Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Pitch or you might get ditched

By · Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Pitching stories is THE top request of writers at digital-first operations, newspapers and magazines. It doesn’t matter if the writers are interns, newcomers or veterans. Ideas are not only requested, but also required. And if you don’t start pitching, your value will be diminished — no matter how good you are at what you do.

If you think it is difficult to come up with ideas no one has thought of already, then the following questions might help you broaden your thinking. You never want to be in a position to say, “I don’t have any ideas.”

  1. Who are the people affected? This question will yield personal accounts that will make a story idea real, entertaining and engaging. These stories usually do not come from the bureaucrats. They usually come from the ordinary people who do their day-to-day jobs unnoticed.
  2. How are people affected or how might they be affected? The answer to this question will spark reader interest in the story. Stretch the story idea beyond today. Think about how people will be affected in a few weeks, a few months or in a year.
  3. Why would I write this? You should be able to succinctly explain why your story idea would be important to anyone. A bit of research might be required to answer this question. Then, finish this sentence: “This story is important because ….”
  4. Who are the bureaucrats? People in authority have a role in stories even though you are looking for ordinary people to bring stories to life. Identify them. Plan to interview them last, after you have been informed by what the ordinary people tell you.
  5. What are the key questions? Determining key questions for each person you plan to interview is a way to further develop your story idea. You’ll want to elicit examples, anecdotes and details that are specific to each person.
  6. What research must I do? Knowing what led to an idea will help to shape it. How did we get here? Why did we get here? You want your research to help you identify a fresh angle even if the story has been written about in the past or has been a story elsewhere.
  7. Where can I go? Get out and use all of your senses. You’ll see things differently when you meet people in their homes and where they work. When you think about the setting for interviews, you’ll be able to better define your story idea.
  8. What am I missing? This is where you get to practice “blue sky” thinking. Ask yourself: “Who else and what else?” Think beyond the obvious.
  9. How can I be creative? This is a fun question. Stretch your imagination. Ask yourself: “How can I approach this story differently from other stories? How can I take a new approach to a recurring story? How can I make an ordinary story interesting? How can I get readers’ attention?”
  10. What is my vision? Imagine what your idea will look like. Take a personal interest in your idea.

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