Story pitch forms are a useful tool for reporters who are developing a story. Use this form to guide your thinking about what your article will be about and whom you will contact to interview for your story. Remember the requirements of our stories:

— Each story will be 500-750 words in length.
— Each story will have no fewer than THREE SEPARATE HUMAN SOURCES whom you have interviewed.
— If you’re covering a speech story, you must include lots of quotes from the speech or lecture; comment about the speech from a member of the audience; and comment from one other type of source, which might be another audience member, an event organizer, a protester, or someone else who provides an opposing viewpoint about the ideas presented by the person who gave the lecture or speech. 

Topic Beat Story Pitch Form

  1. The topic, issue, or public event I plan to write is about:

 

  1. This story is appropriate to my beat because:

 

  1. This story is timely because:

 

  1. These are among the people in the community (aka stakeholders) who are affected by this topic or issue:

 

  1. My leader source will be:

          This source can answer the following questions I have about this story:

 

  1. My expert source will be:

            This source can answer the following questions I have about this story:

 

  1. My functionary source will be:

            This source can answer the following questions I have about this story:

 

  1. My real people source or sources will be:

            This source can answer the following questions I have about this story:

 

  1. These are the names of the three people with whom I am setting up interviews for this story:

 

Source 1:

Person’s name:

Email:

Phone number:

Source 2:

Person’s name:

Email:

Phone number:

Source 3:

Person’s name:

Email:

Phone number:

Presenting research in progress and sharing ideas on panels at the AJHA convention are great ways to sharpen your focus, expand your thinking, and cultivate connections with other scholars. But how do you write a successful panel or RIP proposal?

Advice about that is typically passed down informally from adviser to grad student or from senior scholar to junior scholar. Like so many aspects of academic culture, it tends to be shared orally. And those who lack such coaching may not even consider submitting a proposal for panels or research in progress because they don’t know where to start.

In the interest of encouraging those unfamiliar with the process, we considered the following question: “What does someone preparing a panel proposal for the first time need to do to compete with established scholars?” What follows is a starting point to answer that question. We welcome any pointers more established AJHA members would like to share. Look here for the AJHA Call for Papers, Panels, and Research in Progress for the 2017 annual convention in Little Rock, Arkansas.

How do I write a successful panel proposal?

  • Familiarize yourself with the AJHA panel sessions held in recent years, which can be found in programs from those conferences. This will help you avoid repetition and give you a sense of the type of panels that get accepted to the conference.
  • Make your proposal appealing to media historians working outside your particular field of research. Rather than focus on a narrow slice of media history, think about ways to broaden the scope. This might mean addressing some aspect of theory, method, teaching, or publication that applies to historians working in all areas.
  • Aim for diversity among your panelists, and get a commitment from them before you submit the proposal. The most persuasive proposals include panelists from diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and institutions who are well trained in the subject and open to discussion.
  • About commitments from panelists: Sometimes panel lineups shift after acceptance. That’s understandable if a medical or family emergency comes up just before the convention. However, the Research Committee expects all panel organizers to obtain firm commitments from members before they submit the proposal.
  • Panels that put participants and the audience in conversation with each other are among the most successful ones at the convention.
  • Most important, demonstrate your knowledge by briefly summarizing previous writing or commentary on the topic before suggesting a new avenue for discussion. A panel proposal should be written like a research proposal, with the same attention given to clarity, thoroughness, proper writing, and citations. Rather than propose questions to be answered through primary research, a panel puts forth ideas to be explored through compelling discussion. As with any proposal, your goal is to demonstrate two things: 1) that your idea is worth executing, and 2) that you are capable of executing it.

How do I write a successful research in progress proposal?

  • The research-in-progress submission should represent more than an idea, but far less than an almost completed paper. The proposal should include initial research questions, primary sources, and a justification for why your project is significant. Ideas for relevant theory and methods should be included, if known. In sum, the proposal should include a well-defined topic and demonstrate that the researcher has a compelling, significant, and executable research project.
  • That said, the research should be at a stage where suggestions for additional research questions, theory, sources (primary and secondary) and research methods would be useful and meaningful.
  • Explain what kind of primary sources you are looking for in the archives. Show that the proposal has gone beyond the initial phase by listing the primary sources you’re using or plan to use and how they are significant to the project.
  • Clearly state the purpose of your project. Though you don’t have to hit people over the head with it, there is no clearer way to begin your statement of purpose than to write, “The purpose of this project is to …”
  • Make a clear and compelling argument supporting the significance of your project. What have previous scholars done? How will your project advance the field?
  • Remember that Research in Progress is for scholars who have not completed a project and who are looking for feedback on how to take their projects to the next level.

MICHAEL FUHLHAGE, Wayne State University, is AJHA Research Chair, Coordinator of the Research Papers Competition and Administrator of the Joseph McKerns Research Grant.

MELITA GARZA, Texas Christian University, is AJHA Research in Progress Competition Coordinator.

TRACY LUCHT, Iowa State University, is AJHA Panels Competition Coordinator.

 

The Louisiana floods have had me worried about friends in Louisiana since the story broke over the weekend, and like others I have been frustrated at the dearth of coverage. Skye Cooley’s article at Huffington Post makes some interesting and valid points. But I have a more structural explanation for why the news media aren’t showing us more of this flooding.

It goes back to 2012-2015, when Advance gutted most of the veteran reporters and photojournalists from the reporting staffs of the then-dominant news outlets closest to where the Louisiana flooding disaster continues to unfold today: the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Press-Register in Mobile, and distant though it may be, the Birmingham News.

These newspapers were the heart of a 24/7/365 information-gathering-and-disseminating ecosystem that fed news through the national food chain.

I remember the video that one of the Times-Picayune photojournalists shot of Hurricane Katrina survivors stranded with little food and water and deteriorating shelter downtown. “Help us, please!” the woman in the photo on the front page shouted, leading a chant of “help us, please!” That became the lead headline, in what must have been 180-point type, on the front page.

A dominant regional news outlet shouts like that, and the message carries far enough for the other regional media to pick it up (like the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News and Atlanta Journal Constitution back in the day), and Montgomery and Birmingham and Huntsville, all of which have senators and congresspeople who pay attention to the news back home every day and talk with each other about what they can do to help their neighboring states.

The pleas for help don’t carry very far very fast now because regional news media, like the birds in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” went quiet. Regardless of whether the story “fits the narrative,” there are fewer voices to lift up the cry for help.

And in a news media universe that is increasingly consolidated and profit-driven, crews must travel longer distances to cover disasters unless they occur in the major media centers of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Atlanta, where news crews are standing by.

In the old model, cable TV news would have ripped and read from the newspapers at the epicenter of the disaster until they could get their own operations in place. Now the chain of information that leads them to decide to send crews is disrupted.

I don’t mean to say what I’ve written here and the HuffPost article are the only explanations for the lack of coverage. Nor am I saying all news outlets fell down on the job. The Advocate in Baton Rouge is performing admirably and has done so since the story broke. What other explanations can you think of, and who else is doing good work covering the flooding and the start of recovery?

Journalists rely on interviews to get vital and original information, but not everything that sources say is clear, precise, grammatical or quotable enough to use the source’s exact words. I learned the advice that follows from some great journalism teachers I have known: Carole Rich, Paul Jess and Frank E. Fee Jr. Now I’m passing it along to you.

Human speech is full of pauses and stutters and repetition.

So we have two choices: either quote directly (using quotation marks, “said” and the name of the source) or paraphrase (summarize what the source meant but don’t use his or her words verbatim).

The simple rule is to paraphrase the ordinary and quote the extraordinary.

Base your decision on whether the speaker expressed himself or herself clearly and whether quoting directly would have more impact than merely paraphrasing.

Example: If a source told you purely factual information (let’s say a house fire that destroyed a home and the owner says “That house was worth $150,000,” that’s just fact. You should still use the information and say where you got it, but you don’t have to use the exact words.

But if the quote said, “That house was worth $150,000. It’s a total loss. My entire life’s savings was tied up in the place, and now it’s gone,” that tells something more than facts; it tells how much the loss hurts.

In that case, try using the paraphrase as a transition to the quote:

 Lee Mockbee, the owner, said the $150,000 house was a total loss.

“My entire life’s savings was tied up in that place, and now it’s gone,” he said.

That’s an example of paraphrasing the ordinary and quoting the extraordinary. (Note, by the way, that the quote is placed in its own paragraph. Do this in most situations).

What you’re doing there is stating a fact, then using the quote to drive home why that fact is significant. You can use a quote to show the frame of mind of the source, too, or to show what they made of a situation.

Here are seven tips for effectively handling quotes and attributions in news writing:

  1. Get to the point: Keep the attribution out of the way. In print and online writing, the attribution goes after the first sentence in a quote. In the attribution, “said” goes after the subject.

Incorrect: Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement, “Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration.”

Incorrect: “Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration,” said Gov. Rick Snyder in a statement.

Correct: “Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement.

Incorrect: Curtis LeMay, a former U.S. Air Force chief of staff, said, “I never said let’s bomb them back to the stone age.”

Incorrect: “I never said let’s bomb them back to the stone age,” Gen. Curtis LeMay, a former U.S. Air Force chief of staff, said.

Correct: “I never said let’s back them back to the stone age,” said Sen. Gen. Curtis LeMay, a former U.S. Air Force chief of staff.

2. In print and online writing, attribute at the first natural break. Usually, this is at the end of the first quoted sentence, but attribution can come in midsentence if there’s a logical place. Attributions usually do not go before the quote in writing for the eye. This differs from the practice in broadcast writing, which typically puts the attribution immediately before the sound bite. 

Incorrect: “The 100-year flood level is,” State Engineer Dolores Bootz said, “a figment of planners’ imaginations.”

Better: “The 100-year flood level,” State Engineer Dolores Bootz said, “is a figment of planners’ imaginations.”

Better yet: “The 100-year flood level is a figment of planners’ imaginations,” State Engineer Dolores Bootz said.

3. In a quote with multiple sentences, the attribution goes after the first sentence.

Incorrect: “Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration. But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement.

Correct: “Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement. “But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.”

4. Show when you change speakers. Help the reader. Who’s talking here?

Congress got an earful about campaign finance reform on its first day of hearings.

“I think the way they have been financing election campaigns is the crime of the century,” John Dash, a conservative, told Congress.

“Money is hard to come by, especially for politicians, and some allowances have to be made somewhere,” Marcia Greenwood told the panel.

(The reader only finds at the end of the third paragraph that the quote was not a continuation of John Dash’s comment. So, begin Greenwood’s quote with the attribution so it reads like this:

Marcia Greenwood told the panel, “Money is hard to come by, especially for politicians, and some allowances have to be made somewhere.”

BUT: In general, ONLY put the attribution at the start of a quote when it is necessary to make it clear that there is a new speaker.

5. Avoid fragment or orphan quotes. They don’t help — usually — although there are exceptions.

6. Use only the best quotes; paraphrase the rest.

7. Respect the quotation marks. Don’t put words in the speaker’s mouth, and don’t take them out indiscriminately. The AP’s rule is that a quote is a fact. You can’t change a fact and you can’t change a quote. If the quote is troubled, your options are: delete altogether or paraphrase.

8. Delete words or phrases within the quote to create a partial quote, or, if you are using the quote as a full sentence, replace the deleted material with ellipses to show readers something was deleted. You also can supply parenthetical explanatory material, but only with great care.

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