HOW TO PITCH: NPR
Marketplace. Morning Edition. All Things Considered. Fresh Air. News and Notes. The segments that make up the programming for what we fondly know as National Public Radio-NPR for short.
NPR is headquartered in Washington, DC (near my Shaw/Convention Center neighborhood, no less) and describes itself as an “internationally acclaimed producer and distributor of noncommercial news, talk, and entertainment programming.” But how does one get covered on the ubiquitous news radio network ? While the news organization’s Web site has what appears to be some pretty helpful advice about getting your story on, NPR has hundreds of local affiliates, so it’s a little more daunting than the Web site makes it appear.
Jamila Bey to the rescue! Jamila is a full-time freelance journalist and frequently works as an editor and producer for NPR- her former full-time employer before she went freelance. She also co-owns Tactical Productions Company and does sound and video production for music and fitness organizations. Here’s how to pitch Jamila for NPR.
Mopwater: What types of stories do you write and produce?
JB: I write stories that focus on either fitness, African-American and women’s issues, free thought and separation of church/state issues, and within the last year- parenting stories. My background, however, is that of a political reporter, but I haven’t been in the daily government grind since the election of 2000!
A recent story I pitched and produced, but I didn’t report, was for NPR’s show, Tell Me More with Michel Martin. There was a hilarious commentary in TheRoot.com about the absurdity the author felt about celebrating Kwanzaa. We brought her in for an interview about the “True meaning” of the holiday and a consideration about what it means today. I LOVE stories with a twist of some sort.
Mopwater: What kind of stories are you most interested in covering, and in what context?
I like covering fitness and protest stories best. I love the fact that they both lend themselves to the obvious before and after. However, one story I produced for NPR really stuck with me. Zimbabwe in turmoil was the title, and I found a journalist there on the ground to talk about the nation that was once known as “Africa’s breadbasket” is now facing famine and political breakdown. When I work as a radio producer, I will often call and do a lot of reporting of a story and then hand over my notes and questions to the on-air host. In this case, Michel Martin. I enjoyed this story because it allowed us to get a very good sense of what was happening in Zimbabwe and a good historical perspective as well. You can listen to the story here.
Mopwater: What’s the best pitch/query letter/phone call about a story you’ve gotten recently and why?
JB: As a freelancer writer myself, I’m the pitcher. I don’t assign stories. However, I did get the opportunity to field stories to see if there is more interest for getting them onto a show or seeing if I will write them as freelance pieces. Recently I read a story about a group that feeds the homeless soup and sandwiches while letting them watch the Super Bowl. As a Pittsburgh native and a Steelers fanatic, I thought this was a great idea. I didn’t get to write the story because I was too swamped with other deadlines, but this is a great example of a story that needs to be written each year, but this is a new angle that was rather touching as well.
Mopwater :What’s the easiest way to get ignored by you when pitching?
JB: Taking forever to get to the point. I’m generous. I will read three paragraphs. Most other editors/producers I know give you three sentences to make your point. Otherwise, keep ’em coming! I love getting pitches.
Mopwater: How is pitching for a radio program different from pitching to print, web or television?
JB: When pitching to radio, remember that you’ll need to offer the editor that you are thinking of opportunities for sound. And always make a point of letting her know what experience you’ve got in recording and what sound editing software you’re using to deliver the piece.
Mopwater: What is your preferred method of contact? Phone, email, your web site, your twitter account, your Facebook?
JB: I like Facebook best. I have it on my phone and I never go longer than 20 minutes without noticing if I have a new message.
Mopwater: Tell us more about you. Who are your favorite journalists? What book are you reading? What are your hobbies and interests? What is your favorite cafe?
JB: My favorite journalist is Christopher Hitchens. I like him SO much, that my son’s middle name is Hitchens. He’s the world’s most literate contrarian, and there’s nothing he can’t write. I admire his way of finding nothing sacred, and deconstructing everything and everyone he writes. In lieu of a traditional obituary, Hitchens wrote a piece about how Bob Hope wasn’t funny and the world really didn’t lose a comedian when he died. Sacrilege? Perhaps, but beautifully written.
I’m currently reading Larry Wilmore’s “I’d Rather We Got Casinos: And Other Black Thoughts.” Wilmore is the Senior Black Correspondent on The Daily Show. He’s a longtime comedy writer, From “In Living Color” to the “PJs” and a bunch of other shows, this guy is great. He’s also one of my Facebook friends, so I’m hooked!
I’m a new mom, my little boy is just starting to teethe and he’s taking a few steps as well, so all of my hobbies like weightlifting, martial arts, scrapbooking and getting massages at faraway spas are all on the farthest back burner!
My favorite cafe is Oceana Grille in New Orleans. Since I haven’t been to the Big Easy in a number of months, I’ll just have to enjoy whichever Cosi I meet my friends in. Cosi has great bread, but the food and drinks are best in New Orleans!