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Media Pitching for Academics (How to Become a Source)

March 18, 2023

Person sitting on a bench reading the lower third of a newspaper.

If you are a scholar interested in learning about media pitching for academics, you’re in the right place!

This introduction post covers how researchers and scholars can pitch a journalist and/or editor to be a source. The goal here is two-fold:

  1. to pitch story ideas (e.g., your published research, your expertise) to targeted members of the media, and
  2. to be considered as a source for future related articles.

The pitch is usually short pitch ideas designed to intrigue the journalist to cover your work or include you as an expert source. The journalist may build a piece surrounding your pitch, or the editor may assign a journalist to build a piece surrounding your pitch. This is not an op-ed (see our Guide to Op-ed Pitching). There are other ways to write for the media including letters to the editor, becoming a contributing author, etc. but I am only covering short pitches and becoming a source.

Establishing expertise/credibility

According to Muck Rack State of Journalism 2023 report, academic experts lead as the most credible source (compared to CEO’s PR professionals, influencers, bloggers, etc.). Your work and unique intellectual perspective is valued and needed! To start, make yourself available as a source. I’ve talk about this before, but here are a few more ways you can go about establishing your expertise:

Media Pitching for Academics 

Now the fun part… the pitch! 

Who are you pitching

The last thing you want to do is send a pitch that is not relevant to the journalist or editor. Do some research in advance to ensure you are reaching out to the right people and right publication. Reflect on what your communication goal is, who your potential audience is, and what outcome you hope to achieve once someone reads the work, This can help you narrow down your initial media contact list. 

Generally, you want to pitch to an editor because they have more decision making power, but some journalists are also looking for story ideas. You can make yourself available to journalist as a source by creating a profile on sites like Help a Reporter Out and Qwoted, where journalists connect with expert sources. These sites also have media contacts database you can access to find contacts much easier. Matchmaker.fm connects podcasters with potential guests. Creating profiles on a few of these will make it easier for you to be found through the power of Google.

Be sure to read what they’ve written or what’s been covered to get a sense of topics and point of view so you can pitch more personally. Journalists tend to reject pitches if they aren’t personalized

Along the same lines, do not blast out a canned email and bcc loads of members of the media. The more people you include on a pitch email, the lower the open rate. Personalize the communication! This is not a numbers game, it’s a relationship game. 

You’re wasting your time and theirs if you don’t personalize the pitch. 

What are you pitching

Typically, you are pitching an idea to journalists and editors, not a fully written piece. Fully written pitches are usually the route for op-eds. 91% of journalists said they preferred pitches under 200 words long, so keep it short, simple, and intriguing.  

Along with your pitch idea, pitch your expertise and unique intellectual perspective.

Where are you pitching

Target your pitch also based on location and/or audience (e.g., local, regional, trade publication). Be sure to research to see if the story you are pitching was already published by the journalist/outlet.

You’ll want to pitch via email (do not include attachments). Limit the subject line to 6-8 words.

And similar to research publishing, you’ll want to pitch to one journalist/publication at a time.

When are you pitching

There is no cheat code that will help you discover when to reach out to a journalist/editor. Each media member has their own preferences. But some recommendations include: 

  • Send pitches early in the morning, and not during evenings and weekends (use the Schedule Email function). The best day of the week might be Sunday afternoon or Monday.
  • Be sure to identify if the piece is time sensitive in your email (and in the email subject line). Follow up within 24-48 hours if it is timely so you are not hamstrung. 
  • If you have a long lead time, spring and early fall are best for pitching as the editorial calendars are more open.

Why are you pitching

I should have started the post with this section, as it is the most important. The why. A deep understanding of your why will help you communicate to the journalist or editor.

Why is this important for the readership? Why does the audience need to read this? How does it impact them? Why does it matter to them? You also need to be able to state why you are the best person to speak on this topic. And what is different about your perspective and the topic that makes it work covering?

Is there an event, holiday, etc. coming up that you can tag on to elevate the pitch relevance? Is there some local or national legislation that needs to be highlighted/elevated for the readership? You will have more luck if you are able to tag your pitch with something happening in the news. 

The old adage is, the story that will sell is not ‘dog bites man’ but ‘man bites dog’. Journalists and editors are looking for S T O R I E S. They are in the business of selling the news (subscriptions, advertisers, etc.).  They have to provide compelling content. Make sure your pitch idea is compelling. Flesh out your pitch idea in advance with lots of brainstorming and thinking out loud on paper. The published research is not the story, how it relates to the audience is.

How are you pitching

First, get straight to the point of how you can help them. Some journalists get at least 5 pitches a day, so directness is important. Get to the lede/hook quick. Be sure your pitch is jargon-free and limit the use of statistics. 

And if you are pitching yourself as a potential source/expert, email them, note that you’ve read their work (you should actually read their work) and that you have another perspective to add to it that could prove interesting. Include your contact information and website links for more information on your research. 

The follow up

First, don’t expect a response from the media member. Many journalists get up to 5 pitches per day while 24% of journalists receive 50-100 pitches/week! So it’s safe to assume it’s a no if you haven’t heard back within a week. They are busy folk. It is ok to follow up once, but no more than that. 

If you are successful in getting your pitch covered, share share share! Keep in contact with the media member so your cold pitches can now be warm!

Advice

Temper your expectations and timing. This journalist tracked their pitches over a few weeks and found they rejected 95% of pitches. As with anything, practice makes perfect. You may not come out of the gate landing your dream publication. So start small (e.g., local) and practical. 

Be prepared to embrace rejection, but do not become a victim to it. Treat every pitch rejection as an opportunity to adjust and send it somewhere else. Just like we do in the peer-reviewed journal game. 

Free Pitch Assessment!

Are you interested in submitting a pitch idea but would like some feedback first? Follow this link to submit your pitch for review!

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Alicia Cintron, PhD

Research Public Communications Trainer & Coach + traveling Scholarpreneur

Welcome! Here you’ll find insight, musings, and thoughts about research, public engagement, communication, travel, and higher education. Have an idea for a topic for us to cover? Shoot us a note
 

Alicia Cintron, PhD

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