Tone-deaf pitches and failing to do adequate research on the publication are the biggest mistakes freelance journalists make when trying to sell editors on stories, experienced freelancers and editors said during a recent workshop at Ryerson’s School of Journalism.
The half-day workshop, Getting Started: Conversations About How to Freelance, explored what it takes to succeed as a freelance journalist in today’s competitive media landscape.
Takara Small, a Toronto-based freelance tech journalist, said reporters need to be well acquainted with the publication they are pitching to so that they understand its focus and whether its tone is formal or informal. This research should be used to shape the story pitch: “The biggest mistake I made…was I would write a pitch that I thought was good and hand it out to a publisher or an organization without taking into account that editors prefer pitches in [certain] formats or like to talk about different issues in a specific way,” said Small, a former contributing editor for Fortunemagazine.
Yasmine Mathurin, a Toronto-based freelance multimedia journalist, said she learned this same lesson the hard way after having a radio documentary pitch rejected. In her final year of Ryerson’s master of journalism program, Mathurin produced the documentary for her major research project. She submitted it to the CBC Radio Doc Project– a program that airs radio documentaries, essays and first person stories – but was turned down. The program coordinator subsequently told her they liked her story idea but not her pitch: “When I pitched the project, I didn’t pitch it in the language that made sense for radio. It’s not that my story wasn’t good.”