How to Pitch a Reporter to Get Your Story Heard
March 24, 2021 12:49 PM   Subscribe

What are some best practice tips for getting the attention of an investigative or targeted "beat" reporter? How does the process typically play out once you've got their attention? (Note the only information I can find on the Web is either tips for promoting a story about your business, or tips for pitching a story you will be writing. Neither is relevant here.)

Just to be clear, I'm not a wanna-be journalist or a publicist. It just so happens I am privvy to facts/evidence about two different corruption cases involving law enforcement and government agency negligence/misconduct and abuse/hate crimes. Note that lawyers were briefly involved in both cases, but there wasn't enough money to pay for legal counsel for long. So a reporter may be the only hope for redressing demonstrably systemic corruption.

This is what I know already:
  • To target the recipient
  • To use email for the pitch
  • To write relevant, pithy headlines, showing the angle
  • To give a brief outline of the story and evidence
  • That I may need to send the pitch a couple of times because reporters are so inundated with email
What I'm less sure of:
  1. Do I name names?
  2. How explicit should I be about the evidence?
  3. Can I write in the first person?
  4. Do I need to use a different approach for TV reporters vs. print journalists?
  5. Do I need to use a different approach for investigative journalists vs. beat reporters?
  6. Should I write to several journalists at once?
  7. What's the process once I've aroused interest?
  8. Do I include a clear ask? (Hoped for outcome or whatever)
What else am I missing?
posted by Violet Blue to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know yet who you ideally want to tell the story? If the Washington Post is a fit, I might try contacting them via Signal first.
posted by pinochiette at 12:56 PM on March 24, 2021

Response by poster: Interesting. Although both have national implications and one, in particular, is especially news-worthy at the moment, I think both would do better closer to the scene of the crime: So Pasadena/LA on one coast and Boston/NY on the other.
posted by Violet Blue at 1:13 PM on March 24, 2021

Not quite what you are asking but the Guardian provides Info on how to contact them to share a story, it says: Some of the most important stories published by the Guardian have come from anonymous or confidential tipoffs. If you have something sensitive to share with us, here’s how to get in touch.
Their main US Offices are in New York.
posted by 15L06 at 1:22 PM on March 24, 2021

In my experience, reporters are always on the lookout for good stories, but they are often very busy.

I would send a short note with a very clear subject line. Body of the email should be a few sentences, offering to talk to them further if they are interested. You want it short enough that they can read it at a glance. I would be specific about cities/states/organizations and any individuals who are public figures. But again, you want this to be short and sweet.

BTW, this is not a pitch, it is a tip. You aren't asking the reporter to cover your product/event/candidate -- that would be a pitch. You don't want them to help you. You are giving them a tip about a good story. You are helping them.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 1:22 PM on March 24, 2021 [9 favorites]

Also, check your memail.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 1:22 PM on March 24, 2021

How to Contact ProPublica Securely Tip FAQ
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:26 PM on March 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think the most important thing is that it’s targeted to a reporter who does stories like this. People are always interested in their own beat/wheelhouse if the story seems like it could work. Target it to the right person, keep it short, and tailor the “angle” of your tip to the person’s style of reporting.
posted by hungrytiger at 1:28 PM on March 24, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have done something like this and the very first thing you need to do is approach this very carefully. Do not broadcast that are taking this step, do not provide confidential information in email, in a text or voice message. It's not a pitch - if it's serious there are big possible ramifications, legal ramifications, people lose jobs over what you are talking about.

Contact the reporter and provide your direct & private contact info - they will contact you and establish their preferred & secure method of communicating. Expect it to mostly be phone calls. The reporter will direct the focus of the story and ask you lots of questions, it will not be something you write. You might be one of the subjects, you might be the guide, you are giving them a tip. Expect them to be looking for evidence for your claims so be prepared for that. Being clear with your ask is fine - just don't expect the reporter or their editor to include it.

The reporter will establish what information they require for the story - how frank you are with that info is up to you - it's up to you if you think you can trust them with it. I did, and the reporter was careful with all of that, and mine wasn't as serious as what you are talking about. It's best to keep things as fact based as possible - and as for the headline part - that comes from an editor. The essential part of the story doesn't change, so you don't need to alter it for different audiences - that's the reporters gig. The are differences, TV is looking for visuals, have incredible reach, but will spend the least amount of time. You should include radio in your list of possible venues.

I would start with a reporter closest to the subject - be that a beat reporter, local paper, local tv station, radio. Google the agencies involved and find out who has been writing about them. If it isn't a dire emergency I think focus on one at a time as exclusivity is their currency. The story I was involved with ended up national news, but started as just an article in the local paper. Reporters have a decent sense of if 'something is there'.
posted by zenon at 1:32 PM on March 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Former journalist and sometime tip giver here. Look, the whole idea is to lead with the juicy bits.
1) If these people are high profile, yes. Otherwise, what makes these people interesting or relevant? Name that instead. The whole idea is to point out why this story is worth writing. Every fact you name should reference why it is worth writing.
2) Explain what kind of evidence it is (what kind of documents, or chat transcripts or whatever) and what these would prove about the people you mention. Make it short, details are for later.
3) Whyever not? You're a concerned citizen, you're not a reporter. You say (sorry, English is not my native language, imagine this said more elegantly), "hi, my name is Violet. I'm calling you because I saw that you recently covered *similar crime*. I have evidence that proves that bla bla bla is happening. This is relevant/a big problem/criminal because bloo. The evidence is in the form of bleh. Would you be interested? I'm happy to provide you with the information I have because *insert motivation*. I haven't contacted anyone else about this. Here are my contacts."
4) and 5) I doubt it.
6) No. Exclusive access to a story is a big selling point. If the first person isn't interested or doesn't reply, move on to the next one.
7) Ask them. They'll need to talk to you and see your evidence. Be clear what you are and aren't able to provide (if you're scared of retaliation by the people you're talking about, don't give out your full name, for instance. Make them promise anonymity of you as a source beforehand etc.)
8) No. Your attitude should be "I am here to help you get a good story". Always remember, they are not your friends. They aren't here to help you. They're here to make a big splash and get the accolades from their journalist friends. If they're unsavoury, they might throw you under the bus. These people are not interested in helping you (though respectable journalists wil shield their sources and keep their promises).
posted by Omnomnom at 1:38 PM on March 24, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Based on your followup, I would start with the big local papers (LA Times, Boston Globe), and I think it might be better to start with the confidential tip line (here's the Globe's). If you do try to email a particular reporter, be aware that they often get hundreds of pitches a day. I don't even have time to read all of mine, unfortunately. You could also try DMing on Twitter. If you email, keep it short. you don't have to give them all the details, just enough to help them understand why it's a major story and want to talk to you more.
posted by pinochiette at 2:06 PM on March 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

You're not a public relations person trying to sell a story. You're a citizen with a news tip. Send it to one person or paper to see if they'll bite. Was any of this known before, and was there any news coverage of it? In that case, see if you can find the reporter who covered it before. Here's the tip sharing info for the Boston Globe.

The New York Times has a great page on not only how to send them tips, but what makes a good tip.

As for how the process plays out: yeah, you aren't in control of that, and you won't get to be part of the story if you aren't part of the story. It sounds like you want a certain outcome or some kind of justice, but all you can do is get the tip to the right place, and then ... that's probably it, especially if you aren't willing to go on the record and they don't have any other news sources to back up the story. You don't really get to be involved after that.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:10 PM on March 24, 2021 [5 favorites]

The LA Times also has a whole page on how to submit tips to them via signal, email, and regular mail.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:09 PM on March 24, 2021

Best answer: It just so happens I am privvy to facts/evidence about two different corruption cases involving law enforcement and government agency negligence/misconduct and abuse/hate crimes.

ProPublica is a great suggestion. So several other publications, including nonprofit Mother Jones, which you can email at

You might want to consider these questions as well before you contact anyone:

1. Will revealing this information potentially hurt you or someone you care about? (Brainstorm all the possible ways this could go wrong to try to avoid doxxing or other potential fallout.)

2. Are you willing to be an on-the-record source, quoted in the article or broadcast? (See above.)

3. Can you prove your allegations? Why should anyone believe you? (Reporters will take you seriously only if you have proof or can explain to them what type of proof exists and/or how to get it.)

4. Can those allegations be confirmed by third-party documentation and/or additional sources? (See above.)

Once you share your info with a reporter who decides to pursue the story (and eventually broadcasts and/or publishes it), you have zero control over it. You can only control the degree to which you participate and maybe not even that if it becomes a huge story. (Imagine hoards of photographers and reporters camped outside your doorstep, for example. That may not happen, but what if it did?)

I was never an investigative journalist but I did practice journalism for a few years and this action you are contemplating is awesome in the full meaning of the word and, also, a potential dumpster fire for you. You will not be driving the bus, once the bus starts moving.

Lots of whistleblowers decide the risks of revealing public corruption are worth it. Only you can decide if the risks are worth it to you. Me, I am on Team Whistleblow. But I feel compelled to note that you may end up paying some kind of personal price for sharing this info, even if you do it as a concerned citizen only and not as an agency employee, say. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 3:13 PM on March 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you are, in fact, an agency employee, you might consider going the route of a whistleblower. You will need expert legal advice to meet the specific criteria that will give you protection and hopefully lead to the scrutiny you want. Going to the press offers NO protection.
posted by citygirl at 7:14 PM on March 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

You often hear news stories carry an ask ("EnergyCo denies that its transformer caused the wildfire. But others have called for state lawmakers to... Two other states have laws requiring...") so I don't see the harm in mentioning it to inform their thinking, assuming it's a public policy reform and not about reimbursing you.
posted by slidell at 11:11 PM on March 25, 2021

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