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‘How to pitch to me’

At the LFB discussion on pitching to editors on 13 February, hungry freelance journalists in a contracting market received a Valentine from Economist deputy book and arts editor Emily Bobrow. The meeting also heard from Mark Wagstaff, art editor of music magazine Mojo on pitching for - regretably increasingly limited - freelance photographic work for that publication..)

Economist books and arts editor Emily Bobrow, standing, and Mojo art editor Mark Wagstaff

Economist deputy book and arts editor Emily Bobrow, standing, with Mojo arts editor Mark Wagstaff, seated

Mark was gloomy about the contracting market for commissioned photo shoots. Mojo was now more likely to use library pictures of the, er, established acts it specialises in than to need new artists depicted - though the rates for a cover or main interview shoot weren't to be sneezed at, if you could break into the magic circle who get commissioned.

"I have a slightly different, and slightly more optimistic story to tell," said Emily, "of a magazine that has surprised everyone by doing really well, even though it is so boring and uncool."

Emily said her publication has stayed ahead partly by being slow to embrace new things: a reliable, dependable brand in an information glut. Anonymity of authorship further contributes a seductive notion of "some exalted body of wizards that creates this magazine". But if slow to get to the internet, it now is a model of how to use it. (The Economist topped 100,000 digital subscriptions last November, mostly for iPad and smart-phones.)

With The Economist's profitability and growth into new platforms its deputy arts and books editor said she is commissioning copy for the website the newspaper would not have commissioned before. For journalists who would pitch her, she offered several tips:

  • It's essential to follow up. With a backlog of pitches, new arrivals enter a no man's land, with most editors thinking that if a writer was interested or hungry enough, they would follow up. Also, they've then shamed their editor, for not emailing back soon enough - and shame is a very useful currency.
  • When to follow up? A week. Inside a week is needling, longer and it's already collected dust.
  • How long should a pitch be? Short. She suggested two or three short paragraphs, and two is better than three. Perhaps "an awesome haiku"?. The art of writing for The Economist lies in stripping away not only unnecessary words, but also unnecessary syllables - and if writers can't do that in an email, they can't do it in filed copy.
  • Pitches by e-mail? Definitely: everyone hates the phone.
  • Stay professional. Be a bit more formal than you may be used to. It "can be weird when writers presume a certain level of familiarity when really that's just not the nature of the dynamic".
  • Did we mention short? We all hate email and are addicted to it, and nothing sinks the heart of an editor more than an email from someone they don't know that could be promising but is too long - they're probably not going to read it.
  • Be a reader. You really need to know the magazine before you pitch. Editors find it irksome, in a media environment where everyone's hustling, to get a pitch that indicates lack of knowledge of what the magazine does and where a story would fit in, or what its value would be to the magazine. Editors find it especially insulting to receive a pitch for something like a piece they've already run recently - or that just indicates a lack of familiarity with their product.
  • And the pennies? £75 for a shorter blog item of 400-500 words, up to £175-£250 for leading pieces with a great deal of original reporting. These aren't long features, but pieces which are thorough, interesting, have some kind of personal flourish, and work online.
Last modified: 26 Feb 2012 - © 2012 contributors
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