(Editor’s note: As part of GateHouse’s Pinnacle project, Rockford Register Star reporter Corina Curry traveled to the Sarasota newsroom to work on an upcoming story. After spending time pitching her story to editors in Sarasota, Curry offered these tips on honing project pitches.)
By Corina Curry
Most of my experience with story pitches until last week involved some level of shooting from the hip, punctuated with something interesting I had just heard or a new data set or document I had obtained.
There was a story there — I was sure of it — an increase in something or the dropping of some ball that’s certainly causing a safety risk or affecting services. I’d carefully craft some budget lines highlighting what I knew followed by a litany of unanswered questions. I’d talk with an editor about how long it would take me to get those questions answered, assign a photo and set a pub date.
Then, I’d head back to my desk and hammer away — fine-tuning the premise, developing the theme, doing research, figuring out just exactly what I wanted to say and adjusting everything based on what I learned.
We all know this isn’t the ideal approach for a big story, but we tend do it anyway for a lot reasons — the biggest being that we tell ourselves we don’t have the time. We’re being pulled in so many different directions. We need stories. We need them now.
The two days I spent at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune last week for the GateHouse Pinnacle project reminded me just how valuable a good project pitch can be to the success of a story.
In Sarasota, project pitching is a way of life.
Once a large chunk of your reporting and data analysis is done, you prepare your story for vetting. You create a presentation, get in front of a room of editors and reporters and sell your story. You get grilled with questions. You defend not only the validity of your work but the importance of it, too. You talk through challenges. People offer up suggestions. A considerable amount of time is spent talking about digital storytelling and how your story will play out online.
The whole thing looks and feels a bit like “Shark Tank.”
I pitched my Pinnacle project to a room of reporters and editors of the Herald-Tribune (with much assistance, I must add, from those same reporters and editors who pitch stories and listen to pitches on a regular basis.)
My time in Sarasota was a bit of a whirlwind. I wasn’t nearly as prepared for my pitch as I would have liked. Thankfully, they went easy on me while still giving me a sense of how the process works. I walked away with a much greater sense of what my story needed to be and lots of useful advice.
Now, I can’t wait to pitch my next project, and here’s why. Project pitches:
Force you to tap your resources:
My newsroom is filled with some of the smartest people I know. Why do a story in a vacuum when I can tap the resources around me and make it that much better? … In fact, I may invite people from other departments to hear my pitch. Listening to the pitch could even help them promote the story.
Help you get organized:
Pitching forces you to organize your thoughts long before you sit down and write. A lot of times a big story can sprawl and go off on all kinds of tangents. The more organized you are throughout the process, the more focused your reporting will be and the more efficient the work process becomes.
Make you think visually and digitally:
Too often the images — the graphics, videos, timelines, etc. — don’t get their fair share of attention because it’s hard to talk about those elements without knowing the clear direction of the story. A good pitch solves that problem and helps the rest of the team get a jump-start on the work at hand.