long form programmes often use freelancers for specific programmes or documentaries. Almost all freelancers used are either journalists or broadcast assistants with a journalistic background. We primarily commission documentaries or one-off programmes while other weekly or regular programmes are produced in-house. Freelancers are used across all long-form output."

Adel Soliman, Radio Editor: "Anyone who has the required experience in journalism and relevant background. Most freelancers are required to work the different shifts we have and if they are in their countries, this could include field work and contributions as comments, analysis on current news."

Marc Perkins, Documentaries Editor: "Many of our documanetaries are made by freelancers."

2) How should freelancers approach you in the first instance? For example, do you prefer a one-line pitch or a full proposal?

SF: "For long forms, a CV, a showreel of previous work and a short pitch are the best first approach. Do not call up!"

AS: "We do not have a system, but for radio, they can send their CVs to my email: adel.soliman@bbc.co.uk."    

MP: "A short couple of paragraphs to pitch to me in English or Arabic."

3) What really excites you when you receive a pitch?

SF:
"The idea has to be fresh, achievable and realistic."

AS: "The novelty of the idea, the feasibility and the added value of output."

MP: "Unusual access."

4) What are the most common mistakes that freelancers make when pitching?

SF: "Very long pitches without specifics and a lack of samples of previous work. A proper proposal will usually have specific details, possible guests, and must show clarity of research or the ability to develop a story."

AS: "A lack of understanding of the platform they are pitching for."

MP: "Pitching stories which only warrant 10 minutes for a half hour slot."

5) How can a pitch convince you that the freelancer can deliver the story and that they can do so safely?

SF: "It must show a solid and verifiable track record. We can work around the rest."

AS: "The feasibility of the idea and the details of their plans of implementation. And the record of similar achievements."

MP: "For documentaries, it would need to go into development for us, and safety would be an integral part of that development."

6) Do you have any specific projects you’ve commissioned recently that you think really stand out, and freelancers can look at as an example?

SF: "Many of BBC Arabic original documentaries and investigations are the result of pitches from outside contributors or freelancers. Check out some samples from here."

AS: “Memory Lane - which can be found here.”

MP: "[Safa AlAhmad's documentary in] Taiz, Yemen."
 

Dania Akkad
News Editor at Middle East Eye

dania-akkasd-bio.pngAfter graduating from Wellesley College in 2003, Dania Akkad worked as a daily newspaper reporter at The Salinas Californian and The Monterey Country Herald.

In 2008, she moved to Syria and worked as a staff writer for Syria Today before completing a Master's in Near and Middle Eastern Studies with a focus on politics at The School of Oriental and African Studies.

She tweets @daniaakkad.




1) Who freelances for Middle East Eye and what do you commission?

DA: "We have a handful of freelancers that we’ve worked with in Libya (we have a very limited number of permanent contributors, so most all of our stories our from freelancers). We commission news stories, analysis, features, op/eds, photo stories and video."

2) How should freelancers approach you in the first instance? For example, do you prefer a one-line pitch or a full proposal?

DA: "Email submissions@middleeasteye.org for news-related pieces, features@middleeasteye.org for features/less news-driven pieces andopinions@middleeasteye.org for op/eds. Include your CV and two links to recently published pieces, preferably similar to the style you will be writing in (i.e news or features). Pitches should tell us succinctly what you plan to write about, why it is significant and who you plan to interview roughly."

3) What really excites you when you receive a pitch?

DA: "We particularly love stories that highlight local people and local stories. We can often use wires to cover talking heads/high level type stories, but it’s the local that really gets us excited – especially if local people are saying something completely different to talking heads.

We also get excited about strange, left-field type stories and profiles of unique, unsung people or well-known people, but from a different angle."

4) What are the most common mistakes that freelancers make when pitching?

DA: "Not explaining why a story is significant at a particular moment (we try our best to stay on top of the news, but cover the whole region, so any help we can get from a writer explaining why news is important at this moment is helpful).

Or being a bit vague about what angle they plan to take (so just give us a one-liner, for example, saying, ‘Want a story about the peace deal?’)"

5) How can a pitch convince you that the freelancer can deliver the story and that they can do so safely?

DA: "With a first-time writer, we commission on spec (so if we kill the story, there wouldn’t be a kill fee that would accompany a writer’s second etc. stories), so there is less risk and we can see how the writer does. So often we are dealing with folks we already know.

But for those we don’t, a writer that is very clear about the angle they are covering and the people they plan to interview, plus setting a clear deadline (and then meeting it) and even saying how their piece will be different from what’s already out there, always makes a good impression.

In terms of safety, if we think a story will be dangerous, we go back to the writer to talk through our concerns and have a dialogue about precautions we think they should take. Occasionally, we use pseudonyms – and this is true for some of our Libya contributors in the past."
 
Created: March 2016

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