Mike Reicher followed up on a tip to the Times’ Metro desk. Eleanor Miller used a cold-call e-mail to pitch the Brooklyn Rail. Emily Johnson walked in the door of the Canarsie Courier and talked to two of their editors.
What really helped them get published, of course, was good old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting.
Mike, who works for the Times’ local blog, went to the historic Harlem building that was losing its top two floors and got in touch with all the players. He didn’t get bogged down in the building’s confusing history or the legal machinations surrounding it. Instead, he stayed focused on the news and the most recent developments, and succinctly summarized what had happened in the past. Result: A print version of his story in the Times, with byline.
Besides her all-out hustle to get the story, we liked the energy of Eleanor’s lead and how her strong description set up the rest of the story:
The actors ran barefoot on a sandy beach and projected their lines over the cries of seagulls. The audience sat in 1,500 white folding chairs on a boardwalk across from a mural of Henry Hudson’s landing on Coney Island.
This was not a typical production of The Tempest.
Here’s how Eleanor pitched her stories to editors:
This Saturday and Sunday, 1,500 audience members are expected to crowd the Coney Island boardwalk to watch a one-of-a-kind theatrical performance. Brave New World Repertory Theatre, a company based in Brooklyn and made up entirely of Brooklyn cast members, will present its rendition of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in an extraordinary beachfront performance that is free and open to the public. The setting in Coney Island was certainly no accident, and Claire Beckman, the artistic director of Brave New World, willingly draws parallels between “the magic and mystery of Prospero’s island and Coney Island, and the allure of it. We’re sort of drawn to it without knowing why. We can’t let go of the magic of the place.”The play will use both the boardwalk and the beach as a stage. “The sea is a character,” Beckman told the cast at Thursday night’s dress rehearsal. “You have this incredible set.”
Eleanor’s pitch showed that she had done some reporting, had access and could get the story. We don’t want to pitch stories that fall through. The main thing Eleanor’s pitch shows is that if we raise our hands and step forward, good things happen. We can’t get published unless we pitch.
Emily, who chose last in the CD lottery and picked Canarsie, asked the Courier editors to give her a call if they ever needed anyone to cover anything. Oh, and she could take photos, too, which they loved. No surprise, then, that the next morning she got a call to cover a civic meeting where she heard residents complain bitterly about getting tickets for double parking. Talk about a classic New York story.
BTW, the editors already have given her another story to work on.
These reporters’ tales of getting published echo so many we’ve heard in the last few years: Work your beat, create opportunities and report, report, report. Check with your Craft professors, writing coaches and the News Service’s Jere Hester.
Here are Jere’s simple but elegant ideas about getting published:
•Go in with a good story — if you’re not sure, some tests: Can you say it in a sentence? Are you excited about the story? Are you breaking new ground? Run it by some friends, trusted colleagues, mentors.
•Do you have art? If you don’t, get some – ASAP. If it’s a photo/video/multimedia story, make sure you have some companion text.
•Is it exclusive? Editors love something no one else has.
•Corollary: Do your research. Check the clips — see if the publication/outlet you’re targeting has tackled the issue before. Other outlets also might have taken a crack. Think about what you need to do to push the story ahead. You don’t want an editor to tell you, “We did that story last week.” That may be the last conversation you have.
•Know the publication/outlet you’re targeting. Don’t pitch a 2,000-word piece on citywide housing policy to a community paper that runs 400-word stories focusing on a certain neighborhood. You might want to consider a 400-word piece on how the new citywide housing policy will affect one neighborhood…
•Be flexible — express a willingness to work with the editor on doing whatever has to be done to get the story out to the world.
•Not sure where to pitch a story? Check with your friendly neighborhood News Service director or the writing coaches.