Deep cuts at newspapers around the country, combined with 24/7 news cycles and demand for more copy online, mean that editors—especially those in smaller markets—are in need. They don’t have the staff to produce all the articles they need to fill their bottomless websites—and sometimes not even their printed pages.
This is where you come in. If you can provide well-written, relevant pieces—at no cost—you may be able to get some free press for you and your business. You just need a news hook, a well-written pitch delivered to the right person, and the ability to follow up.
You’re unlikely to get your story accepted if there’s no news. So what’s news? News is something that’s happening or about to happen. It can be a change in a business—whether it be in management or the product. It can be an event or an interesting or unusual development. It’s something new. A news hook is what grabs an editor’s attention.
Josh Steimle, who covers digital marketing for Forbes, writes that an interesting news article is more than a profile. “What kind of article can you propose that is good for you, good for the writer, good for the reader, and good for the publication? It might be a profile piece, but most likely it’s something more,” he wrote. For example, October is breast cancer awareness month. Do you have a story idea that relates to breast cancer? Is your business part of the healthcare industry, or do you contribute to breast cancer research? There’s a chance an editor would be interested in a profile. But the best way to capture an editor’s attention is to have a good, relevant news angle.
You’ve got a great news hook. So what’s next? You need to work on your pitch. First, explain your story idea. You don’t need to include the full story, but outline your idea in a few paragraphs. Include the news angle and any relevant information. And if you’ve never written for this publication before, and don’t know the editor, introduce yourself and include your credentials. You also may want to attach other articles or press releases that you’ve written. You need a good pitch for an editor to take you seriously.
Once you’ve perfected your pitch, find the right person. Newspaper editors are under a lot of pressure. They’ve got to turn out new, quality content every day. And in a world of 24-hour news cycles, they’re always on deadline. You don’t want to make the mistake of sending a poorly written pitch to the right person, or a well-written pitch to the wrong person. “If you are pitching your article to the wrong editor, chances are she will not return your calls or emails and she won’t let you know who you should be contacting,” Brian Brady wrote in In the News Inc. Blog. Before clicking send, read your pitch out loud—it’s one of the best ways to catch your own mistakes. Polish your pitch, do your research, and send it to the right place.
Even if you’ve got the best idea and send a polished pitch to the right person, sometimes you don’t get a response right away. Your email may be buried or sent to the spam folder. The editor could have forgotten about it. Editors are busy people and don’t always return emails or phone calls immediately.
Because you probably sent your pitch via email, follow up with a phone call after a day or two. If you can’t find the editor’s phone number—some publications no longer list numbers online—call the main number and ask for the person by name. “In a busy newsroom, stories can get missed, so don’t be afraid to chase up pitches or press releases by phone or email,” wrote Janet Murray, a freelance journalist and media consultant, in The Guardian. Be persistent, but try not to be too pushy. Don’t leave multiple voice messages every day. However, it’s important to follow up so you know where your idea stands.
Getting published in newspapers—whether online or in print—isn’t as difficult as it once was. Editors—especially those at local publications—are scrambling every day for well-written, free content. All you need is a news angle, a polished idea sent to the right person, and the ability to follow up.