Pitching a Solutions-Oriented Story


Our friends at The Op-Ed Project have summarized it best. Every good pitch needs to answer three basic questions:

So What?

How does this particular story relate to larger discussions that people are having? How does it impact the reader’s life? What are the larger frames?

Why Now?

What’s the news peg? Why should this story be written and published now as opposed to last week or a year from now? Think anniversaries, holidays, trends, current events, etc.

Why Me?

What is it about your background that makes you particularly apt to write this story? Establish your credibility and do it fast.

But let’s face it, these three questions are only the foundation; pitching a solutions-oriented story is made far more complex because solutions are still suspect to some editors. If you’re pitching a solutions-oriented story, here are some things you want to flag very clearly in your concise, clear correspondence:

Indicators you have already found that this is a response worth investigating further. Think hard data, multiple credible sources, stuff that helps the editor quickly see that you’re invested in a rigorous investigation.

Any potential limitations of the response that you’re already picking up on. This will help the editor understand that you’re not planning on writing a fluff piece.

A short list of the kinds of hard-nosed experts you might tap for interviews. Think scholars, people who have worked on the frontlines for years, customers who use a product, and more. This helps the editor conclude that you mean business when it comes to your reporting—you’re not planning on just interviewing the do-gooders and calling it a day.

And, of course, don’t forget the super basic stuff: Include your phone number and email with your signature. Be sure to include hyperlinks to pieces you’ve done previously so the editor can quickly vet your work. And check back within a week if you haven’t heard anything. All editors are overextended. Most appreciate a polite check-in.

We want to make sure that the story we’re doing has a track record or shows very good promise delivering something that is impactful. Scalability is very, very key. The same criteria that you might have from a philanthropic funder or an impact investor looking at a prospective enterprise that they might want to engage with. Does the thing show promise? Has it got a track record? Has it grown substantially? Can it be replicated widely elsewhere? Increasingly, I’m looking for stories that have more texture, not a full consensus that this is the right approach.

Fred de Sam Lazaro portrait
Fred de Sam Lazaro
Under-Told Stories, PBS

Crafting Your Pitch

Here’s an example of a solutions-oriented story pitch that touches all the bases:

Dear Susan,

I appreciated the recent coverage of CureViolence in the magazine. An epidemiological approach to ending conflict is a fascinating emerging response to urban violence and I’m keen to keep my eye on it as it continues to scale up.

I’d like to write a piece that examines another model, this one originating in East L.A. under the leadership of Jesuit priest Father Greg Boyle. Rather than seeing violence as a disease, as Dr. Gary Slutkin and his team do with CureViolence, Father Greg Boyle sees it as a cultural imperative. Without “exit ramps,” as he calls them, in the form of jobs, emotional skills etc., young people growing up surrounded by violence have little choice but to get involved in it. Homeboy Industries operates on the assumption that it is not enough to “interrupt” violence, but to, in essence, replace its power with more life- affirming projects.

It is the country’s largest gang member rehab program, serving over 12,000 people each year. The organization claims that it costs them between $20-44,000 to provide a full range of services and training for a young person; juvenile detention in LA County, averages $100-150,000.

Despite what appears to be 25 years of successful intervention, Homeboy Industries has struggled with funding in recent years. I’d like to look into why that is, and also investigate the local limitations of this model, which appears not to have been scaled much at all.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.