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Pitching: keep it focused - the key to success

Pitching: keep it focused - the key to success

A simple pitch focused on story, key sources and delivery will stand out to commissioning editors, writes Jack Watling of Newsfixed.

A scenario: It’s July 2014 and Islamic State militants are making daily advances across Iraq. The newsroom is buzzing, everyone scrambling to get the latest updates on the location of the fighting, the effort to support refugees and the political intrigue paralyzing Baghdad. An email arrives from Erbil. The editor opens it eagerly and begins to read:
“Adiba and her six year old daughter are refugees. They were forced to flee their home when militants of the Islamic State seized their village. 'We lost everything' she exclaims. I would like to write a feature exploring what it is like to be a refugee, how the Kurdish authorities are coping and what efforts are being made to reunite families who are split up in the mad dash to escape.”
The editor sighs and moves to the next email. She gets six of these pitches a day and the piece could probably be published about Sudan, Pakistan, Lebanon or Iraq merely by substituting the names. Moreover the editor is not going to commission a piece of ambiguous interest. The Kurdish authorities’ attempts to reunite families could be a great story - or the answer could be that they are not trying to do so and frankly have more important things to do. There is no indication in the email that there is definitely a story here.
From the point of view of the freelance journalist in the field this assessment appears grossly unfair. Working around the clock in a traumatic and dangerous environment the journalist is not going to put hours into writing a comprehensive pitch that may or may not be commissioned. Nor are they going to give the editor so much detail that the piece can be handed to a staffer, cutting the freelancer out of the picture.
It is amazing how often this impasse develops and tragic how many stories are not told as a result. Freelancers regularly bury the story in an open-ended question in their pitch. As a result the freelancer does not get a reply - even to say ‘no thanks’ - leaving them in limbo as to whether to pitch elsewhere. It does not have to be this way. At NewsFixed we help freelancers in the field pitch to editors and this process has taught us how freelancers can maximize the effectiveness of their pitches.

Have a Template

All editors say they want short pitches, making it hard to judge what information to include. More importantly however editors will want to know the answers to some key questions: what is the story, how will it be reported and when can it be delivered? Writing pitches should not be time consuming. Write a template with sections for all the key information. That way writing them becomes quick and easy, and you know what information you need before you pitch. Many freelancers struggle to decide when to pitch a story. A template gives you an answer. You pitch when you have all of the information to fill out your template.

Be Story Focused

Questions may or may not lead to stories. If you have a story about reuniting families, focus the pitch on how the government does it and how you are going to tell the story. Similarly avoid words like ‘may’, ‘might’ and ‘likely’. The editor wants to know what is definitely known so that they can judge whether there is a story.

Indicate Key Sources

You need to show that you can deliver the piece. As a freelancer the editor is unlikely to know who you are and many people call themselves freelance journalists whose professionalism is questionable. If you indicate the voices that will appear in the piece and the key sources you intend to use then it shows that you know how you are going to report the story and demonstrates what you can deliver. If you can name sources in the pitch then that is great. If this is not possible, describe their position and explain why you are talking to them. 

Provide Technical and Logistical Details

Say when you think you can deliver the story and the format in which you can deliver it. If you are offering accompanying photos say so and ask if they want them in Hi-Res JPEG Landscape or not. If you are providing video, tell them the rig you shoot on and indicate how you will transfer the finished piece. Provide a shot list. It might seem unnecessary to say that you can deliver a package in 50Mbit XDCAM but this reassures the editor that you are aware of the standardized broadcast formats and are a reliable journalist. 

Give a Deadline

An awkward and all too common predicament for freelancers is to know when to pitch to a second editor if the first has not responded. A transparent and professional way of tackling this problem is to indicate in your pitch how long you will give the editor an exclusive opportunity to consider the pitch before pitching elsewhere. The length of time provided should depend on the time sensitivity of the pitch. The sentence simply needs to say “if interested please respond within four hours. After this point this story will be pitched elsewhere.” Even if an editor does not commission, this tag often prompts them to write to decline it. 


Put a final line with a link to some previous samples of your work. This should come at the bottom of the pitch. You are pitching the story and the story must come first. However a portfolio will help. It is also worth making a note if you have Hostile Environment Training, but again, this information is included to reassure the editor and can be put at the bottom of the pitch.

This is the first blog in a new series looking at story pitching and commissioning. To keep informed about this and other freelance topics, sign up to our newsletter.  For tips and information on professional development and other freelance issues check out our freelance resources.


Jack Watling, Planning Editor at NewsFixed: Jack Watling (pictured) is an investigative reporter and data journalist, previously on the Reuters Enterprise Team. He has reported for Reuters, the Guardian and the New Statesman, has written for the Herald Group in New Zealand and has appeared on CBC, the BBC and TV3. Jack has worked in Southeast Asia and East Africa.

NewsFixed: NewsFixed is a pitching and commissioning platform connecting reporters across Africa and the Middle East with editors at traditional and non-traditional news organizations. NewsFixed works with a network of more than 700 professional freelance journalists in over 90 countries. All NewsFixed journalists are carefully vetted for proficiency and independence. To apply for membership of the NewsFixed network visit

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