By Will Brummett, BJC intern

How should your organization pitch an idea for a news story or op-ed? What are common pitfalls to avoid? Paul O’Donnell, Opinion and Features Editor for Religion News Service, offered his editorial expertise and insights on how to make effective pitches to the D.C. chapter of the Religion Communicators Council during the November meeting.

Some communicators may assume that the most appealing pitches to editors are graphically-designed, perfectly formatted pieces expertly written and ready to be published. O’Donnell cautioned RCC members to refrain from sending pitches that are pre-packaged, solely focused about their organization, and sent repeatedly or too frequently. It’s key for those pitching to avoid a common blind spot of not knowing the history or context of an issue beforehand and thinking something is new when, in fact, the issue is the same old story repeated years later.

Instead, O’Donnell encouraged those looking to share a story idea to send a personalized pitch which describes in a short paragraph why it would make an interesting story. He said editors usually care less about stories about an organization – instead, it’s more intriguing when people from an organization say something interesting and relevant to the news today. For instance, if an organization were to submit a pitch about a successful online petition effort, O’Donnell said that learning about the number of signers or supporting organizations is not as important as the organization’s unique take on the relevant issue. In addition to submitting story pitches through Religion News Service’s online submission form, O’Donnell said an effective way to send a pitch is through a personalized email.

For op-ed pitches specifically, O’Donnell said that the best pieces often have a basic format: “I am a (blank) and believe (blank), and here is my issue or problem.” He suggested organizations can position themselves well to be published or called upon in the future when they are proven experts in a specific topic, have their facts checked, write well-written arguments and can deliver an op-ed piece quickly if called upon. Furthermore, he encouraged RCC members not to solely measure the success of published op-ed pieces based on the number of clicks or website traffic; the level of reader interaction and the types of publications reposting their pieces are additional measures of impact.

For more than 85 years, Religion News Service has served as a reliable news source of global news on religion, spirituality, culture and ethics. Thanks to a new grant from the Lilly Endowment, Religion News Service is now partnering with the Associated Press and The Conversation to form a global religion news initiative that hopes to expand religion news reporting both in the U.S and around the world.

As the Opinion and Features Editor for Religion News Service, O’Donnell has more than 20 years of experience and has served as editor for a variety of news organizations, including Newsweek, Condé Nast, CNBC, and Washingtonian magazine. To learn more about RNS and read articles, visit https://religionnews.com.

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