HOW CAN NEW MEDIA HELP WANNABES SHAPE LOCAL STORIES?

I had never really considered Twitter to be of particular importance in developing my craft as a journalist, until the day a respected London freelancer sent me a direct message on the micro-blogging site.

I had been blogging on WordPress for the past seven months and after a series of failed pitches to local newspapers in Belfast, I decided to turn my attention to national print outlets. After reading that boxer Carl Frampton was holding a press conference open to the public at the Europa Hotel (for his world title eliminator bout with Jeremi Parodi), I went along to the spectacle knowing that national media would be interested in the story. I took a note of the Guardian reporter’s name and detailed the press conference (including a preview of the fight) in a blog post.

The idea was to pass the story on to the freelancer and ask of his advice on how to make a better go of gaining a byline in a national. After reading his post-fight report, I tweeted my story to him. He wrote back telling me to “keep up the good work”. Some more correspondence on Twitter followed and in early January he asked if I would like to contribute to The Irish Times’ Schools Rugby supplement.

I took up the opportunity and wrote a preview of the competition, interviewed two prominent coaches and learned of the prospects of 24 competing schools, communicating with each one directly. The Irish Times published the piece complete with my byline.

Getting noticed this way may seem fortunate or unlikely but I can say with confidence that what grabbed the attention of my freelancing contact was the local angle I had originally taken with Frampton. Local news is a commodity that wannabes can readily use to their advantage. Using Twitter to establish contacts and share stories is not a guaranteed way to gain local coverage but it can be successful.

Having a product you are proud of like a blog is one way to get noticed, but lose the fear of having to be an expert to succeed with local pitches. Being clear about your story and its angle is what will separate an editor from running your story or not.  If you do get the opportunity to write, be meticulous with facts and sources. I may cringe now at my original handwritten proforma and countless tick-boxes for the Schools Rugby supplement, but it was a simple attempt to ensure I got each and every detail right.

Upon completion of my story, The Irish Times sports editor asked that I cover future stories. It feels good to be asked for once, not doing the asking!

To turn local pitches into winning ones, email press offices to snuff out possibilities of interviews with local organisations, from public officials to voluntary charity workers. Shoot emails off to local start-ups and ask them for their latest news. Get absorbed in your local news and ask yourself what is missing from the standard angles that the paper is taking. Constantly think about what is new, and not just in terms of stories, but media opportunities near you. Found a new political publication in the area? Send them a short bio and a pitch or two.

There is no getting around having to work for free sometimes, but when you manage to get the byline you want, firing off an invoice instead of a pitch will make it all worthwhile.

This article was published by Wannabe Hacks on Monday 17th February 2014.

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