How to pitch TV news reporters

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I work at TV4, the biggest commercial channel in Sweden.

I’m a video reporter and news anchor, trying my best every day to find great stories and convey them as clearly and promptly as humanly possible.

It’s a tough—but fun—job.

What I do

As a TV news reporter in this day and age, there’s no time for anything less than full speed ahead. I find and research almost all my news stories myself. I book all interviews. I drive the company car to all locations and carry all camera equipment. I do all the camera work myself. Back in the newsroom, I do all the editing and I write speaker notes for the news anchor.

All of this to put together one news story—and it has to be done in one day, from start to finish. One day, one story: That’s what’s being a video reporter is about.

Having a network of great news sources is absolutely essential to uncovering and conveying great stories. Reality always outshines one’s imagination, and that’s why getting real tips from real people often is better than what you can find yourself by digging in archives and by going through lots of reports.

But pitching a story well can be tricky.

I’ve put together a checklist that could help you get it right when pitching a busy TV news reporter:

1. Boil your story down to one sentence, and focus on the conflict.

Every story I’ve ever made could be summarized into one sentence describing the conflict. However you contact the reporter, lead with this. Say, “Would you be interested in a story on …” and then comes your sentence. This will help the reporter immensely to understand your pitch. We call it “The Thing” and we always ask ourselves, “What’s The Thing in this story?” Deliver it early in your phone call or your email.

2. Remember it’s “the thing,” not “your thing.”

The TV reporter probably won’t be interested if a company tells them that the thing is that they’ve expanded their business and how great that is—unless maybe it’s a listed company and they’re talking to an economy reporter specializing in their field. If the company is hiring people in a particular area where other companies won’t, then it might be interesting.

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3. Know there are two sides to every story.

No reporter with integrity will be satisfied covering only one side of a story. For every good news story out there, there’s someone who really didn’t want that story to come out. Who is this person in your case? Who would really hate to see this story making the evening news?

4. Be prepared to answer questions.

This might sound basic, but if the story seems interesting, the TV reporter will probably take over the lead in the discussion and start asking the relevant questions. If you want the story out, that’s good for you. Just make sure you’re prepared to answer the important questions instead of trying to give your prepared answers. There’s usually a big difference.

5. Find the reporter you want to cover your story.

If you want a great reporter, go directly to them. They are passionate about finding their own stories, and if you pitch the desk or send out a press release, the lead will go to a news reporter who’s not chasing a story. Make sure your story is exclusive; otherwise you’re probably just wasting their time.

6. Have evidence.

The TV news reporter can’t just be talking to you. There must evidence, such as documents or real people’s testimonials supporting your claim. If the only thing you have is your word, it doesn’t matter if the reporter believes you or not. It’s the reporter’s job to do some digging, but it’s in your best interest to at least point in the right direction.

7. Remember that television is a visual storytelling medium.

Printed news always starts with the most important at the top of the article and then they work themselves downward. This is why it’s so easy to quickly scan newspapers and still get a good a idea. TV news doesn’t work that way. We’re more into visual storytelling, so help the reporter by suggesting visuals for the story.

Lisah Silfwer is a video reporter and news anchor for TV 4 in Sweden. A version of this article originally appeared on DoktorSpinn.com. 

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