Hannah Scribbles

Top 3 Reasons to Practice Story Pitches in J-School

In Career on February 25, 2014 at 9:20 am

Pitching stories to editors or potential clients is nerve-wracking. It’s the writer’s equivalent of asking someone out: “I like this topic and am interested in how it affects the community. I think you would like my idea, and this could be the start of a great relationship among colleagues. Also, please don’t crush my soul.”

Part of the reason story pitches are stressful is because they aren’t emphasized enough during college.  Professors focus on teaching journalism skills, but few classes discuss practicalities like pitching story ideas.  You need to practice this skill on your own.  Here are three reasons why:

Your editor will love you. No, seriously.

college newspapers, college paper editors, tips for student journalists,College is the perfect time to practice pitching stories because college newspapers exist in a special dimension where editors actively look for new stories and enthusiastic reporters.

College papers suffer from the opposite malady as non-collegiate papers. Sometimes there aren’t enough reporters available to cover potential stories (thanks, midterms), and on a few rare occasions there legitimately isn’t enough news to fill the paper.

The combined surplus of stories and lack of reporters means that it’s a writer’s market on college campuses. Editors really do want to hear from you – mostly because it makes their job easier but also because it shows you are invested enough to be reliable. In the realm of flaky college students, even one reliable reporter can be a lifesaver.

It prepares you for the real world.

When I attended J-School I thought being a paid correspondent for the college paper was practice enough for the real world. My editor gave me two assignments a week, which I juggled between classes, an internship and a commute. Sometimes she asked me to take on a third story, which I accepted or rejected based on my stress level. The experience was pleasantly hectic and fulfilling, but it didn’t prepare me for the competitive reality of professional writing.*

*I say writing but could just as easily be talking about photography, videography or multimedia storytelling.

In the real world, editors don’t sit around waiting for journalists with free time. They don’t have a magical surplus of leads on their desks waiting for the right person to happen by. They won’t call to ask whether you’re interested in a story (unless you’ve proven yourself or it’s a breaking story and the usual guy came down with a spastic colon).

Why not?

breaking news cycle, 24-hr news cycle, new media and journalism, fast-paced journalism

Because it isn’t their job to make sure a writer wants to write. It’s assumed. You wouldn’t be in journalism unless you had well conceived and relevant stories to pitch.

It isn’t the ’90s anymore. With rapid communication and breaking news happening every minute, there is no such thing as a slow news day. There is too much news to cover and not enough money to cover it. If you are lucky enough to be a staff writer, your editor will be irritated that you were too lazy to think for yourself.

If you’re a freelancer, asking for a story is like asking for a handout from someone with other mouths to feed. Meanwhile, your competition presented a compelling case for an in-depth look at how the economy affects the city’s homeless shelters.

You’ll expand your skill set.

With the competitive job market for journalists, young reporters can’t ignore the advantage a wide breadth of knowledge provides. Anyone can cover a coastal storm, but the reporter who understands oceanic mixing may deliver a more nuanced account of why it was stronger than usual. Tech skills are important, but knowledge will never be overlooked.

journalists are curious, college student journalists, J-school tips, how to survive J-school,

Although the fields vary from campus to campus, colleges are ripe with innovation and thought leaders. As a journalism student, you have almost unlimited access to the latest research by faculty and visiting speakers.

Is there a subject you’re interested in but don’t want to spend credit hours laboring through? Did a campus speaker stoke your curiosity? Pitch a story to your editor. I once pitched an article about campus crosswalk safety because I wanted to know more about New Jersey’s pedestrian safety laws. I got the idea from a daylong Bike/Walk Safety Symposium, but that’s beside the point.

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