Pitch Me a Story

Ideally, radio students will do stories that are directly related to the Empower DC campaigns of Quality Education, Affordable Housing, Childcare for All and the People’s Property Campaign.  If there is a specific event or action related to one of those campaigns, then chances are good that the Grassroots Media Project will ask students to produce a piece covering the event, probably a news feature, that Empower DC organizers can use as an educational resource.

Although Empower DC campaigns are a priority, they are certainly not the only issues that Grassroots Media radio producers will be allowed or expected to cover.  Anything within DC’s Progressive movement is fair game.  If there is an event, action, issue that you’d like to cover that in some way enhances, improves or promotes the self-advocacy of low- and moderate-income DC residents, then you’re free to use the Grassroots Media Project equipment and facilities to work on your project.

If you hope to have you piece air on WPFW, WAMU or some other news outlet then you should prepare a pitch of your project before you begin.  In fact, preparing a pitch is a good habit to get into regardless of where you hope to place your audio segment because a good pitch will help you focus and organize your approach to the topic in question.

The following worksheet should be sufficient for writing up a pitch for a news feature, but if you’re planning on doing a longer investigative report or even an audio documentary, you really should go through the pre-production for a news feature or investigative report worksheet before preparing your pitch.

Preparing a Pitch

There’s no cut and dried way to prepare a pitch, but there are a few basics that you should think about.  A pitch for a news feature does not need to be long and complicated.  Most program producers and news editors are not going to appreciate having to sift through more than two or three paragraphs.  Essentially, a pitch describes what you’re going to do, why you’re going to do it and how you plan to proceed as succinctly as possible.

What is your story: The first paragraph of your pitch should describe the gist of your story.  All of the basic information that will end up in your lead––who, what, where, when, etc.–– will probably come up in the first few sentences of your pitch.  But along with the who, what, where, and when you’ll also want to include the conflict and tension in your story.  The who or subject of your story is trying to get something.  What obstacles are getting in the way of what they want?  What happens if they don’t get what they want?  What happens if they do?

After you’ve laid out your basic premise, be sure to state specifically why this story is important now.  It may seem obvious to you, but it might not be to a program producer or news editor.

How you will tell your story: The first paragraph of your pitch laid out the basics of the story.  Your second paragraph should describes in detail how you’re going to tell the story: who will you interview; what information do you imagine you’ll get from your interviewees; what scenes will you use to tell the story; what opportunities do you have to use natural sound, etc.  Remember, radio is essentially a visual medium.  The story you tell should paint a picture in the mind of the listener.  So when you describe how you’re going to tell your story, be as specific as possible not only with regard to whose voices will be included in the piece and what you expect them to say, but also what sounds accompany the environment in which you’re recording.  In other words, what will we be hearing in the background or between speakers?

Finally, you’ll want to describe the format or structure you intend to follow.  How long will the piece be? Will the reporter’s copy include commentary or just facts?   If you’re working on a fairly long piece, you’ll probably want to include the narrative structure you intend to use, i.e., a timeline, a debate between opposing sides, etc. If your story is going to be short then you won’t have to go into that much detail.   For instance WAMU’s Metro Connection accepts features that are a maximum of 5 minutes long.  They ask that your pitch include the following information:

  1. The gist of the story (What’s it about? How/why would it resonate with local listeners in DC, MD and VA?)
  2. When the story should run (Which show?)
  3. The people you might interview
  4. The sounds you might include
  5. The settings you might include
  6. Rough idea of your desired run time (5:00 max)
  7. Rough idea of when you can send a script (scripts are due the Tuesday before each show)

All of the above points can easily be addressed in two or three paragraphs.  Most shows, like Metro Connection, that pay for freelance work, have guidelines for submissions that will help you work out your format.  It’s also a good idea to listen to the program before you pitch so that you can be sure that you’re story idea and production style will fit into their template.

Common Mistakes: Two of the most common things to avoid are the unfocused pitch and the pitch that’s too long.  Editors and program producers are busy and don’t have time to read two pages on a piece that’s going to run for four minutes.  Another reason to keep it short and basic is it gives the producer or editor an opportunity to provide input that will make the piece fit better into their program.   If you hand them a good story idea that they haven’t already run, chances are they’ll be willing to work with you to make it right for their show.  If you’ve put a lot of thought into a very long and detailed pitch and don’t want to change anything, then you’re idea won’t be sold.   Similarly, if you hand them a pitch that’s terribly unfocused, they’re not going to want to do your job and hone it down for you.

For instance, you can’t say, “I want to do a story on gentrification.”  That’s a topic, not a story.  What story on gentrification are you talking about?  You might start by finding someone or a group who is directly impacted by gentrification.  A report on the efforts being made by residence of a building that’s being turned into a condominium to stay in their homes is a story idea, not just a topic.  Be specific but not long and drawn out.  A typical story idea that, were it not out-dated, could be presented to a news editor or program producer is the pitch I wrote for Ten Percent is Enough!


The Air Media site has lots of excellent information for independent radio producers.

Information specifically on pitching your story can be found on Air Media site page Ask the Expert:  Pitches that Work.

A list of programs that accept freelance work can be found on the Air Media site page Where to Pitch.

Grassroots Media Project radio producers have successfully placed at least one audio segment on WAMU’s Metro Connection.  You shouldn’t expect to get paid more than $100 – $150 if you’re a first-time radio producer, but if you’d like to consider pitching to them, carefully read  WAMU’s Metro Connection Contributor Guidelines.