Pitching Public Broadcasting

With all the tumult in the media business – smaller audiences, shrinking revenue and fewer traditional outlets — one traditional news source remains a sure bet for reaching a key audience. Story pitchers should stay focused on public broadcasting, a relatively stable platform during the past few years.

Business communicators tend to overlook opportunities to place stories on the many great public radio outlets in the region. They shouldn’t. For instance, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) attracts a sizable audience and reaches key population centers in the state. Two years ago, OPB said it reached 350,000 radio listeners in Oregon each week. Its audience is growing.

Two other lively public radio networks also produce news programming for parts of the state not necessarily covered by OPB. Eugene’s KLCC-FM covers a broad swath from Central Oregon to the central coast. And, KSOR-FM in Ashland, better known as Jefferson Public Radio, reaches across Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Dealing with public broadcasting outlets really isn't that different from their commercial counterparts. One significant difference is that public broadcasting news programs, especially on public radio, devote more time to individual topics. Public broadcasting also covers government activity more routinely than commercial stations.

Tips offered by NPR

What is the best way to pitch a story to public radio? Here are some tips recommended by National Public Radio (NPR) on its website. Good advice for local broadcasters, too:

1. Surprise us. Like all journalists, we are looking for true stories, events or people that present something new, important and interesting to a nationwide audience.

2. Is it for us? Would your story be more interesting to your neighbors than to people across the country? If so, contact the news department at your local NPR member station.

3. Keep it short. One paragraph is best. In all cases, it needs to fit in the space below (on the website). The box will hold about 200 words.

4. Be specific. Tell us why your story would interest our listeners: e.g., "For 100 years scientists have assumed they knew all the orders of insects. Biologist Jim Witherspoon has just proved them wrong."

5. Give us a peg. Let us know whether the story is time-sensitive: e.g., "Witherspoon's story will be published in this week's edition of Insects Today." Or: "This would be a great story to run with the anniversary of the Smithsonian next month."

6. Don't write us with your opinions. This space is for story ideas, not opinions. You can send your opinions about NPR programming to the Ombudsman. If you want to submit a commentary, contact a show directly.

7. Please, no attachments. You cannot include any attachments with your message. You can include links to websites. But don't just send the link. If you only write, "Hey, look at this!" and include a link, your idea will not get much attention. Pique our interest with a message.

8. Provide contact information. Give us your name, email address and daytime phone number so we can get in touch with you if we need to. We will not share this information with anyone outside NPR.

To pitch NPR go to the site and fill out the box.

Tips from independent producers

Another approach is pitching stories to independent freelance reporters or unaffiliated public radio outlets, such as those listed by The Association of Independents in Radio. That group posts great tips from freelancers on how to work with them as they wrangle for story assignments. A good example is the recent comments from producer/reporter Tanya Ott:

“What comes first, the pitch or the final product?"

Tanya Ott: "I NEVER do a story, then pitch a show on it. The editors at the show want to have a sense of contributing to the process, being a part of the team. They want to help shape and mold the story and you best be willing to give them that (unless you're a very well-established producer to whom they give carte blanche to do whatever you want.... note: there aren't many of those!).

“So my pitch will usually be short – two paragraphs/30 words or so – and will include the basic premise of the story (tell them the conflict/tension or what's new), who I'll interview, what scenes I'll use to tell the story (i.e. opportunities for natural sound). Be sure you make clear why someone in Alaska or Iowa or Utah should care about this story,” Ott concludes. Read her full interview.

An added benefit

There is one final reason the pitch public radio. Smartphone applications are extending the time and places a story maybe heard. One of the great ironies is that it’s very difficult to get the OPB radio signal in Southwest Portland where OPB is located. That’s because of geography and the hills that block transmission. The new OPB iPhone app now lets me listen to live Web streams of the news as my bus rolls past the studio.