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These roles may overlap, for example some journalists work both as editors and reporters.
Some stories just happen and the media report them, for example a volcanic eruption. Others are initiated by journalists, for example a reporter may want to find out how Ebola survivors are coping one year after an outbreak and then report on it. Yet other stories are conceived outside the media outlet, for example a press release on research findings or any other announcement.
What does this all mean to a scientist? It means you have an opportunity to influence what journalists report on. Journalists are continually looking for stories worth reporting – give them an interesting story idea and they will take it. If they ignore your story, it means either what you are presenting to them is not newsworthy or you have not presented it to them convincingly.
So, what do journalists want? Why do they pay attention to some issues and not others?
Whether you pitch by email, phone, face-to-face or in a social media messaging app, it has to be brief, newsworthy and straight to the point.
In writing a press release you compose one message, usually in several hundred words, that goes out to all media outlets. A press release on research findings usually provides much of the information that a journalist needs for a basic story; it answers the 5W and H questions as follows:
• Who did the research?
That said, pitching and writing a press release are not mutually exclusive. You can write a pitch in the body of an email and attach a press release.
Alternatively you might decide to pitch just to a few media outlets that matter to you most, in which case you might not need a press release.
Therefore, you need to know the media outlet well, including the sections or segments where your information might be placed and the editors, producers or reporters handling them. Do not try to pitch to an editor whose section or segment you have never read or viewed.
Editors are more likely to listen to you if they know you are their reader, viewer or listener. In any case, you can only know where your information fits within a particular media outlet if you know its structure.
Therefore, you need to do your homework. For example if you are targeting a TV channel, find out whether they have a news bulletin, what the times are, what kind of people watch it and who the editor is. Begin by looking at their weekly programme line-up. What times are their news bulletins? Do they have other programmes where your research can be presented or discussed? For example do they have science programmes? Do they have talk-shows or current affairs programmes where a scientific development can be discussed from a policy or society perspective? Read more about the media outlet from their website. If you still have unanswered questions, approach the media outlet; their front desk, marketing teams or the journalists will most likely be happy to tell you about their media outlet.