How to pitch your story – some advice from the experts

By Anja Rauch

17/11/2011 | ”The Art of making an issue important” was the punch line of the workshop at SIME with Jennifer Schenker and Pontus Schultz, and they took us with them on a journey into their world. Main points covered: Do you really need a journalist in order to get your story out? Or should you consider using other channels? If you need the press, then it is important that you know how to pitch your story to them, and you should also be prepared to bear the consequences this might have for you and your story.

Yes, you heard right, there might be consequences. Pontus explained that journalists will not necessarily tell your story in the way you imagined it to be told. Therefore, you should think twice, if you really want and need journalists to get involved at the very beginning. Maybe it is better to let the story grow. Let other people talk about you, so that it reaches the journalist’s ears via them and not directly from you.

A journalist’s perspective of a story is not necessarily your perspective. He can give you a role in your story, which might not necessarily be the one you'd imagined. However, if you have been given a role, Pontus said, don’t try changing it. Go with the flow, may your role be good or bad, and try to get as much positive stuff as possible out of it for you. He then explains with a huge portion of self-irony how and why journalists work as they work.

As we all know and as Pontus now confirmed, traditional journalism is right now in a crisis. In the times of Youtube and blogs everyone can tell stories and spread them. So, from that perspective journalists are not necessarily needed for storytelling anymore. Of course they deny the existence of other storytellers like i.e. bloggers, simply since they are no trained journalists in the classic sense. Journalists can afford to live in this denial since they are part of traditional media like newspapers (offline and online), which have the highest reach and the most trust in the public. So journalists definitely have their own way of storytelling.

Pontus gives a maybe slightly exaggerated example with him gathering all information, taking 2 % of it, adding his own opinion and publishing it. Through the high reach of traditional media, news stories provided by journalists have a huge influence, although readers easily could gather the other 98% of the information somewhere else. Another point Pontus named is that journalists don’t reflect themselves in the public but in themselves. If the public says an article is rubbish, but colleagues praise the article, a journalist goes with the colleagues’ opinion. This is a huge difference to other storytellers like for example bloggers, as we know. Bloggers mirror themselves in the public, only that way they can grow and gather more readers.

Therefore, the journalists' world being as it is, if you have a story, the risk is, that it is destroyed (at least in your eyes) by them because they tell it in a totally different to what you might have had in mind.

This is why Pontus urged us to really ask ourselves, if we really need a journalist to tell our stories, or if there might be more suitable alternatives via other channels. If a story then gets big enough and a journalist becomes interested in it, the likelihood of it being told the way you want it is much higher. But there is no guarantee for that either, he added with a smile.

However, if you decide for involving the press, there are a few things that you could try in order to get the attention you want, according to Jennifer.

- Be smart! In general as well as in terms of marketing your idea, product or whatever your story is about.
- Your story has to fit into the right context, i.e. into a trend, and you have to ...
- ...know your audience! Don’t pitch everyone, make it relevant for the journalist as well as the public!
- Give journalists a hook for them being able to tell a good news story! Unusual cases are good to have (i.e. a positive development that goes against a negative trend)
- Make it colourful! Have great details and not at last great pictures to illustrate your story, so this fits.

But, after all, Pontus and Jennifer told us, that even if you managed to have all points listed above set up in the most perfect manner, this isn't any guarantee for you being heard. And the reason is that there simply is no recipe for getting heard. Journalism is no science that obeys certain rules, but about telling good news stories – and which stories fit when and where, they decide. Not you.

The fun part at the end of the workshop was that the participants were given the chance to pitch their story to Jennifer and Pontus. One out of three succeeded, and it really showed how hard it can be to bring your message across in a way that they could work with it as a good news story.

The body language in the picture below illustrates quite well the challenge one faces, I find.

Anyway, good luck with your next story!