If You Don’t Pitch, You’ll Never Play
February 21, 2014
David Oliver


“That’s great, but we’ve already got somebody covering that.”

“No, I don’t think that’s going to work out.”

“That’s not something we normally do, so no.”

These are all common phrases I’ve heard from editors throughout my internship experiences, and frankly, they can feel like a punch in the gut.

The worst part? Everyone has different expectations.

Pitching is one of the most difficult tasks young journalists face in the workforce, and it has become increasingly difficult as demands increase for a high volume of fresh copy to keep media websites vibrant and relevant.

For example, at Maxim Magazine, my primary duties as a Web editorial intern included write-ups for the daily “Today’s Girl” feature, as well as compiling a list of funny tweets. I also had occasional pitch meetings with editors to discuss ideas I had for the website.

Initially, my ideas were too broad. “Why music festivals are worth going to” isn’t necessarily going to draw traffic to a website. What ultimately earned me stories was thinking outside the box and looking toward innovation in storytelling.

Similar to a BuzzFeed list, I wrote a piece on the new DogTV channel that was coming out with spoofs of current TV shows appropriate for a dog-watching audience. Silly in concept, the article was unique enough to attract editors’ attention and I earned my byline.

At my current internship at USA Today, I’m noticing how on top of the news I have to be before I pitch anything. Stories get old within an hour.

The entertainment assignment editor, Kim Willis (whom I directly report to), said the speed at which subjects get stale is one of the biggest changes in the industry over the last 10 years.

“Now, we’re looking for the quick hit that can be posted within the hour, the fresh angle that can be developed for the afternoon, AND the big-picture think piece to go up that evening,” she said. “You want to walk in the door with a plan for what you’ll do that day – and to be prepared to abandon it when you see an opportunity to do something newsier, smarter or more compelling for your reader.”

When Philip Seymour Hoffman died, I immediately emailed Willis to see if she needed any help with coverage. I ended up writing a timeline of his life.

Reporting and writing aren’t the only skills you need in this industry, Willis said, and, unfortunately, many young reporters don’t expect they will have to come up with their own story ideas.

“Nothing makes a harried editor happier than a self-sufficient reporter who always has a half-dozen sharp pitches at the ready,” she said.

With the impending release of Season 2 of “House of Cards,” I emailed another editor and created a top 5 “here’s what you need to know” list that gained almost 1,000 Facebook shares. If there’s anything I’ve learned at my internships, it’s to always give 110 percent, both in and outside the office. Editors are not mind-readers, and just thinking about ideas you have won’t cut it in this fast-paced industry. You’ll never know if you don’t pitch.

And as for rejection? It stinks the moment it happens, and you’ll want to reach for the chocolate in your backpack you said you wouldn’t eat until the train ride home. Really, though, if you keep trying, you’re bound to get a story. Pretty soon, you’ll feel comfortable pitching frequently and let the rejections slide off your back.

Comments
  • Kathryn Quigley

    Good column, David! I’m sharing it with my journalism interns at Rowan University

    • Guest

      Thank you so much!

    • David Oliver

      Thank you! Glad to hear it.

    • Guest

      Thank you so much! Glad to hear it.

  • Lisa Rossi

    Great post! Early in my career, I took up running to work off the stress of rejection. Keep pitching, David! You have great ideas.