Presenting a story idea to a local news station is not as easy as just walking in and talking to a reporter. You must call and speak with the appropriate people, in a professional and respectable manner, before you will get a chance to see your story on the evening news. If you take the time to present all of your facts and ideas to the proper news people, you will have a good chance of having your story heard.
Research the kind of news that your local news stations run before calling to pitch them story ideas. If you notice that some of the networks stick to very conservative news stories, and seem to only run information that speaks well of public officials, law enforcement officers, and public policy, they would not be the place to call with a story about corruption at city hall. However, if you notice a network runs a lot of very controversial stories about politics, human rights, and things of that nature, then they would probably be interested in at least hearing your story pitch.
Act professional, courteous, and respectful when talking to news people. You may be very upset and even angry about something that is going on, and you may think it needs to be told to the world, but if you start off by screaming and yelling at the news people you are trying to pitch your story to, they will not want to deal with you. And if the first or even third news department you call cannot take on your story, remain reasonable and courteous with them. There can be many reasons they feel it is not a news story they can handle, and screaming at them or treating them rudely won’t make them change their minds.
Call to set up an appointment to speak to someone from the newsroom. Do not go into the news station without an appointment to talk to a specific person at a specific time. Most news stations are secure buildings that only allow people with appointments to enter and speak with employees. They are also usually very busy places, with reporters and producers coming and going frequently and seldom just sitting at a desk where they would be available to talk to someone who comes in off the street. The phone numbers for TV stations are listed in the local phone book, usually under the call letters (such as KHQ or KXLY) of the station. If you call their direct line they will either have an automated system that can lead you directly to the newsroom phone, or a receptionist who will transfer your call appropriately.
Speak with a producer or assignment editor. Do not ask to speak with an anchor or reporter first thing, as often they are the last people a story idea will go through. In many newsrooms it is a news producer, executive producer, assignment editor, or newsroom coordinator that initially handles information regarding stories. They will speak with you, get your information, decide if it is a story that the news department can handle, and then make sure it is taken care of by the proper reporter or anchor.
Stick to the facts of your story. Do not try to pitch a story idea using information you have gotten secondhand, or are not sure of, or only think might be true. It is important for the integrity of the news station to report things that are known to be true, and so they won’t want to do a story based on just assumptions and rumors. Once you have given the news person you are speaking with all of your facts, then you can tie them up with some speculation if need be, but only do this as a last resort. Keep your story pitch reasonable, honest, and fast. News people do not have a lot of time to listen to a long list of details on the phone. If your story interests them after your initial pitch, then when they meet with you in person you can give them more details. It is not a good idea to start off by saying anything that sounds deluded or crazy, either. If the first thing a news person hears is that the local health department is trying to kill you, or you think satellites are watching you from space, they may decide they can’t help you and end the conversation. Unfortunately news stations get a lot of calls from people that are mentally unstable and can’t be helped by them, and if you pitch your story in a fashion that sounds unreasonable they may think you are someone they can’t help.
Melissa Voelker has been a professional writer since 2002. She works full time at a TV station in the commercial traffic department and also writes for Paperbackreader.com and Pinkraygun.com. Her articles have appeared in "Listen," "The Spokesman Review" and "Freepress Houston."