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5 Military Traits That Will Make You A Great Journalist

By Resources

At first, it may seem there are few greater professional jumps than hanging up the body armor and rifle with picking up pen and paper (or in the digital age – a laptop and recorder). However, your military background has given you a lot of skills journalism and media employers greatly value – including many you may not initially expect to be translatable – and can help you succeed in making your mark on the journalism world.

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10 Killer Tips: How to Pitch a Magazine

By Resources

By David Bruce

I already know you have an amazing idea for a story, this post will help you get into the publications you have been dreaming of writing for. When pitching, brevity and accuracy are key.

Crafting an effective pitch is relatively easy. Even if the editor is not interested in your idea, with a good pitch, they may reply with, “No thanks, but what else do you have?” That happens.

After a bit of trial and error, below are a list of the ten best practices that helped me go from lost in an inbox to getting responses from editors and getting published in my favorite magazines.

1. Find the right outlet for your niche. Make sure the magazine or blog is a good fit. Check out past issues and make sure the magazine hasn’t published anything too similar to what you are proposing. Try to approach them with something that’s in their wheelhouse, but come from a different angle so your piece is different.

2. Find the right person. Find the editor that works in the section of the magazine that you are pitching. Many times, magazines break down their sections and have an editor that covers that specific section.

3. Send your pitch by email. People do not want to be pitched via social media, so using the editors working email inbox rather than LinkedIn just makes sense.

4. Hook em high. As in high up in the subject line. Grab their attention with a subject line like, “Query | Lines at the registry are longer than they have ever been. Here’s how to avoid the lines.”A recent survey found that 47% of email recipients open emails based on subject lines. Now, this was a random sampling – picture an editor receiving random email pitches all day. You have to come at them with something that makes them want to read the next sentence, then the next sentence.

5. Address the pitch to the editor by name. Start with “Dear (Name)” or “Hi (Name)”. Refrain from using “Dear Sir or Ma’am.” It reeks of a generic pitch that has been shot-gunned out to several sites, and that’s not the look we’re going for.

6. The shameless art of name-dropping. While name-dropping for some type of social credibility is shameful, in pitching it is somehow… well, less cringe-worthy, and sometimes necessary. If you have a mutual acquaintance and they know the editor to pitch it to, by all means, use the name.

7. Keep your pitch short and sweet. Editors are busy people. They just want to know if the story will work for them and they want to know that you can pull it off. The pitch style that I have had the most success with is actually only one half-page long.

8. Embed links to your work in the email. Do not put attachments in the email. If you’re just starting out, a WordPress blog is a great place to post and share your work.

9. Timeliness. Knowing that your pitch may land in a proverbial black-hole, never to be heard from again, it’s okay to put an expiration on your pitch. Many stories are time sensitive and lose relevancy as time goes on. For this reason, I typically, kindly inform editors, that, I will continue pitching this story after a week or so.

10. Photos. A picture speaks a thousand words, so why not take advantage? If you have a good one that applies to the story your writing, include it. Also let the editor know if you will be supplying pictures with your story.

Now, having a well written pitch is necessary and very helpful for a writer, but it can’t compensate for a mediocre story idea. Run your ideas by trusted friends, and see what type of twists and turns your story takes. Use those twists and turns in your story because that’s the natural progression of the conversation and it will contain questions that your audience will likely have and make for a great piece.

Good Luck!

P.S. Here is a basic pitch template that I like to use:

Pitch Template

Hello [Editor’s Name],

My name is XXX, and I am a Boston-based freelance writer specializing in [Niche].

My work has been published by [links to relevant outlet], and [link to relevant outlet].

I am passionate about [subject], I would love to use my expertise and insights to write a piece for [this brand or publication]. I have included a story idea below that I think will really resonate with your readers:

[Story Headline]

[One or two sentences outlining the piece]

I’d love to get your thoughts–is this something you’d be interested in having me write for [brand or publication]?

Thank you so much for your consideration, [Editor Name]. I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon!

Best,

[Name]


David is a freelance writer from the North Shore of Massachusetts and a former 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper/medic. David recently graduated from UMass Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and is currently in a mentorship program with the Military Veterans in Journalism Program.

Journalism portfolio website

How to build a journalism portfolio website

By Resources

By Zack Baddorf, Executive Director/Founder

Every journalist needs a portfolio website. The news business is fickle, and it’s normal for reporters to shift from one outlet to the other over the years.

Another outlet might poach you. You might be laid off due to budget cuts. The bosses might decide that video production is the future and then change their minds. Your outlet might just be totally shuttered. Or you just might have had enough of a terrible boss.

Unless you happen to be independently wealthy, you need to be prepared for the eventuality that you’ll be on the job market a few times during your career.

One vital asset you’ll need is a journalism portfolio website, especially if you’re just getting your start in journalism.

You may not be a coder or good at graphic design but there are plenty of options for low cost or free ways that are not super complicated.

Step 1: Buy a domain.

A website domain, like mywebsite.com, is where your portfolio website lives. Think of it like a street address. Usually, for your portfolio site, you just want to buy a website domain that is your name. If you have a common name, you may need to buy something like John-Doe.com or JohnDoeJournalist.com . These cost about $10 per year.

I recommend buying your domain at Namesilo which has two factor authentication to make sure you aren’t (easily) hacked.

Step 2: Choose a website host.

A website host has a server out there in computer land where your website content actually lives. It’s like the house being built up on the street address.

Now, some hosts are more complicated than others and some are more simple. Prices also vary.

If you are not tech savvy at all, consider using a site like Squarespace that charges $12 per month for a nicely designed site that is easy to build. Wix is great too and more affordable, but it isn’t as fancy.

If you have more tech skills and more time on your hands, you can design your own website using a content management system like WordPress. I always go to ThemeForest and search for WordPress themes that I then customize. Themes are frameworks that you can use for your site. There are lots of options there that are affordable and beautiful. You’ll also find many themes specifically intended to be portfolios.

If you go the WordPress route, you’ll need to pay a web hosting service to put the WordPress files on your domain. I recommend DreamHost which is reliable, secure and affordable (for as low as $2.59/per month, as of June 2019).

I prefer building my own site on WordPress because:

  • you get to customize everything exactly as you want it
  • you can choose from a much wider variety of themes
  • and there are a lot more things you can do technically.

If you pay for Adobe Creative Cloud programs, then consider using Adobe Portfolio to create your site. This program allows you to select a theme, customize photo galleries that you can upload/edit from Adobe Lightroom, and personalize your URL. If you use all the Adobe Creative apps like Photoshop, Portfolio and Premiere, it’s $52.99/ month. However, if you want to only invest in Portfolio, it is $9.99/month.

Step 3: Building your portfolio website

With the tech stuff out of the way, you actually need to put good and useful content on your portfolio website. At the minimum, you should include:

  • Your bio
  • A full (downloadable) résumé in PDF format
  • A selection of your best clips
  • Your reel (if you do video work)
  • Your contact info (including PGP key if you’re into that sort of thing)
  • Links to your social media pages (not profiles)

For those of you who do journalism work in a range of mediums, you may need to separate out video, radio, photo and print stories into different sections. I suggest a maximum of 10 stories for each medium.

Ultimately, this website should be how you want to present yourself to the world. Carefully craft the wording and make sure it captures where you are now as a journalist while also being forward-thinking about how you want to position yourself in your career.

A few tips before you go live

Get other people to check out your website before you go live. You may be a strong editor but it’s always good to get a second or third look. If you’re an MVJ member, your mentor can go through your website with you. (If you’re not yet a member, apply now.)

Your website should be a constant work in progress. Add in your latest and greatest clips, especially if you’re proud of them. Update your bio and resume whenever you’ve achieved something new, like winning an award or publishing at a new outlet.

Some folks like to have a blog on their website. I’ve done that in the past and ultimately deleted mine. Unless you’re posting regularly, say once every week or so, it’s going to look dated. Typically, when you have real stories that pay the bills with real deadlines, a blog on your portfolio website is going to end up on the bottom of your to-do list.

Whether you like it or not, as a journalist, you have to market yourself. You are a brand. Spend the time to do your website right. Your career thanks you.

Zack Baddorf is the executive director of Military Veterans in Journalism. He’s an award-winning journalist and filmmaker with reporting experience in more than 40 countries. His work has been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, AP and elsewhere.

Babee Garcia contributed to this post. She is currently the Social Media Coordinator for Military Veterans in Journalism and is an award-winning multimedia journalist from New Jersey.

New journalists: find your specialty

By Resources

By Zack Baddorf

It can be overwhelming starting in the journalism field. There are countless news outlets (leaning left, right and everywhere in between) filled with an array of positions (editor, assistant producer, videographer, print reporter, etc) reporting on a whole range of subjects (from science to interior design).

Specializing, or building an expertise in a singular coverage subject or technical skill, can help you find direction in your career.

One way to find your specialization is to follow your passion. Like some other military veterans who work in journalism, I’m naturally drawn to stories related to conflict and post-conflict. After finishing my military service, I freelanced around the world for a few years, reporting mostly on stories of humanitarian crisis, development, and conflict from places like Syria, Cambodia and Venezuela.

Even that level of specialty is really too broad. The smarter career move for me would have been to settle down in one of these places for a year or two and really dig in. Only later in my career did I live and work in places like South Sudan, Afghanistan and Central African Republic for about a year each. I became known to editors around the world and it was normal for the BBC to call me up for analysis.

That’s the key: Become an expert. Become someone whose reporting is valued and recognized as trustworthy.

You don’t have to fly off to a war zone to find your speciality. Perhaps you’re really into emerging technology: Go to Silicon Valley and start filing stories about tech startups. . Work on building two types of contacts – insiders who do work in the specialized beat you’re covering, and editors who can publish your stories or hire you to their staffs.  With time, dedication, and solid reporting, you’ll eventually find your place in the industry. You will become known and people will come to you with stories and leads.

Importantly, you should be reading. A lot. Find articles and outlets where you’d want to be published. If you find yourself reading a story and wish you had been the one to write  it, find out how that reporter got to their current gig. Knowing their path makes it easier to find your own. It’s critical, especially as a freelancer, to visualize where you want your work to end up and then doggedly pursue the gatekeepers to get your best work published.

That’s not to say you can’t shift your focus later in your career. It happens all the time. In the beginning, at a local outlet, you might be a generalist covering everything from political dog and pony shows to literal pony shows. Consider applying for fellowships after you’ve established a track record and have a solid portfolio showing you can hammer out strong reporting.

Ultimately, to find your specialty, you need to follow what interests you and dive deep.



Zack Baddorf is the executive director of Military Veterans in Journalism. He’s an award-winning journalist and filmmaker with reporting experience in more than 40 countries. His work has been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, AP and elsewhere.