Call me, maybe

How to get sources, other journalists, and editors to respond to you

Sometimes the likelihood of my pitch being accepted hinges on my accessibility to a particular interview subject, or the likelihood of the subject agreeing to the interview hinges on the reputation of the proposed publication. The problem comes when both contingencies occur on the same pitch. When I’m not on close terms with either the subject or the outlet—but I know the piece is a good fit—it’s like I’m baiting both sides. I don’t want to lie to either of them by saying I have a green light when I don’t, but it’s a tricky balancing act. How do I pitch things like this confidently and ethically? Do I contact the subject first, or the publication first? —C.C. Martinez

Pitch the outlet first. If the idea is as good a fit as you say it is, they’ll probably tell you it’s a green light if you can get the interview subject to agree. Then you can go to the subject with confidence — and the outlet might even help you set it up.

One caveat: Make sure that the publication and the interview subject are realistic “gets” at this phase in your own career. If you’re pitching a music magazine on an up-and-coming artist, and you’ve got music clips from other publications or sites, chances are they’ll take a gamble on you. But if you’re pitching The New Yorker on an exclusive with David Petraeus… You get the idea.

Occasionally, I see journalists tweet their own stories that have errors in them. Sometimes, unable to help myself, I point out the error. Most of the time, I don’t get a response. What is appropriate protocol for correcting journalists on Twitter? And how do I get taken seriously by journalists who write for well-known publications, while I don’t have 1,000+ followers or work for a recognizable publication? I would love for my eye for details to get “discovered” on Twitter, so to speak, but it’s frustrating getting ignored when I’m simply trying to help and make online journalism better. —Jessica B.

Don’t kid yourself. Your unsolicited copy edits are doing more to fuel your own indignation than they are to better the state of online journalism. While every journalist I know wants to be informed when they’ve gotten a fact wrong, tweeting at them about every errant comma or misplaced modifier is probably not a great way to garner their gratitude, nor is it a good approach to soliciting a job. It’s just… aggressive.

Twitter is great for a lot of things, including building relationships, but it’s not a proving ground for your editing skills. It only works as a venue for forging professional connections if you’re building relationships, not just tweeting corrections at people. (What does work? See previous #realtalk installments on getting the most out of Twitter and jump-starting your career.)

When a story of mine is published, I usually send a link to all the sources I’ve interviewed, either as a courtesy or because they requested it. Does one assume that no answer means there were no factual problems, but maybe they didn’t like the piece as a whole? Or should I remind myself that a reporter never writes a story for the source’s approval anyway? —Rosie

Calm down.

No news is good news. In most cases, the source has done you a favor by agreeing to be interviewed for your piece. Don’t fault them for failing to send a courtesy reply.

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Ann Friedman is a magazine editor who loves the internet. She lives in Los Angeles Tags: #Realtalk