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Perfecting your pitch for farm reporters

Reporter's Notebook: These tips for passing on story ideas to reporters will help get your passions in print

On a fairly regular basis, I receive story ideas from media relations people and readers.

Several factors go into whether or not a story makes it onto the pages of Grainews, and they’re not all within the control of the person pitching the idea.

But some things are. Here are the ingredients for a solid pitch, and a few things that can spoil the soup.

Know the magazine

Grainews’ motto is: “Practical production tips for the Prairie farmer.”

Before sending a story idea or press release, make sure the topic fits that tagline. If it does, send it to the writer who covers those types of stories, or to the editor who manages that section.

My beat for Grainews is crop production and ag science in Western Canada. I don’t regularly cover vegetable production, hydroponics, marijuana production (at least not yet), politics, or corporate corruption. I’m much more likely to say yes to story ideas or event invitations that are related to my beat.

If it’s related to a story that Grainews has covered recently, try to think about how your pitch advances the story (i.e. how is it new or different from the story that’s just run).

Be transparent and honest

Usually I have an idea where people are coming from when they’re making a story pitch. A public relations person is working on behalf of a client. A reader might want coverage on a problem that affects them somehow, or perhaps on a new product or practice they’re promoting. All this is (usually) fine, as long I can figure out what is motivating the person, and take that into account when I’m researching the story and talking to people.

Sometimes someone contacts me who seems to have a chip on their shoulder, but I’m not sure why. If they’re evasive about their relationship to the story, I’m wary. I’ve even had instances where I’m not sure the person contacting me is using their real name.

The last thing any reporter wants is to be manipulated into fighting someone’s fight for them, especially if they don’t even know who the source is or why they’re upset.

Sometimes you’ll see news stories where the source’s identity is concealed. It’s very rare that we even quote unnamed sources in Grainews. And generally the reporter knows (or should know) the source’s identity and background. They aren’t truly anonymous, at least not to the reporter.

Don’t make it personal

Sometimes I receive story pitches from public relations folks that start with: “Good morning, Lisa, I hope you’re well, etc., etc.” These pitches seem personalized, so I feel obligated to respond.

But when I forward it to Leeann to see if she wants me to cover it, I find out other reporters (and often Leeann herself) have already received it. These kinds of pitches can potentially flood our inboxes. It would save us all time if the communications person would just send it to one person. Often Leeann is the best person, as she’ll assign it to a reporter if it’s a fit for Grainews.

I don’t run into this problem with the press releases that have clearly been sent to a large distribution list. Typically I’ll scan those subject lines, and if it looks interesting, I’ll read the news release. If I want to write a story on it, I’ll check with my editor. I appreciate receiving good old-fashioned news releases like that, especially when they’re closely related to my beat. Keep sending them my way.

Feel free to follow up

I get a lot of email and my email program has an aggressive automatic email filter, so I miss stuff sometimes. I also sometimes forget to respond. If you’re hoping for a definite response, or if you invited me to an event you think I should cover, do follow up. I’ll let you know either way.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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