Why you should (usually) pitch more than one journalist at a news outlet

Feb 19, 2024

Most PR consultants who aren’t too dumb or dishonest will admit the following has regrettably happened to them at least a few times: you pitch a solid story idea to a journalist and get tepid or no response, only to see a colleague at the same news outlet do the very same story days, weeks or months later – and he or she never reached out to ask to interview your source or sources.

You might assume you’d been snubbed, but the truth generally is far simpler. And stupider.

Even PR pros sometimes forget that journalists for newspapers, TV stations or other media outlets rarely behave like some hive of news-gathering bees, collectively and selflessly working as one to produce the gooey product that is the news.

Rather, like most humans, they’re busy, distracted, forgetful, sometimes even petty and pointlessly turfy. When it comes to figuring out which journalists to pitch at a particular media outlet, the answer is often more than you’d think.

Some tips for figuring out who to pitch at a news outlet:

-Don’t just pitch “the editor” or “the producer.” Sure, websites of many news outlets will have at least a rudimentary means for the public to reach journalists. For TV stations, these tend to be emails where one can reach the “newsroom.” The newspaper version might be “editor.” The actual readers of these emails might indeed be an editor. More likely, it’s a lowly editorial assistant or intern. Often pitching to these email addresses is no better than shouting into a black hole.

-Target specific journalists. It may take a bit more time and effort, but you stand a far greater chance of success if you research who at a specific news outlet covers specific “beats” or at least seems to like to cover certain kinds of topics. These include the editors and producers who oversee reporters of specific beats, topics or geography.

At newspapers and even many TV stations, beats might include everything from traditional topics such as cops, courts, and the city or county commission. Other journalists will specialize in feature stories – a grab-bag definition that can include everything from a landmark birthday of a Holocaust survivor to the local guy who’s taught a pet squirrel to waterski. Recent years have seen the development of such fresh beats as immigration, race and climate change. Business-centric beats might include real estate, economic development and transportation. Business beats at national newspapers such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal get even more granular.

Finding journalists who cover specific beats can be as simple as briefly studying the outlet to see who covers what. You’ll often find email addresses of individual journalists on news organization’s websites. When they aren’t, you may have to do a bit of Google sleuthing to find journalists’ emails. Most PR practitioners will subscribe to online databases where all manner of journalist contact info can be found.

-Don’t assume journalists share story ideas or sources. Despite their gadfly reputations, journalists are often awful at sharing information with colleagues in their media outfits. As I hinted earlier, this is rarely because they’re jerks. Rather, they just forget. Or assume that because they aren’t interested in an idea, no one else would be.

Which is why you’ll often want to pitch multiple journalists at the same news outlet.

A few caveats, though. If the story idea you’re pitching isn’t one of such immediacy that you can wait a day or two for a reply, I tend to prefer pitching one journalist at a time, if only to give him or her time to consider it, and either give a thumbs up or down. If the story idea requires a faster response – say, if it’s a just-filed lawsuit or announcement of a significant business acquisition – you’ll likely want to pitch more than one journalist at a time.

Let’s say you’re pitching the filing of a lawsuit involving a dispute over alleged environmental contamination of a piece of property to journalists at a local newspaper and TV stations. A time-sensitive topic, for sure. You’d likely want to pitch multiple journalists at each outlet. At the TV station, you’d probably want to send pitches to one or more assignment editors (who, as the title implies, assign stories to reporters), as well as one or more reporters. Ditto for the newspaper, though instead of assignment editor it would likely be the managing editor, business section editor, along with reporters who cover real estate, courts and environmental issues.

When pitching multiple journalists at a news outlet, it’s generally good form to at least mention in your pitch email that you’re sending the same or similar to their colleagues. Of course, if you’re looking to offer a news outlet an exclusive on a story (meaning you’ll offering them first crack at a story), that’s a topic for another blog post.

Even when you’re pitching a story that could be done today or next month, don’t give up pitching journalists at a news outlet after hearing no, thanks or nothing from only two or three. You’d be surprised how often it’s the fourth, fifth or sixth reporter pitched who says yes.

Don’t, however, pitch every journalist at a news outlet. It’s one thing to be rationally persistent and quite another to be nutso stalkerish. Sometimes you gotta admit that maybe your idea just wasn’t that great.