The 5 W’s of a Story Pitch

Brad Tuttle recently came to Bartlett Hall to deliver a talk about how students can make it in the world of freelance journalism.  Part of his presentation included an examination of how students can get their work published as freelance journalists.  His presentation was titled:

The 5 W’s of a Story Pitch:

Why this story? – Is it narrative, first person?   Show a little bit of your story and how it might be put together.

•    Why this publication? What else is out there; why are you pitching here?  Know what they’ve done in this area and in the magazine you’re pitching to:  “What has it done and will do?”  Browse through a year’s worth of stories/issues of a publication, it shows editors that you care.    Draw parallels between what they’ve done and what you hope to do.

•    Why now? Mostly for magazines, but can translate across mediums.  Travel – get a lot of pitches for the “I’m just back from story” ….but a lot has been covered elsewhere.  What is now, what is a trend?  Neighborhood in Barcelona with four  new chefs…places with an actual story.    This is why we need to do this right now.  Plan 6-8 months ahead.

•    Why in a particular format? Make the case for why the format is the perfect format – 500 word first person essay – why?  List of tips, infographic, photo essay – why one or the other – make your argument.  Editors want you to care.

•    Why  you? Why of all the writers in the world should I give this to you?    “You prove it all the time in everything you do – when you are a journalist you are selling yourself all the time, you are the product.  You are constantly making an impression on people.”

Other Tips:
•    Every rewrite that you are asked to do proves you can work with an editor and an editor can work with you… casual and friendly.   Find ways to work with editors.
•    “My personal work ethic comes knowing that I can be replaced;  I don’t take anything for granted….nobody is safe, there is very little stability in the industry.”
•    “Everyone needs an editor; you can’t be thin-skinned about it; you won’t last if you’re thin-skinned…instead of digging your heels and cursing your editors, think about how you can learn and get better.”
•    “Writers and editors and professors have same goal; not to make your life easy but to produce the best story; at the heart of true pros out there is the desire to produce the best stuff.”



About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at He also edits part-time for with the NFL and college football network.
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