Investigative journalism holds power to account. It tackles big subjects through deep reporting that uncovers the truth and provokes change. But how do you pitch your story once you’ve uncovered something?
To help you get your story through the door, we’ve asked some of the industry’s top editors from Channel 4, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times and BBC’s Panorama to share their top tips for how to pitch them your investigative story.
Tip 1: Think about your audience at every stage
Every media platform is different, so your pitches to each platform should also be different! The story, angle and language you use in your pitch must all be considered and tailored to the audience of media outlet you are talking to. They can often be catering to entirely different demographics, so your pitch should really show the editor that you understand this.
Tip 2: Stick to the facts
It is absolutely crucial that you follow the facts, not just what you think might be true. No editor will be happy with a “maybe” true pitch. Show them your story is an accurate reportage of the topic at hand.
And know when to drop a story. If there is no clear way to confirm the truth of the investigation, it’s not worth your time to pursue – and it won’t be worth an editor’s time either!
Tip 3: Develop a speciality
It helps to specialise in something, especially when presenting yourself and your story to potential media outlets. It not only helps editors know that they can trust you in that subject area, but it also means you’ll be well equipped for spotting a good story and making reliable judgement calls.
Tip 4: Don’t lie or exaggerate
This is probably the most obvious tip, but it must be reiterated: Don’t over-promise and pitch something that you can’t deliver on! Editors will see right through you. At our recent Global Investigations industry day, Dorothy Byrne, Head of News and Current Affairs at Channel 4 said: “Don’t come in and pitch me 10 ideas. Pitch 1 or 2 things that you can actually do. Something that you know a lot about.”
Tip 5: Load up on evidence and detail
When pitching your story, editors will want to see that you have a thorough understanding of the story and a tonne of evidence that supports your pitch. You need to be able to convince them why this story needs to be told, so knowing your story inside out is crucial. Be thorough with this step and remember that brilliant evidence can take years to collect!
Tip 6: Be persistent
You need nerves of steel to be an investigative journalist. It takes real dedication and courage to pursue the truth, and uncovering a good story can take years. So be obsessive about solving the puzzle and make sure you really really believe in telling the story you are following. As Dorothy Byrne says, “we are looking for stories which will not be told if we don’t tell them.”
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