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‘Write tight’: 3 tips for pitching, from an editor at The Atlantic

Prashant Rao is a senior editor at The Atlantic

So you have a story idea but it needs a home. How do you stand out with an editor who sees countless pitches every day?

We reached out to Prashant Rao, international editor at The Atlantic, for his advice on ways journalists can refine their pitches. 

Rao has worked with journalists around the world; before joining The Atlantic, he was deputy Europe business editor at The New York Times and Iraq bureau chief at Agence France-Presse. He also completed a virtual marathon on Sunday to raise money for the Rory Peck Trust, an organization dedicated to support freelancers across the globe.

What are your top three tips for pitching editors?

Rao: Write tight. I suspect that, like me, other editors get tons of pitches. Unless you have a pre-existing relationship with the editor and are confident they will read hundreds of your words to figure out whether they want to commission the story, be fast about what you are going to say, how you are going to say it, and why you are the person to say it.

Really, really, really, no typos. This is the closest thing I will see to your raw copy, and so I’d like to see the pitch is at least as clean and clear as possible.

Follow up. I don’t mind when writers follow up if I’ve forgotten to respond, or make clear they would like to take a pitch elsewhere. I try to respond to all direct pitches in 48 hours, but if I let it slip, that’s my fault and I’m happy to be made aware of it.

In your opinion, what are the biggest mistakes journalists make when pitching a new editor?

Rao: The biggest mistake, I think, is not understanding the publication they are pitching to. Pitches that come to me offering a 600-word news report on the latest happenings in TK-country make me think, “Gee, you haven’t really read The Atlantic, huh?” 

Other mistakes include: seeing that we have published a story on a particular story and then saying they can offer more on that specific topic; badmouthing a rival publication or fellow editor for turning down a pitch and then bringing it to me (you’ve implicitly said I’m not top of your list, and you’re not coming across terribly well).

How do you prefer that journalists pitch you?

Rao: Email is best. My Twitter DMs are open, but really, email is best.

Congrats on your virtual marathon for the Rory Peck Trust. What inspired you to raise money for them? 

Rao: I’ve had every advantage and privilege as a long-time staffer at big and well-funded news organizations. But I’ve seen, both now as an editor but also as a correspondent in the Middle East, how precarious life can be for freelance colleagues. The industry depends on them and their hard work, so it was the least I could do, to raise some money and hopefully also some awareness of all that they do.

Can you describe your experience on race day? How was the response? 

Rao: Race day was alternatingly weird, fun, and brutal. It was my first marathon so I didn’t really know how bad it would hurt (a lot), and running my own DIY route, past pedestrians, through traffic, made it harder (along with the fact that I mistakenly overshot a portion of it). But it was really great to get so much support, both online — in terms of messages and donations — and in real life. A few friends ran various parts of it with me, and some came at the end to cheer me on. And my wife was amazing, she organized a silly finish line for me to run through, got a medal made up, and bought a ridiculous helium balloon that is in our apartment hallway, slowly losing its buoyancy.

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