What Makes a Good Solutions Journalism Story Pitch?

“Pitching is an art, not a science,” says Ryan Lenora Brown, an Africa correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor.

How should pitch emails begin? What should they include? What should they not include? Here’s what six editors in SJN’s network identified as key ingredients in a solutions story pitch:

1. A clear, detailed, time-sensitive answer to “Why should readers care?”

Linda Shaw, former education editor and long-time reporter at The Seattle Times (and now with SJN!), says establishing relevance — right away — is essential:

“If you’re writing about an effort outside of your city or state, make it clear, right from the start, why editors (and their readers) should care. They will lose interest quickly if they don’t know why it’s relevant to their lives.”

2. A sense you’re a good storyteller, and that there’s a story to tell

For Tina Rosenberg, co-author of the New York Times solutions-oriented “Fixes” column (and co-founder of SJN), a marker of a good pitch is when the story can be easily summarised, like a movie plot:

“Think of your pitch as a movie plot — one that you’re able to sum up in a sentence or two. You can tell that story in a complex way, of course. But you do need an elevator pitch. If it takes a long time to summarise the pitch idea, you might want to rethink the story you’re trying to tell.”

3. Evidence — qualitative or quantitative — of the response’s impact

Most editors accepting solutions pitches agree that a good story alone isn’t enough.

4. An acknowledgment of the response’s limitations, and an eye to its replicability

To avoid coming off like a puffy PR piece, rigor — an eye to limitations — is also crucial to make clear to editors.

5. An idea of how the article begins, and how the rest would follow

Ryan Lenora Brown, form the Christian Science Monitor, says her ideal pitches begin by telling a bit of the story:

“Even if it’s just a few sentences, talk about what’s happening, anything that illuminates the scene, the characters, and give me a sense that you can write it.”

6. A brief explanation of how you’ll report the story, and why you’re qualified to report it

How will you report the rest of the story, or what other questions do you plan on addressing once it’s complete? Also, be sure to estimate the number of words you’ll need and include ideas on what publications the story would be appropriate for.

7. A headline that sells the story’s value and shows its timeliness

If you can think of what the headline might be, and if you can make that the title of the pitch, that helps editors envision what that story might look like when it’s done.

8. An understanding of what the news outlet covers (and does not cover)

Roxanne Patel Shepelavy says one of her biggest tips is for journalists to truly understand the outlet they’re pitching, and ensuring their stories fit there.

From What Editors Are Looking For in Solutions Pitches by Julia Hotz (The Whole Story)