Sample Pitch Letter

Freelancing begins with a strong story idea and a well-thought-out pitch. Editors don't accept stories that are prewritten "on spec."

This fictitious story pitch is directed to Samantha Jones, the fake city editor of The Times-Tribune newspaper in Scranton, Pa. Be sure to learn the name of the appropriate editor and the correct section before emailing your pitch.

Wait a few days to follow up with a phone call. When chatting and emailing with editors, be succinct, patient, persistent and extra polite. Never argue about story ideas. "No" means no. But if you're rejected, ask if you can call again with another story idea.

Dear Ms. Jones,

Use “Dear” and “Ms.” No one uses “Mrs.” anymore. It’s not 1952.

My name is Dan Axelrod, and I have a feature story to pitch you about recently published state data showing that Lackawanna County has a significantly higher obesity rate than the rest of the Commonwealth. Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health issued its annual “Child Wellness Plan.” More than one in five Lackawanna County school children between kindergarten and the fifth grade are obese, according the report.

Don’t be too cute in your pitch. Use a simple, direct opening that begins with an interesting fact or statistic to grab the editor’s attention. The story topic must be timely and a good fit for the publication’s coverage area and audience.

A closer look at the state data reveals that all seven Northeast Pennsylvania counties in The Times-Tribune’s coverage area — Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties — have obesity rates for different juvenile age brackets that often dramatically top the state averages. The state has labeled slightly more than more than 20 percent of local children “obese,” meaning NEPA is more than 8 percentage points higher than the state average, according to a new Pennsylvania Department of Health report.

Before you write your pitch, do some reporting so you have compelling information to sell your story idea. Don't overwhelm the editor with a book report worth of statistics and facts. Choose only the most interesting material.

For my feature story, I plan to focus primarily on explaining why Northeast Pennsylvania’s obesity rates are higher than the state average. I also will document how long that’s been the case, and I will spotlight some of the measures local health care companies are taking to reduce the incidence of childhood obesity.

Keep the pitch's focus narrow and clear.

Several studies show obesity can cause and worsen serious chronic illnesses including diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and some types of cancer. Individuals who are obese before the age of 18 are 80 percent more likely to become overweight adults, according to a 2006 study by Princeton University researchers. Besides the health effects on individuals, obesity is a major cost driver in the U.S. health care system. Obesity-related expenses now account for nearly one in $10 spent on American medical care.

State your topic's significance.

I plan to tell the story by visiting one of the Scranton elementary schools that’s trying fight the local obesity epidemic. The Scranton School District is in the second year of a partnership with Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, the region’s largest health insurer, which recently launched a multi-pronged effort to decrease local obesity levels. The company is providing $300,000 in grants for Scranton schools to implement cutting-edge physical education curriculum such as video game-based lessons.

I also will interview Dr. Julius Pepper, an obesity researcher and a public health professor at King’s College and Dr. Marco Andretti, a local health activist and a Moses Taylor Hospital pediatrician who’s trying to raise awareness about the issue. Plus, I will speak to local parents and overweight children, and I’m going to analyze state and federal obesity data.

Explain your approach to the story, including the types of sources you plan to interview. You may have already chatted with some of these sources when you were coming up with your pitch.

I’m currently the feature editor of The Crown student newspaper at King’s College, and for the last two years I’ve freelanced for your sister newspaper The Citizens’ Voice. Please let me know if you’re interested in the story. Thank you for your consideration.

If you prefer, state your credentials and your journalistic experience in the first paragraph. Either way, you should succinctly summarize them. Make your clips and vita available upon request. Never email attachments to an editor. They don't have time to open them.

Sincerely,

Daniel Axelrod
Cell: 352-555-5555
daniel.axelrod@email.com

Include your full contact information. Check your letter to ensure you have no typos, factual errors or misspelled names. Know your topic well enough to answer any potential questions from the editor. Consider ideas for images, sidebars, charts and graphics. And keep in mind other angles and related topics in case she doesn't like your focus.

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