What Editors Look For
Timeliness and Freshness Are Crucial
One of the crucial questions that editors will ask when reviewing any story or story pitch is, “Why now?” What’s happening in the world right now that makes today the perfect time to run this story?
For newspapers and other outlets that publish daily, even a couple of days late can make something seem like “old news.” Do not begin any story pitch talking about something that happened a long time ago - that immediately signals that it’s old news.
When an event relevant to your work occurs, the time to pitch that story is immediately. The world is full of pundits who want to weigh in on current events. The older the news, the higher the bar is for how novel your argument needs to be.
Be aware, too, that many themes return regularly to the headlines, and so it can be wise to have something written and ready to go for the next time a topic returns to the top of the national discourse.
Editors always value a fresh take — a view that seems surprising or counterintuitive, that offers unexpected insights.
The reader should reach the end of your piece and feel as if they learned something that they didn’t already know. Consider too that the editors you’re pitching tend to be quite well read: If it’s already being said, they’ll likely know.
You also would be wise to see what else the publication you’re pitching has published recently on the subject. Your take will have to be different.
Consider the Reader
At some point in your life, you’ve probably heard some version of the following: “People aren’t thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves.”
Nowhere is this as true as when someone is reading a newspaper, magazine, or website. They aren’t thinking about you, the researcher who has toiled away uncovering fresh ideas. How often do you get to the end of an article and even remember who the author is?
Readers want to know how your ideas are going to educate or entertain them - how this article is going to make their lives better? How is it relevant to them?
One of the roles of the editors you’re pitching is to be an advocate for the reader, to give the reader useful information that can apply to their lives.
As you frame your argument, it is vital to consider the value you provide to the reader, and not simply focus on the information you want to convey.
For example, readers don’t want too much detail about your experimental methodology. In fact, what is the least amount they can know about your methods in order to understand the conclusions?
There may be points in your writing where you feel bogged down by detail. That’s a good time to stop and ask yourself, “Is my friend Maya going to care about this? Or would she be looking at me with glassy-eyed boredom?”
You don’t have to provide all the background knowledge. In making an argument, you pick and choose what you feel is relevant and salient — not to you or academics in your field, but to the reader.
We're Here to Help
While time doesn’t allow the Communications Office to ghostwrite your stories, we can help you talk through any story ideas you have and advise on pitching editors. We may also be able to offer feedback on your drafts. Please email Julie Sloane.