Producers, reporters, journalists, makers—give us your best pitch.
AIR’s legendary Pitch Panel at Third Coast Conference puts participants directly in front of editors and producers, selling their stories with a little help—this year, from host Leila Day, of Pineapple Street Media, and The Stoop Podcast. We’ll choose six to 12 producers to pitch a project in front of a live audience.
The 2018 Bitchin’ Pitchin’ Panel host will work with the selected producers in advance to refine their ideas. During the panel, each participant will make a real pitch to a real editor or producer from a top public media show or podcast. The resulting dialogue between a commissioning entity and the 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 and producers 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 and producers from Today, Explained, This American Life, and NPR as well as The Nod, Invisibilia, and KCRW.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put “Bitchin’ Pitchin'” in the subject line.
DEADLINE TO APPLY: Monday August 27, 2018, 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 email@example.com 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 senior producer at Pineapple Street Media and co-host of The Stoop Podcast: Stories from across the Black diaspora. She’s a former reporter and editor at KALW in San Francisco and she’s created work for various national outlets and podcasts. Leila has also edited and produced award winning pieces and has taught storytelling from inside San Quentin State Prison and at Transom Storytelling Workshop.
Learn about the Bitchin’ Pitchin’ panelists, then click “read more” to find their show’s pitch guidelines.
Sarah Abdurrahman is the senior producer for The Nod. Prior to joining Gimlet Media, Sarah was a producer for WNYC’s On The Media, where her reporting received Gracie and Front Page awards.
Click below for The Nod’s pitch guidelines!
We’re looking for stories about the richness of the Black experience—the small, specific stories behind major cultural moments as well as the rich narratives behind the minute, even mundane facets of everyday Black life. Stories on our show either complicate, celebrate, or preserve aspects of blackness. Even better if a story can do all three.
We like when stories are character-driven. We tend to lean toward unsung heroes and untold stories, but we’re always down for a fresh way of looking at something well known. The Nod stories are fun, they make you feel, make you think, and they don’t give a damn about respectability politics.
Speaking of things we don’t give a damn about—here are some things. We don’t do slave narratives (well, maybe one a year). We don’t punch down, but we are happy to punch up. And we won’t do a story just because a Black person did a thing. There needs to be an actual story—with characters, details and a purpose.
So if you think you have an idea that works for The Nod, take a crack at answering the questions below.
What is your story? Tell it to us under 250 words.
In one sentence, please tell us what the story is about, and what makes it interesting or surprising. This a story about X and it’s interesting/surprising because Y.
For example: This story is about Josephine Baker, and it’s interesting because while she might be known for being a civil rights hero, at one point she conducted a pretty questionable experiment of trying to create a perfect racial utopia with her own children.
What is answerable question that you feel will drive the story forward? (Please avoid ‘why’ questions)
For example, if we did the story above, the question might be: Did Josephine Baker’s attempt to create a racial utopia work? Or What happened to the children who were the subjects of this experiment?
Who is the main character in your story?
What do you imagine is the structure your story? This can be a rough estimation—we know that reporting will change this.
What are the must-have guests and (if needed) scenes for this story? Have you yet spoken to any of these guests?
Why is this a good fit for The Nod?
What reporting or research have you already done on this piece?
Jason DeRose is the western bureau chief and senior editor for NPR News. He’s based at NPR West in Culver City, California, and has been with NPR for more than a decade. He brings in stories from the Western U.S. as well as stories about religion, Native Americans, and LGBTQ issues from across the country. Earlier, he was a reporter, host, and senior editor at WBEZ Chicago. He’s also worked at public radio stations in Tampa, Minneapolis, and Seattle. Little known facts: He was the first person Johanna Zorn hired during the creation of the Third Coast Festival. And he was a nursing home chaplain briefly and unsuccessfully.
Jason edits a number of NPR shows, for this panel he’ll be accepting pitches for Morning Edition and All Things Considered
Click below for the NPR News pitch guidelines!
Irene Noguchi is the executive producer of Today, Explained, a daily podcast which tackles hard news (but isn’t afraid to make parody songs about the Mueller investigation, too). Prior to Vox, she produced news talk shows for KQED, KNPR, and KUOW.
Click below for pitch guidelines from Today, Explained!
We consider pitches where either (1) the guest will do a Q&A with the host to talk about his/her/their reported story, or (2) in rarer cases, the stand-alone reported news feature.
- Since our focus is daily news, the pitch should relate to news relevant that week or month. “Newsiness” can include, for example:
○ The one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville rally
○ How Trump’s adding a conservative justice will affect women’s reproductive rights in the legal realm (e.g., Roe v. Wade)
○ An explainer on Russian bots (which we could pair to news of a recent election being hit by them)
○ Interviews from a border point facility with migrants being held in detention, that we could pair with a news episode
- Our episodes focus on a clear Part A and Part B, split by a midroll. Part A should be the “news” and Part B should be the “bigger picture” or “what’s next” or “what’s the takeaway”.
○ For example, if we’re covering the resignation of Scott Pruitt, Part A would be the the news of the resignation and factors leading to his resignation, and Part B could be either (1) the major regulations that passed (or didn’t pass) during his EPA tenure, or (2) bio about the new EPA head Andrew Wheeler who will succeed him.
- Episodes typically total about ballpark 17-18 minutes.
- We aim for as much diversity as possible with our guests and topics.
Hanna Rosin (@hannarosin, www.hannarosin.com) is the co-host of Invisibilia. She joined in the second season and won a Gracie Award for a story about men on an oil rig learning to cry. She came to NPR from print, most recently as a national correspondent for The Atlantic, where she wrote cover stories about various corners of American culture. She has been on the Daily Show and the Colbert Show and headlined the first women’s TED conference. She was part of a team at New York Magazine that won a National Magazine Award for a series of stories on circumcision. Hanna also hosts The Waves, Slate’s podcast about women, and is the author of two books, including The End of Men. Everyone who currently works on Invisibilia is female. Coincidence?
Click below for the Invisibilia’s pitch guidelines!
We are always looking for pitches and we would love to hear from you. And we are willing to work with you to make a pitch great! But here are some things we have in mind as we are considering what might work for the show: The ideal Invisibilia story works like a triple rollercoaster running on parallel tracks. The first and flashiest set of cars carry Story – some narrative that arcs and dips and backs up in ways you’d never expect. There are memorable characters in these cars – people who have been through some insane experience and want to tell you about it.
The second set of cars carries Emotion – a landscape that varies, with highs and lows, lightness and heartbreak. Parts of this ride can make you relax, while other parts make you tense and uncomfortable, or even scream and cry. And finally, the Idea – this one too should be a ride, a slowly unfolding thing that deepens as you ride down the track – and doesn’t necessarily get answered or tidied up, but instead arrives at a more complicated and nuanced understanding of the question.
When hearing out a pitch, here are some of the questions going through our head:
- Is this story exciting? Weird or unusual? Have I heard it before, or anything like it?
- Are the characters people you haven’t met or heard from before?
- What’s the emotional arc? How am I feeling as the story unfolds?
- What’s the central question about life the story is trying to answer?
- Is there any science/sociology/philosophy that speaks to that question? (And FYI, it’s totally fine if you don’t have this yet. We can help you find it. But if you do, we’d like to hear about what you’re thinking.)
- Does the story help me see the world around me in a new way?
- Does the story help me understand my own life in some new way?
That last question is especially important to us. With every story we try and get beyond interesting to what does this mean for my actual life with the actual people I know and love (or hate).
And just so you know, even though we’re thinking about all these questions in our heads as we’re reading a pitch, we’re most most interested in getting pitches with compelling narrative stories that we haven’t heard before. Not every Invisibilia story requires hard science, and we can work with you to figure out the specific intellectual frame or idea that fits the narrative. If you have a great story, don’t worry about having everything else figured out. We can help.
Finally, surprise us! If you have a story or even a novel approach you think would teach us something and make our show better, please send it our way!
Robyn Semien is a producer at This American Life. Before becoming a producer in June 2007, Robyn was a film and TV picture editor. She has won a handful of awards for her work on the show, including two Peabody Awards—one for being a producer on the “Harper High School” episodes, and another for producing and reporting “Anatomy of Doubt.”
Click below for This American Life’s pitch guidelines!
Before we get into this, I want to say, definitively: I like, almost always, a pitch with a big plot and a big character. It’s a classic, I know, but I rarely get those kinds of pitches—and I want them. Pitch me those!
But at This American Life we take all kinds of pitches—variety is what keeps us producers interested week after week. So in that spirit I encourage you to do this: pitch a story that you are deeply, truly interested in. Not something you think This American Life might like, something you really like. Your pitch can be about something common or not, doesn’t matter, as long as you see something extraordinary in it. It can be personal or completely alien to you. It can be newsy or artsy or topical or something that, undeniably, will generate incredible audio. It can be all of those things!
Once you have an idea for a radio story. Next step. Take your massive interest in the story you want to pitch and locate one very specific thing that you like the most, that is driving the story. This is commonly called the story question. Is it: I want to know how that kid discovered his whole town’s water was toxic. Or is it: I don’t get why anyone would have church services in a cemetery. I want to find out. Or is it: I can’t understand why that mayor would exploit that tiny piece of legislation when everyone in his town was against it. Or is it: I want to know every single conversation anyone who met that Russian spy can remember having with her.
A pitch doesn’t need to be long. It just needs to have a central person, and a central question. Before you pitch a story ask yourself, Do I know who the main character is? And then make yourself answer this question—What is this story really about? What is the central question? And finally, Why are those things relevant and surprising? Notice I didn’t say relevant OR surprising. Relevant AND surprising. In other words what is it about (relevance) and what will I learn listening to the story that I didn’t know before (surprising).
Quick tip: Here are a few potential red flags in pitches, imho. 1. If a pitch has no central character, and no plot, no central idea or question, you are probably in trouble. 2. Personally, I have extra scrutiny for stories that raise the question: What’s it like to ______? What’s it like to scuba dive? Live in jail? Own a bar? There’s no reason for a character in those stories, like any old scuba diver can tell you what it is like to scuba dive, and I want our main character to have a good reason for being our main character. More importantly though, there’s no apparent conflict in those pitches. Like you have to search for the conflict, so it feels uninspired. Good stories naturally have obstacles and conflicts. You should know at least one good conflict or obstacle in your pitch.
Nick White is an award-winning radio producer and editor based in Los Angeles. Most recently he created, edited and executive produced KCRW’s Lost Notes—an anthology podcast of long-form music documentaries. He serves as a story editor for several other programs at KCRW including UnFictional and helps to oversee the Independent Producer Project (IPP), KCRW’s engine for talent discovery. Nick previously served as the senior producer for NPR’s Bullseye with Jesse Thorn and worked with PRX to bring the comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast to public radio airwaves. Before coming to Los Angeles, Nick lived in Chicago and worked as a producer at WBEZ. He also served on the board of directors for the Chicago Independent Radio Project (CHIRP). Over the years Nick’s work has been heard on various other outlets around the world including the BBC World Service, the CBC, Marketplace, WNYC and the HearSay International Audio Arts Festival. He attended the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Click below for KCRW’s pitch guidelines!
KCRW’s Lost Notes is once again seeking pitches for in-depth music documentaries. These stories will be included in a return season of the program. The ideal Lost Notes documentary is a small, personal story set against the backdrop of a more well-known or consequential artist, venue, scene, genre or musical movement. We are not interested interested in musicology, surveys of musical genres/scenes or straightforward histories of artists, albums, or venues.
Our episodes are typically about 30 minutes long and include one stand-alone story. We are also considering pitches for multi-part series and themed groups of episodes.
When pitching please include A) a concise narrative that includes the best scene you envision in your story; B) descriptions of the main subject(s); C) a few of the other voices you hope to include D) a link to previous work
Special consideration given to stories outside of the rock canon. We aim for our stories, subjects and contributors to represent a diverse range of backgrounds. Music journalism experience is helpful but definitely not required.
KCRW’s UnFictional is seeking documentaries and personal stories running approximately 25 minutes in length. Ideal pitches will contain a strong narrative or forward momentum. UnFictional loves to explore corners of America and the world where a seemingly tiny story may prove to have big stakes. Even better are pieces with an unexpected twist that may provoke or possibly even disturb. You can listen to past episodes of the program to get a sense of the show’s tone.