My recent experiences with national and regional TV journalists shows how their business has changed and how we should respond.
“Nobody has any money,” said a network producer I spoke to. She was referring to the different newscasts on her network, which each have to pay for the cost of sending a crew to shoot footage and do interviews for a given story. “So they are very selective.” This factor drives the steps we should take to make this tougher selectivity work for us:
1. Offer real people. If you’ve been to my workshop, you know we cover this extensively. Journalists are desperate for regular people who are affected by whatever issue you’re proposing. “I can always find an expert, but my first priority is going to be” the regular person who will say how the change has helped or hurt their life, the producer said.
2. Emphasize visuals. “My biggest concern as a producer is always, ‘What are my pictures going to be?’” Pitch not only the news hook, but explain what ACTION the broadcasters can film. This is what they need to take to their own bosses to sell the story, because they have plenty of news hooks. The visuals that stand out are what determine which stories get covered.
3. Do it yourself. The best way to make a story easy to cover is to avert they need for the network to spend money. Shoot your own footage and offer it to them. Of course the production values need to meet their standards. And there are some ethical considerations. A top network won’t use an interview you’ve shot, nor will they use some action that’s staged. But if you can shoot your newsmaker in the course of her real job, they will consider it. And local affiliates, for better or worse, often are less discriminating in which footage they accept. I recognize the obvious budgetary impact this might have on you, but the results will definitely mean your pitches stand out. Some larger institutions have even built their own small uplink studios so network journalists can interview their sources remotely.
4. Copy broadcasters’ internal style when writing your pitch. A producer I spoke with receives 75-100 emails a day. Once she whittles those down to a story she believes in, she has to turn around and pitch it to her bosses. Her emails are 3-4 sentences tops, often in bullet-point format. She knows once she gets bosses’ attention, she can provide the necessary background and proof-points. You can do the same.
You may have noticed a theme has emerged as I’ve thrown back the curtain on the tumult in the media industry. The more credible, factual background work we do on our own, the more appealing our pitches are to time- and cash-strapped journalists. Use these specific points as your guide, and let me know what kind of results you get.