Journalism: How to Pitch Your Story to the News

So why does some news get covered and some doesn’t? That’s a whole blog post in and of itself.  But I can say with certainty that getting a story–any story–covered starts with a good pitch.
breaking news2

Got a big event happening and want to invite the news?  Grandparents celebrating their 60th Anniversary and you think it deserves to be on TV? Community golf tourney, BBQ or fundraiser?  Maybe you’ve been the victim of a crime or a rip-off.  It you want to get the word out to the media there are some simple do’s and dont’s.

(Disclaimer:  I work in TV news, so most of my suggestions are geared at pitching to MY industry)

First: Does Your Story Fit The Key Criteria? The DO’S

Stories should :
-be unique; something that doesn’t happen daily, weekly, monthly or commonly
-should involve real people
-be new, happening NOW, or soon (not days or weeks old)
-have people willing to be on camera, on the record, or otherwise willingly go public, or be in the public eye

-is there CONFLICT? All good stories have winners & losers, heroes and villains, tension, injustice, outrage, or a battle.  It could be as simple as “woman fights parking ticket error”, but there needs to be something.

-Should be relevant to a large number of people in some way, or be directly affecting a large group

Where’s this happening?

All good TV stories need a visual location.  Boardrooms are bad, factory floors are great.  You actually working in your environment (Falafel shop, shoe repair man, chef) is even better.  And all pertinent people should be available together or at least on the same day.

Is this an Ad for Your Business?

If that’s all you’re looking for; airtime about a product or service, then my TV newscast is not for you.  There are limited exceptions, but your pitch about why YOU should get one, better be really really good.  See above. And below.

news

The When/Where/How of Getting Me Your Pitch

The When:
If you’re calling a TV station; do a wee bit of research; don’t call while a newscast is on the air.  Staff is usually busy at that time and won’t have much time to hear you out.  In most newsrooms you can ask for the assignment desk–those are the folks tasked with assigning news stories.  You could also try pitching a reporter directly, but they’re much, much harder to get in touch with.

When calling the assignment desk, call mid morning.  Early morning, we’re trying to get the reporters out the door and get up to speed on the day’s events. That’s usually done by 10am.

EVEN BETTER: e-mail us.

All stations have a viewer response, or story ideas email addresses.  Give it a short, catchy, descriptive headline in the Subject field that will grab our attention. “News Release”, “Big Story”, or “Important News Event” are lame, amateurish grabs that rarely get opened.

The benefit of using email is that we can read it when we have time to focus on it; and if it has a good headline, we will.

In the body of the email:

-keep it short; a page is more than enough

-Don’t give me details I don’t need

-Include the 5W’s of journalism: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How if relevant.

-Include contact info including a cell phone so we can reach you.

Pitching Don’ts:

Don’t tell me “all your friends are interested in your business, event, problem  or product, so you think all my viewers should be too”.  Of course they are, or they wouldn’t be your friends.  I get hundreds of pitches a week; yours has to be truly unique, not just popular among your friends.

Don’t send a press release or e-mail out and then be unavailable, or unreachable.  If I call you, its likely because I’m going to want something on the day you reach out, ie. TODAY.
Don’t go on and on on the phone.. practice giving me your pitch in 3-4 sentences.  If you can’t do that, I’m going to have a hard time giving it to my viewers in the minute or two that we have on TV.
KNOW who you’re pitching to.  I can’t tell you how many free cd’s I get mailled to me, with follow up offers to have a band come on my newscast.  We don’t run music news or entertainment. It’s good practice to watch the newscast you’re pitching to and make sure there’s a fit.
If not, check around for other programs that might be suited to what you have in mind.
Don’t take rejection personally. I get hundreds of pitches… so the bar is pretty high.  If I don’t like your story, ask if you can send me your contact info to be kept on file.  We often call people about future stories.
Don’t pitch a feature on a busy news day, ie Election Day, or on a day when there’s been a triple murder.  BUT if you have something relevant to a breaking story today (ie. you’ve witnessed election fraud or ballot box stuffing, or know the victims in that murder)–call in. Please!
NO JARGON!  Distill your story down to what would interest regular folks…  If I can’t understand your release or e-mail, I can’t expect my viewers to either, and  I’ll probably file it under “g”.
Don’t expect veto power, or for the story to turn out as you expect.  Journalists almost never let people see their stories before they’re done.  If you’re concerned about how you’re going to be included in the story, ask the reporter to clarify.
Don’t Spam me. Please don’t send a copy of the press release, or your email every day, and/or call every day.  That gets annoying, clutters up my inbox and my voicemail, and takes me away from other work.  Me personally, I like one email, and I’m ok with one call on the day-of. The media will always call you if we’re interested– If you’re phone’s not ringing, it’s likely because we’re not.

Also, don’t expect a reply to your request, email and/or news release.  We get literally HUNDREDS of requests for coverage each day.  We can’t possibly reply or RSVP to each one. Sorry.

How to use Social Media to Pitch the Media

I troll Twitter all the time.  I will frequently Tweet out when I’m looking for a person, someone who’s had an experience related to a news story that’s in the works,  so follow me (@TVChick13), and other journalists and engage with us.  And again..if I tweet today, know that I probably need it today.  Be available… or suggest someone else that might be good.  Another good way to be in touch with the media is to “Like” media FB pages, as frequently we ask for input there too.

One final note; always take photos and video of news you see, problems you’re having, battles you’re fighting or other important happenings.  Examples would be, you find black mould in your hotel room, you see a house fire, you think someone’s trying to pull a fast one on you, or you find a finger in your chili.  Photos and video make the story MUCH more than it would be if it was just your words after the event is over.  You know the saying, “a picture’s worth 1000 words?”  It ain’t a cliche for nothin’.

Courtesy fineartamerica.com
Courtesy fineartamerica.com

-Erin is a Calgary-based TV News Producer.  I’m happy to answer your questions on this subject.  Please post ’em in the comments section.

We Want VIDEO! The Draw of the “Pitch Drop”

Ever heard of the Pitch Drop? Probably not.

It’s possibly the world’s slowest experiment, and one cursed with some poor timing and maybe a bit of bad luck.  But people all over the world are checking it out on livestream, in hopes of being one of the few who have ever witnessed this event.

pitch_bits

What is it?  It’s a live shot of a solid you can smash with a hammer, that is actually a liquid, that takes about 12 years–TWELVE YEARS–to drip just once.

No one has actually seen the drip, drop.

A camera installed in the year 2000 failed at the critical moment, and the drip detached unseen by human eyes, again.

So now, with three cameras unblinking at every angle, what will be just the 9th pitch drip in about 80 plus years is imminent.  And  the  live webcam means it’s no longer just up to the lonely professor overseeing the experiment to bear witness to this event.

Waiting for the pitch to drop
Waiting for the pitch to drop

How many people are tuning in?  The University of Queensland tells me last Friday’s visits to the PD page (Feb 14th, yes, Valentine’s Day, randomly selected as an example) peaked at 18,111 page views.  14,958 of those were unique page views.  In one day.  To watch a drip–potentially, maybe, but not very likley–let go.

Proof positive that video on your website–any video– is a draw.

Check out the Pitch Drop Livestream HERE

 Check out the Pitch Drop Livestream here.

What the Modelling Industry Taught Me

erin modelling 7.jpg 7Sitting in an office beside my mother, I was nervous.  I’d been called in by my small town local modelling agency to meet a big city scout. A steady stream of girls were going in and coming out of the office she’d comandeered to pore over us and judge our fitness in the “real world” of modelling.  She flipped quickly through my book of photographs, aka The Portfolio, then peered over her glasses at me, apprising my value.

“Stand up please”. I stood.

“Turn around.” I complied.

“You’re very attractive.  You have a good look. Your height is excellent for your age. But..” and here she turned to my mother, “She needs to lose about 10-15 pounds.”

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was one of those turning points in my life.

erin modelling floorboard

My mother pursed her lips into a smile and stood up. “Thank you.  We’ll think about that.”

In the car afterwards, my mind swirled.  Was I fat? She liked me, but I needed to lose weight? 10-15 pounds?  I was 5’8″ and 125 pounds.  By today’s body mass index indicator that borders on underweight, though I didn’t know that then. I thought I looked fine, and certainly had no idea how I’d begin to lose so much weight.  But didn’t this woman from Toronto with the fancy glasses and the pencil, and the stack of hopeful girls’ comp cards know better?

“Mom, what do you think?”

“I think that woman is out to lunch.  Lose weight?!  You?  No way.  If they don’t like you as you are now, they’ll never be happy with you.  And I think you look perfect.”

comp card back

In my 14 year old mind, that made sense, and looking back, I can see I was relieved at my mothers response.  Of course I was struggling with body issues, as every teen girl does. I knew I was skinny, but looking myself over later that night, I had no idea where my body would even begin to shed that much weight from. I could already see my abs and ribs; I had hips and a butt, but Toronto thought I needed to be skinnier?  I rolled my eyes: no thanks.

Weeks later when my agency asked if they should schedule a follow up with the bespectacled fancy-lady from the big city, I told them no.  I know plenty of other girls who would have started eating carrot sticks the moment it was suggested, but that wasn’t for me.erin modelling hair

SMART PARENTS

I can thank smart, reasonable and supportive parents for steering me out of what could have been a potentially bad situation. They raised me to eat food; real food.  Meat, potatoes, vegetables.  Pop (or soda for my American cousins) was had ONCE a week.  Cookies only occasionally. (In fact cookies were so rare and coveted on our house, me and my three siblings would tear open the package, count out the cookies, divide by 4 and write it down so we knew exactly who got how much.)  Our family ate healthy, and cooked at home. Dinners out happened only once a month, max. And far from the Honey Boo Boo mammas out there, my parents were not desperate for fame, stardom, money or the ability to brag to the neighbours that their daughter was a top model.

erin modelling goodlife ad 2I took a different route in modelling instead; I worked locally, and often.  I helped put myself through school doing local newspaper spreads, fitness ads, and fashion shows at all the local malls. I was even a “fit model” for the ol’ Kettle Creek Clothing Company (remember that, Ontario?), and all their Size 8 clothing was based on MY figure. Again, I didn’t know it at the time, but that was a big thumbs-up for me and my decisions about modelling, my weight, and my self esteem. erin modelling wedding fashion show-newspaper

GROWING CONFIDENCE

I learned by getting those small jobs that my body was just fine.  And with every fashion show I booked, I gained confidence.  A shy teenager, I learned with real-world experience, that all I had to do was pretend to be confident when I didn’t yet feel it, and people believed I was.  And when people believe in your confidence, it boosts you even further, and eventually that faux-confidence becomes the real deal.

I learned poise; and how to look graceful.  I learned how to apply makeup to look both theatrical for the runway, and professional when posing in photos that would eventually be used in the business world.erin modelling long hair yello background Those skills would help me later in life as a budding TV reporter and anchor.

I also learned accounting; I had to bill my agency, and keep records about what work I’d been paid for and what was still owed.  I had to do my taxes as a self-employed individual. That knowledge is still helping me today.

So I may not have my own TV show; a multi-million dollar contract .. but…I’d like to think I’m a normal human being, with normal habits, a good level of confidence and a sense of adventure.  I don’t even wonder what kind of person I might have become had I started on those carrot sticks…

Madrid: Advice PLEASE!

I’m heading to Madrid (and a few other cities; hopefully San Sebastian and Barcelona) this July.  I’d LOVE any advice other bloggers are willing to share.  I went to school in Salamanca 15 years ago and haven’t been back since.  What should we see, do, eat, observe?  I’d really love your suggestions.

-eImage

Food & Drink: Just ONE Bite

Kids don’t like a lot of things. Knowing that, I don’t get why people allow their kids turn their noses up at whatever’s on their plate. I know parents who don’t even feed their kids vegetables AT ALL, since they figure if junior isn’t going to eat them, why bother?

A cup o' corn on the streets of Bangkok. Veggie-riffic!
A cup o’ corn on the streets of Bangkok. Veggie-riffic!

Here’s the problem with that. Besides bringing up kids who only want to eat McNuggets, or stuff that comes wrapped in paper, it’s unhealthy.

My mother had a rule about dinner. You had to eat at least one bite of whatever it is you THINK you don’t like. One bite. Chewed and swallowed. No spitting it into the napkin, or burying it under the mashed potatoes.

Growing up, I couldn’t stand tomatoes. Now, ketchup was fine, so was tomato sauce. But as soon as there was an identifiable bit of ACTUAL TOMATO!!! on the plate, I was done.

I also hated liver. I mean really. The taste, the texture…knowing I was eating internal organs. It didn’t matter how much I hated something, or for what reason. Under my mother’s law, I still had to cut off a fair sized bite and taste it. After that single bite, if I was still sure I hated whatever it was, I could leave the rest of the serving on the plate.

If I tried to protest, it didn’t matter. I could sit at the table for hours, not allowed to leave until I’d tried. A couple late nights, sitting in my chair long after the others went to watch The Dukes of Hazard (the original run) taught me it was better to take that bite, and get it over with. many people may think that’s horrible, but IT WORKED.

A strange concoction in Thailand.  Which tastes AMAZING.
A strange concoction in Thailand. Which tastes AMAZING.

This rule was adapted from a rule of my mom’s childhood. Dinosaur times when money was tight and you cooked what you had, cleaned your plate, and liked it. My grandfather would insist we ate stuff we didn’t like because that’s all that was being served. There was none of this frantic hand-wringing a lot of parents have over their child missing a meal, or two. The way my grandfather saw it, either you were grateful to eat what was served, or you saw it put in front of you for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner again. There’s a story in my family that famously makes the rounds every time a cousin, niece or nephew begins to turn up their nose. The time my aunt sat staring at a plate of cold baked beans, through 5 meals, or a day and a half, before she broke. My mom took a slightly less authoritarian spin on this. Thankfully.

Egyptian Cuisine
Egyptian Cuisine
My grandmother and her sister; likely dealt with much more authoritarian dinners than I did.
My grandmother and her sister; likely dealt with much more authoritarian dinners than I did.

As an adult now, there’s almost nothing I don’t like, or won’t eat.   I also try to try everything; and that’s led me to some amazing culinary treats on my travels of the world;  chicha morada in Peru, a purple corn-based drink the looks like Kool-Aid.  Tiny coconut crepes from a street vendor in Thailand (though I had no idea that’s what they were when I asked to try one!), Kushari, a traditional Egyptian chickpea stew that’s delicious. Or the vile-looking electric-green Calaloo soup that is creamed with coconut milk and greens that tastes amazing.

Caribbean Calaloo Soup (Photo: latinfood.com)
Caribbean Calaloo Soup (Photo: latinfood.com)

As it turns out, I like tomatoes now. Liver too, although I prefer it in an appetizer called rumaki; wrap the liver in bacon, throw a water chestnut in the centre, and broil until it’s crispy and golden.

This blog entry is not meant to preach to parents about how to raise your kids; no, you can find plenty of other places to get that.  This is simply about what worked in MY family, in hopes it may inspire you; after all, if you’ve come all the way here, you might be looking for some suggestions, non?  This post merely  goes to show you tastes change. If I’d been allowed to have my way, I probably would have a much less adventurous appetite. Hopefully it also shows you getting your kids to take chances is definitely not biting off more than you can chew.

Why that package you ordered to Canada costs so much – Saving Yourself Money on Shipping/Brokerage

Approved!
Approved!

If you LIKE paying more than you should for things, stop reading now.  If you think brokerage fees are a terribly blatant overcharge, carry on.

For those of you who receive packages from the US particularly:  did you know you can save a lot of money on your shipments relatively easily?

Major shipping companies like UPS, FedEx Purolator, etc all routinely charge Brokerage fees to clear your shipments through Canada customs.  These fees (for me personally) have ranged anywhere from $10-$50 or more on things like small hand tools, metals, clothing, food or or craft supplies, depending on the total value of what’s shipped, and what’s inside the box.

I feel like brokerage fees are a rip off; especially since I now know what’s involved in clearing a package through customs myself. After all, I’m already paying $20-50 in shipping charges for these folks to get me my package; am I really to believe that the 2-3 minutes of work for a shipping company employee is worth THAT much money??

What Brokerage Gets You

Essentially, the shippers are charging you a premium for getting your paperwork stamped. Yup.  That’s it.  And for collecting the duties and taxes on behalf of our lovely federal government.  This is something you can quickly and easily do; I’ll even tell you how.

How To Clear Your Own Shipment – in YYC – in 6 Easy Steps

If you live in Calgary Alberta, as I do, here’s what you do:

1. If the shipment arrives at your door, ask the driver to detail the fees. (You’ll likely be paying duty, taxes including GST and a Brokerage Fee.  Get that info BEFORE you sign for and accept the package.  If you can’t get it from the driver, refuse the shipment, and call the shipper’s  head office with your tracking number to get details.)

2.  Decline the shipment by telling the driver you wish to clear the shipment through customs yourself. You can also do this by calling your shipper of choice if you’ve received a delivery notice (as I did), or even before the package arrives to your door.

3.  The shipper will be required to give you a copy of the waybill or itemized packing slip, and this should include the country of origin itemization for each item.  In some cases the shipper will ask you to come and pick it up (if they want to make life difficult for you).  In my case, they offered to email it to me.  This did me the kindness of saving me a trip.  Another time I tried to self-clear, I had to ask for this information specifically, and for it to be e-mailled to me. fax is also an option the shippers seem to prefer.

4.  Take the waybill/invoice to Canada Customs/Border Services Agency  (**UPDATE:  they’ve MOVED from  2588 27 St NE to a NEW location MUCH CLOSER to the shippers up by the Calgary Airport New Address (and it’s a new street some online maps won’t know yet) 22 Aero Dr NE). Take a number. I have yet to see a lineup in this office first thing in the morning when I usually go.  The CBSA agent will input your stuff into their computer, calculate your taxes and duty and hand you a bill, that you take to the adjacent cashier and pay.

While in 95% of cases, I’ve saved a LOT of money self-clearing (saving anywhere from 15-, there was one occasion I came out basically even. My shipper told me my bill was :Taxes: $33.00, Duty: $1.56 and Brokerage: $24.60.  CBSA told me my bill was Taxes: $34.02, Duty $20.21, and of course zero brokerage fees.  So my total bill from the shipper was about $59.  From CBSA: $54.  I’ll get to why that is in a sec, but first the rest of the steps for my friends in a hurry.

On another package pick-up attempt, I was asked by CBSA to provide “Proof of Payment” on a dress.  The agent politely but firmly said the shippers often “make up generic packing slips” and “lie about the value so duty is avoided.  They think they’re doing the customers a favour”.  She was insistent I provide either a copy of my credit card bill,  bank statement, or a receipt.  Since I had none of those (as they’d be INSIDE the box I was hoping to get cleared) I had to improvise.  A quick phone call to the company I purchased the dress from and they were able to e-mail me a receipt that showed the value.  Though it wasn’t technically a receipt, the CBSA agent was able to use it and verify what was on the “generic packing slip”.  My total: $39 in tax and duty, and total avoidance of the additional FORTY DOLLAR brokerage fee UPS was going to tack on!

5.  Take your paid bill (the CBSA agent will stamp it again as proof you’ve paid and they know it; Ahhh, yes,  red tape and paperwork in triplicate!) and drive to your shipper’s headquarters near the Calgary Airport in the NE.  This is now a 2 minute drive from the CBSA office.  Go inside, present your shipping notification or tracking number, along with the completed/approved/stamped paperwork.

6.  Getcher package, and drive all the way back across the city home.

And there’s always a but…

So WHY on that one occasion did I end up paying pretty much the same bill in the end by doing all the work?  Well,1) it could be a CBSA mistake; getting them to re-calculate the duty “just to double check” did NOT go over well. And let’s be honest, they don’t have to justify anything, and won’t.  Arguing with a federal agent is truly a waste of time and really just buys you a cavity search.  2) The CBSA agent could have been a little overzealous in applying the duty, or really just sticking to the EXACT letter of the law.  3) My shipper could also have miscalculated and undercharged me on *their* bill. Or 4)  perhaps there is some kind of arrangement with the shippers and the federal government that the shippers can legally charge Brokerage Fees, in exchange for slightly lower duties?  I have no knowledge of why, and not really a lot of desire to begin navigating several levels of government to find out over that particular $4 difference.

On another occasion, there was another odd wrinkle in my plans; when I went to pick up the package, UPS told me it had been “re-addressed”.  The package  had been forwarded to another random person in another random city in Alberta ( by “someone”, they don’t know or wouldn’t say who).  I don’t know if this was a genuine mistake, or a cute joke to delay me further, or (if I were the suspicious, malicious type) if someone was giving me payback for cheating a giant multinational out of their brokerage fees and talking about it on Twitter.  But I digress.

Bottom Line

So out of the one dozen times I’ve now done this, I come out waaay ahead in 95% of the cases, like I said.  If you want to be sure, you could try calling CBSA to get an accurate assessment of the duties BEFORE opting for self clearing, just to be sure it’s worth it.

I’d love to hear your stories and input on this.  Good experiences or bad, let me know!