Briefing Notes: Sunday Newspapers
For this IBT briefing held on 28th November, we invited four Sunday newspaper journalists to talk about the best way to pitch stories for features.
Photo above features, from left to right: Joe Shute (Telegraph), Kate Mansey (Mail on Sunday), Tracy McVeigh (Guardian) and Dominic Herbert (Mirror)
Mail on Sunday
Kate is responsible for newspaper features (not the magazine) and has a wide remit to cover domestic, foreign, celebrity, royalty, entertainment, picture spreads, opinion pieces. Her main task is to find longer features that can make a two page spread.
The Mail on Sunday has a separate editorial team from the Daily Mail but shares its copy with MailOnline so it has wide audience reach. Pictures are important especially for take up by MailOnline. Pictures also help make a 500 word story into something that will run across two pages and provide 2,000 words of copy. It has the biggest sales of the Sunday tabloids.
They are especially keen to find stories that stop people in their tracks – what Kate calls a ‘marmalade moment’ and that audiences want to share. Recent foreign stories include Nick Robinson on the Russian influence on the media, ‘the great Mail on Sunday elephant rescue’, plastics in the oceans. They ran a picture spread on the 150th anniversary of Barnardos featuring children from the charity’s first days.
The Mail on Sunday has run many stories on aid, often very negative ones. Kate said that the paper was not ‘anti aid’ but that they didn’t like to see aid money being wasted. She said she had commissioned opinion pieces that were pro aid.
Mail on Sunday contact: Kate Mansey, Deputy Features Editor email@example.com
Sunday Mirror and Sunday People
The two papers have one editorial team. At the beginning of the week, they commission a number of stories and then later in the week they decide which should run in which paper. They have close links with the Daily Mirror and Mirror Online runs their pieces.
Like all the Sundays, they are keen to find something new to say on the big stories of the week and they have had a number of exclusives including Keith Vaz and the most recent story exposing working conditions in Amazon’s main UK warehouse. They don’t have an investigative team as such but they are keen to do investigations. Dominic manages a team of reporters who cover domestic and foreign stories – most are general reporters rather than specialists.
They were the first tabloid to send a reporter to Bangladesh to cover the Rohingya story. They felt it was being well covered by TV and the broadsheets but not by the tabloids. They have run a number of foreign stories in recent months – child brides in Senegal, famine in Kenya, a classroom in a cave in Aleppo, child labour in Ivory Coast.
The classroom in a cave is a good example of a successful Mirror story as it speaks directly to their audience who can identify with this, as they take their own children to schools where the classrooms are very different.
Sunday Mirror contact: Dominic Herbert, News Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
The Telegraph has one team of journalists who write for the daily, Saturday and Sunday editions. They will commission a package of stories for the weekend and, as the week progresses, will decide which ones should run on Saturday and which on Sunday. The daily and the Sunday have separate editors.
There is a big opportunity for newspaper stories to run online, especially if there are pictures. Also, they are limited to 1,200 words in the paper but can run longer versions of the same story online. The Saturday and Sunday papers will look for new angles on the big running stories as well as special features.
Their Christmas charity appeal is also important as the charities they choose will get two months of coverage in the newspaper. This year there are no international charities but a few years ago they chose Care International. To apply to be the Christmas charity you need to pitch before the August deadline. One of Joe’s favourite stories came from WWF – they were running a ‘save the tiger’ campaign and gave him access to Pavel, a Siberian tiger protector and the story made a 4-5 page spread. It provided a fascinating human angle on a wildlife story.
- Joe Shute, Senior Features Writer email@example.com
- Victoria Harper, Features Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Observer and Guardian Development
The Observer is run as a single entity but it uses some of the Guardian staff to write for it, particularly foreign stories. It has a slower pace and space for longer features. The Observer has a different audience from the Guardian and sells more copies than the Saturday Guardian. They are genuinely interested in international stories and you don’t need a British angle.
The Observer magazine is changing and will have more of a lifestyle focus. But the Review section will continue to run longer features and may be a good target. In January, The Guardian and Observer go tabloid. You can pitch directly to reporters, Robin McKie for science/technology, Mark Townsend for home/crime/terror/refuges or to the news desk – try Lisa Bachelor, the deputy news editor.
Guardian Global Development is funded by a number of trusts and foundations, notably Gates, but the funders have no editorial control. It’s very well resourced – Tracy has a team of 6 reporters. She is temporarily in charge but likely to stay on in the long term. She is making a number of changes – she wants the site to reach a wider audience so in the future it will be more story led and will avoid all acronyms. You’ll see Guardian Development pieces in the newspaper – for example the recent story on the growth in child brides in Malawi due to a changing climate. You’ll see more of its content being shared online.
She has also closed down the Guardian Development Professionals Network. Tracy commissions features, op-eds and is also responsible for coverage of some of the big running stories – for example the Rohingya. This is challenging so she is constantly looking for new angles on these big stories.
She is also commissioning short one minute videos to run on Facebook. These have been very successful and she has a multimedia producer and others who can shoot these stories for her. The videos run separately from articles on the site.
Guardian contact: Tracy McVeigh, Chief Reporter, The Observer and Acting Editor, Guardian Development email@example.com
How to pitch a story to a newspaper
All the speakers asked NGOs to stand back from their issues and think of how they would talk about a story to a friend or family member. What is at the heart of the story? Who is the key character? The issue is important but may come later on in a piece.
There was a discussion about how to ‘un NGO’ a story, to make it less obscure and of wider interest. Don’t forget the obvious, look for the dramatic moment or picture – like the classroom in a cave. Do some storygathering so that you can talk about characters. Most of the speakers said they would want to do their own research but that NGO storygathering would be useful evidence of the potential of a story.
Read the newspapers you’re pitching to, and try and get a clear understanding of which stories interest them. Think of the headline on the story you’re pitching. Call up journalists on the phone. Meet them for coffee. Try and build relationships.
Avoid UN days, newspapers have no interest in these and you are often competing against yourselves for coverage. Write short emails with bullet points. Don’t attach Word documents – journalists don’t have time to open and read long, detailed pitches. Don’t be put off by a rejection.
Watch this video interview with Joe Shute who provides insight into pitching stories to newspapers like the Telegraph.
Working with celebrities – the speakers were asked about whether they would be interested in a celeb story. The consensus was that they would be but there needed to be a genuine connection between the celeb and the story.
Lead time – for magazine pieces the speakers said they needed 1-2 months lead time; for the newspaper, 1-2 weeks was fine. But you can pitch earlier to gauge interest. And if you have something on a running story then anytime. Tuesday/Wednesday seem to be the best days to pitch, although Kate said she worked Mondays. When you pitch mention the story of course but also any picture/video or online potential – this could be a big selling point.