Journalists receive dozens of queries each day about prospective stories. Effective subject lines are critical for getting your query opened and read by busy journalists. Here are a few things to keep in mind when pitching a story line.
Get to know the journalists you plan to contact. What are their specializations? What kind of stories do they write? If they are freelance, which publications does their work appear in? When you know the answers to these questions, you will have a better idea of how to shape your email’s subject line.
Aim to be poignant.
Use emotional diction in the subject line. While it should not be overtly sentimental, phrasing should capture the journalist’s attention to fit with his or her areas of reporting. Strong nouns like “victims” or “casualties”, whether used as actual occurrences or how to avoid becoming one, are compelling. Action verbs round out a subject line: “Tropical storm assaults beleaguered coastal victims.” Anyone might read an email like that.
Keep it to the point.
Avoid trying to link two or more ideas. Stick with one central point that will make a great story. Go deep rather than broad with attention-grabbing subject lines. Instead of “School budget reduces math, science, and music support,” choose one for emphasis. The related points can be worked in as supplemental detail.
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Don’t go for sensationalism. Keep the subject line factual rather than hypothetical or fantastical. Highlighting key events or predictions will make the story meaningful in its own right and of interest to journalists and their readers.
Deliver on your promise. Write an accurate but exciting story line that gets journalists eager to read the rest of the story. Building up a mediocre story with a dynamic story line may lead to your losing credibility on future pitches with journalists.
Link to current events.
Whatever your subject, watch news media for events that connect to your story idea. Then write a subject line that builds on the connection to propose a story that is timely and relatable. For example, a subject line related to diplomacy will frequently be relevant to current news, as there is always some type of diplomatic effort being planned, enacted, accepted or rejected, and so on.
With thought and planning, your subject line can attract the attention of the right journalist.
Always test your pitch.