How to Write a Good Pitch: Tips from the Editor of The Atlantic

Editor of the Atlantic Scott Stossel

Editor of The Atlantic, Scott Stossel, in conversation about investigative journalism with the Toronto Star's Robert Cribb during The Democracy Project: Journalism in the Age of Alt-Facts, a summit on media and democracy. 

For a writer or reporter, pitching an article is the first—and often most nerve-wracking—step in the process of getting published. Some even say it’s a lost art! In October, Banff Centre welcomed journalists, editors, publishers, and other media gurus to The Democracy Project: Journalism in the Age of Alt-Facts, a summit on media and democracy held here on campus. 

Some of the speakers included Robert Cribb of the Toronto Star, Patti Sonntag and Ron Nixon of the New York Times, Connie Walker of the CBC, and editor of The Atlantic, Scott Stossel. 

We caught up with Stossel to ask him, as an editor of one of the world’s prestige publications, what makes a good pitch? 

“People are so busy these days, it’s so easy to email kind of a half-baked pitch,” says Stossel. But “a good pitch is extremely important.”

Here are his tips: 

Do some pre-reporting

Make sure your pitch is well thought out. Don’t just slap an interesting topic down on the page and hit send. Do the research necessary to begin formulating a story. 

Fill in the details 

Pre-reporting will help you answer the following questions in your pitch, which Stossel says are musts for a successful pitch:

  • Who are the characters?
  • What are the stakes?
  • Why does this matter?

And don’t forget to specify why this matters to the readers of the publication you’re pitching. “Why does this matter to Atlantic readers?” Stossel asks himself. Each publication has a different audience, and you should be pitching with that audience in mind. 

Show off your writing skills

The pitch itself should tell a story, and should present the story angle you’re hoping to write in the finished piece. “You want to see the thinking and writing in the pitch,” says Stossel. 

Have a little drama

No one wants to read a boring story, so make sure there are stakes to the story you pitch. Get to the heart of that drama in the pitch itself and you’ll hook an editor and make them want to know more. Leave them asking, “what happens next?”

Understand the news value

Journalistic publications serve the public by informing them on current events and trends—how does your piece fit into the news cycle? The more obvious a tie you can make between your story and what’s going on in the world, the easier a sell your story will be. 

Make it timely 

“Why does it have to be now, as opposed to...a year ago?” asks Stossel.

Answer these questions in your pitch and you're on your way to having an editor write you back looking for more details. 

The Democracy Project: Journalism in the Age of Alt-Facts was a summit associated with the Literary Arts residency, Investigative Journalism Intensive. Join our mailing list to hear from us when this program is once again available for applications.