Producers, reporters, journalists, makers—give us your best pitch.
AIR’s legendary Pitch Panel at Third Coast Conference puts producers directly in front of editors, selling their stories with a little help—this year, from host Leila Day, of “The Stoop” podcast and Al Jazeera’s audio division. We’ll choose six to 12 producers to pitch a project in front of a live audience.
The 2017 Bitchin’ Pitchin’ Panel host will work with the selected producers in advance to refine their ideas. During the panel, each producer will make a real pitch to a real editor from a top public media show or podcast. The resulting dialogue between editor and pitcher will reveal how, in this important first phase of development, a concept moves from the initial spark in a producer’s imagination to a fully formed, highly crafted story.
The editors invited to participate this year are among the best in the business, with digital and broadcast distribution platforms ripe for indie producers’ new sounds and perspectives. This year’s panel includes editors from “Reply All,” “Reveal,” and Pineapple Street Media as well as “Code Switch,” Audible and WAMU.
AIR’s Pitch Panels are fun, educational, at times terrifying. We’re counting on you to give it a shot! Read on to learn how to proceed.
How to participate:
Email your proposal to Leila Day at: email@example.com.
Put “Bitchin’ Pitchin’” in the subject line.
DEADLINE TO APPLY: Tuesday September 26, 2017, at 8 p.m. PT.
Please note: Do not send your pitches to the panelists!
Be sure to include:
1. Which program/producer you are pitching.
2. A concise description of your story idea—under 200 words.
3. A clear, thoughtful description of how it will sound, and the audio elements you might include. Can you play tape during your pitch? Let us know.
4. Do you have more than five years radio experience, or less? Specifically, what kind of experience?
5. Your contact info. How do we reach you before and during the conference? Email and phone number, please.
6. Have you participated in an AIR pitch panel in the past three years (please include the date/venue)?
Contact Leila with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and see below to find pitch guidelines for the editors’ shows along with their bios!
Get your pitch through the door with a few tips from Bitchin’ Pitchin’ host Leila Day:
What’s some important advice a mentor has given you that you always keep in your back pocket?
When it comes to live pitching, Martina Castro (New Voice ’10) once told me to imagine being at a dinner party, and everyone’s leaning in to listen. She said you should be the person who has everyone on the edge of their seats because of your amazing story.
That stuck with me because at some dinner parties we’d all rather be in the corner reading the coffee table book, but when it comes to pitching you really have to step it up. Martina told me to be myself, but be a slightly more animated version of me that would make someone think, “yes, I want to stick with her for the rest of this story.” The same goes for written pitches. Your writing is everything, so your personality and your skill needs to shine through. A good pitch isn’t about your bio. It’s about your ability to convince an editor that you have a clear focus, that there are stakes involved, and there’s a clear arch in your story.
Be prepared to back up why your story matters—something I learned early on from mentors. Research like crazy. The reaction of glazed-over faces in response to a half-baked pitch is the worst, but when you nail it, you know it.
What are five critical tips for a dynamite pitch?
1. Read the pitch guidelines and listen to the show you are pitching before you submit. Mold the pitch so it fits your show. Read the editors’ bios and know the lengths of the pieces they carry.
2. Share your pitch with an straight-talkin’ friend. If they have questions, most likely the person receiving your pitch will have them too.
3. The first impression goes far, so start strong in the first couple of sentences. This is true for written pitches and live ones. Get us hooked from the start.
4. Do some research to make sure the outlet hasn’t done the story already and if they have, be prepared to explain how your brilliant idea has a different angle.
5. Have a direct contact for your pitch. Often those general pitch emails can be like the Bermuda Triangle, so always have a real human to pitch to … Third Coast is perfect for that!
Leila Day is a producer and co-host of “The Stoop” podcast. She’s also a senior producer with Al Jazeera’s audio division and a former editor and reporter at KALW in San Francisco. She’s contributed to multiple national outlets including NPR, USA Today and to various podcasts. This year Leila is the returning teaching assistant at the Transom Storytelling Workshop.
Learn about the Bitchin’ Pitchin’ panelists, then click “read more” to find their show’s pitch guidelines.
Millicent (Millie) Jefferson is a journalist and senior producer of original content at Audible, where she pitches, develops, pilots and produces original audio shows. Prior to Audible, Millie was the director and a producer on the national public radio business show “Marketplace.” Outside of Audible and “Marketplace,” her work has appeared on Weekend America, Current TV, Good Morning America, Slacker Radio, and in the New York Times. She regularly consults with independent producers, reporters and journalists about story ideas, show production, and diversity and representation in media. She has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley and an M.A. in Journalism from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
Click below for Audible’s pitch guidelines!
Audible Originals, which includes Audible Comedy, is the producer of premier original audio content available at Audible.com, on the Audible app and wherever you get your podcasts and audio shows. The Audible Comedy team is focused on the creation, development and production of original audio shows of the comedy and entertainment genres.
Some examples of the original audio shows produced by Audible Comedy are:
Wedlock with Kurt and Lauren.
The Rant is Due with Lewis Black
Dr. Katz: The Audio Files
Hold On with Eugene Mirman
Hot Mic with Dan Savage
The Audible Comedy team takes pitches for episodic shows, long format audio documentaries, audio mini series and one off specials.
While there are no hard and fast rules of what you can and can not pitch to the Audible Comedy team, below are some of elements that, if included, will help while pitching and with your pitch writing process.
Filling out the below info can help you formulate your pitch:
PROJECT NAME: Title
Series Summary & Content Thesis:
Proposed format (length, structure, etc.):
Shereen Marisol Meraji co-hosts NPR’s “Code Switch” podcast exploring race, ethnicity and culture in America. A graduate of San Francisco State with a BA in Raza Studies, Meraji is a native Californian with family roots in Puerto Rico and Iran. Meraji’s been with NPR for a decade, she’s been a producer for the nationally-broadcast news magazines Day-to-Day and All Things Considered. She’s now a correspondent and has covered breaking news and reported in-depth, long-form features for both broadcast and podcasts. The best career advice Meraji ever received was from veteran radio journalist Alex Chadwick, who said, “When you see a herd of reporters chasing the same story, run in the opposite direction.”
Click below for the “Code Switch” pitch guidelines!
Remember, Code Switch focuses on race, ethnicity and culture. We recognize that these things intersect with many other aspects of our lives—class, sex and sexuality, for starters—and we welcome pitches aimed at those intersections. But make sure your pitch is clearly and explicitly tied to issues of race, ethnicity and culture. You’ll boost your chances of a successful pitch if it’s clear that you’re familiar with Code Switch and its fascinations.
Make your pitch clear and easy to read. A large percentage of the pitches we get are written in florid, academic or otherwise jargon-laden prose, which is a near-automatic disqualifier. We broadcast and publish for a wide audience. If the pitch itself is overwritten or unclear, the piece that comes out of it is likely to be the same. The more complicated the subject of your piece, the more important it is for you to use clear, vivid language in your pitch.
Pitch stories, not essays. We do publish essays and criticism on Code Switch. But it is hard to create an essay that fits the voice, mission and ethos of any particular blog, even for the folks who work at it regularly. (We occasionally spike — i.e., don’t publish — our own essays. That’s how hard it is to pull it off.) As such, they are a very heavy lift, especially if you’re working with us for the first time.
Only very rarely do we greenlight an essay we didn’t commission, and we don’t publish polemics. Until we’ve established a working relationship, try to hook us with a riveting narrative. When the ethnic slur “cracker” made its way into the news earlier this year, for example, Gene Demby looked into the word’s history and discovered that it had been appropriated by an unlikely group.
If your story is based on a personal experience, make sure to relate it to a broader set of experiences. Many unsuccessful pitches go: “This thing happened to me. I think it was unusual, and I want to write about it.” If that’s your starting point, try to reconfigure it: “This fascinating thing is affecting many people, including me. Here’s why you might find our stories interesting.” Along those lines …
The greater the variety of perspectives you consider in your pitch, the stronger it’s likely to be. (Remember: “variety,” not “number” of perspectives.) If you only give us one or two ways of seeing something, we’re unlikely to be intrigued. Give us three or more perspectives on the matter and you start to get somewhere truly interesting.
For example, when Elizabeth Blair reported on the back-and-forth over an exhibit of Latino artists at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, she included 1) those who had criticized the absence of Latino artists in other shows, 2) those involved in creating the exhibit, 3) people who don’t like being included in groupings of artists based on race or ethnicity, 4) artists who feel the racially and ethnically focused exhibits are not ideal, but still necessary, and 5) curators who talked about the artistic considerations and consequences of such exhibits. That rich interplay of voices and perspectives made the piece complex and thought-provoking.
Don’t limit yourself to what Everybody’s Talking About Right Now. We tend to get a ton of pitches that focus on the big buzzy story of the moment. But in the Age of the Internet, everybody’s focusing on the big buzzy story of the moment. It’s difficult for any piece to unearth new insights or move the conversation forward.
If you have a genuine scoop, don’t hesitate to send that along — we’re interested. Otherwise, use a timely peg as merely an excuse to delve into something much more interesting than the story at hand, as Gene Demby did in this post jumping off from a few items in the news.
But the Thing That Nobody Talks About is also a risky pitch. We’ve heard several pitches that begin, “Nobody ever talks about [some large grouping comprising lots of people, who both produce and are covered by plenty of media].” The list of things that Nobody Talks About is long, and getting longer. There are genuinely under-covered issues and groups. But because this claim is so often made, it makes a poor hook for a pitch. Let the novelty and distinctiveness of your subject speak for itself. A pitch that causes an editor to say, “Wow, I didn’t know that,” is much likelier to succeed than a pitch that announces, “You probably don’t know about this.”
A compelling question is often as valuable as an interesting discovery.Don’t be afraid to pitch us something that you don’t know the answer to, or something that doesn’t have a single answer. The key to this type of pitch is to stoke our curiosity, to frame the question in a thought-provoking way.
Focused beats fuzzy every time. We respect your interest in writing about the Experiences of _______ in America. But no matter how you fill in that blank, it will almost always be way, WAY too broad for a pitch. It’s theoretically possible to write a good pitch exploring the experiences of blended families with different ethnic or cultural backgrounds. But you’re likely to get farther with a pitch about a particular family that’s found some unusual ways to honor its mix of Dominican, Jewish and Pakistani heritages.
Try to provoke thought, not just reaction. Issues of race, ethnicity and culture are very difficult to write about—often deeply uncomfortable and contentious. It’s easy to kick up a fuss in this territory. It’s also easy to preach. It’s harder—and much more valuable to us—to find avenues into these issues that will surprise people, fascinate them, delight them and get them thinking. We don’t always reach that bar ourselves, but we’re always striving to and successful pitches will do the same.
Alicia Montgomery is the editorial director of WAMU in Washington D.C. Montgomery was the senior supervising producer of NPR’s Code Switch project and was part of the network’s sourcing diversity project, which aimed to change the mix of people heard on NPR. She also worked on Tell Me More with Michel Martin, a show that ended in 2014, and was the top editor for Martin’s “Going There” event series.
Click below for WAMU’s pitch guidelines!
WAMU is dedicated to bringing our audience the stories of our community, and exploring how issues affect the everyday lives of people across the Washington region.
When pitching to WAMU ;look beyond “Official Washington.” What happens on Capitol Hill and in national politics is important to the country, but may not be the biggest thing happening to the people who live here. Always make sure that your pitches focus on how people who call this region home experience the issues at the heart of the story.
We care about the Washington region beyond the city limits. The suburbs around Washington are home to much of our audience. They appreciate rich storytelling about their neighborhoods, and audience members who live elsewhere appreciate knowing more about other communities.
Our region is diverse, and our coverage should reflect that. Those who live in the WAMU listening area come from a variety of backgrounds: racial, socio-economic, language, national origin, ability, sexual orientation, etc. Pitches –and the reporting process– should feature people who represent that diversity.
Take us beyond our beats. WAMU has reporters who focus on transportation, development, education, politics, environment and race. We are interested in stories in these subject areas; but we’re also excited to hear pitches that explore areas like the arts, economy and public health where we don’t have a dedicated reporter.
Sruthi Pinnamaneni (@sruthiri) is a senior reporter at “Reply All.” Before joining Gimlet, she worked on stories for The Economist, Freakonomics, Studio 360, Radiolab and Love + Radio.
Click below for the “Reply All” pitch guidelines!
We’re looking for stories with some sort of internet or technology tie-in, but we have a very elastic definition of what that includes. More than that we want character-driven stories where a strange series of events happened to a person and they will be able to talk about it on tape and say these surprising things. And we like when our reporters personally care about the story or have an argument about why we should be paying attention to it.
Many, many bonus points if it’s a story that zig-zags — a funny story that suddenly opens up into depth, or a sad story that veers for a moment into silly. Or a story that bounces from the studio to the world, or from the US to another country, or across time. We like movement and texture.
If the unusual thing about the story is that people are doing something they used to do, but now they’re doing it on the internet, that’s probably not for us. If you pitch us a story about what happens to people’s Facebooks after they die, or about a person who keeps getting emails meant for another person, we will regrettably be forced to pinch you.
Ideally, you have spoken to the main character(s), you’d have a sense of how they speak and you’d know the broad beats of the story. I.e., you can tell your story neatly enough that it works on your friends at the bar (they’re asking follow-up questions and aren’t confused.)
We like all of these rules and we also like breaking them. One of our favorite stories we’ve done is about a missent email. We are excited to hear what you’re working on.
Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of “Reveal.” Sullivan comes to “Reveal” from NPR’s daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. Before public radio, he worked in television news and documentaries, which took him all over the world, from Cambodia to Kosovo. Sullivan is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.
Click below for the “Reveal” pitch guidelines!
Here are a few pointers on what we are looking for and how we approach our editing process.
As you may have guessed, a Reveal story reveals something that we don’t know or is hidden from us. Reveal reporters take us to a “place”—we are immersed in the narrative, we can hear what is going on in the manner of “show, don’t tell.”
We let our listeners hear what our characters are grappling with and what is going on in their environment. We like tape that contains action and tells a story, is visual, and helps us experience the high stakes some of our characters experience. Our stories have plot, they surprise us and/or challenge our listeners and characters.
Our stories have unique investigative findings, include accountability interviews and should show how the reporters challenge the people they are interviewing. We never take an answer at face value, and we want to hear that on tape.
After almost a decade in public radio, Jenna Weiss-Berman started the podcast department at BuzzFeed, launching such shows as “Another Round” and “Women of the Hour with Lena Dunham.” In 2016, she co-founded the podcast company Pineapple Street Media, which has created “Still Processing” for the New York Times, “Never Before with Janet Mock,” runaway hit “Missing Richard Simmons,” and many more podcasts. She sits on the advisory committee of “The Moth.”
Click below for Pineapple Street Media’s pitch guidelines!
“Women of the Hour” is a podcast that explores themes about women. The podcast includes interviews with authors, actors and celebrity guests. And episodes include stories from contributors that touch on specific themes, often around six minutes. “I think the best way for people to understand what we are looking for is by listening to the show,” says Jenna Weiss-Berman. So have a listen and pitch a story around the upcoming themes. The upcoming season’s themes are: Mother, Daughter, Sister, Lover, Friend.