3 tips to land ambitious journalism projects with new editors

Wilson Liévano is managing editor at The GroundTruth Project and director of training at Report for the World.

So you have a big idea for a journalism project that you want to publish in the new year. How do you get an editor to catch your pitch? 

We asked Wilson Liévano, managing editor at The GroundTruth Project and director of training at Report for the World, to share tips for reporters pitching an ambitious project to editors they have not worked with before. Liévano has worked with reporters for more than 10 years. As a John S. Knight fellow, he developed Animated Press to provide context to complex stories.

1. Aim for the stars, but be prepared to come back to Earth

When pitching the project, be bold and don’t limit yourself. If you have an idea for the presentation, scope of reporting, or format of the project, share it with the editor, but make clear that you are willing to work together to shape those ideas to the budget and needs of the organization. Even the wildest, most ambitious ideas can be adapted into practical and realistic plans. What might seem overly ambitious to you might be reasonable for your editor. You’ll never know unless you try.

2. Don’t lose sight of the point of your story

Sometimes, reporters fall in the same trap as entrepreneurs when they’re trying to pitch a product: They get so tangled in the features, the impact, and everything that’s around it that they forget to communicate clearly what their story is about. You should be able to explain the point of your story to an editor in a couple of sentences, regardless of its complexity. Once you do that, you can build upon it and introduce the rest of the elements — but remember to limit your pitch to a page or less. If the editor is interested, you’ll have time to expand on your idea.  

3. Anticipate the tough questions and prepare for them

Ask yourself: What are the biggest obstacles to produce your story? Is it the time it will take? How many people will you interview? The risks involved? The resources needed? An editor unfamiliar with your work will ask those and other questions to gauge if they have the capability to take on the project. Having answers on hand can make a difference between an editor dismissing your idea or opening a dialogue to see if your solution is viable. You don’t need to address every obstacle in your pitch, only the most crucial ones, but have all your answers ready in case you move to the next stage. Your editor will appreciate it.

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