Journalism 101

So. Each month, I edit a relationship column for a national, women's lifestyle publication. Sometimes I write the column myself. If I'm extremely swamped, I assign the story out to another freelance writer. It's one of my many hustles. And I like that I have to think like an editor. It helps me when I'm trying to pitch articles to other editors. In my line of work as an editor, I deal with publicists, usually for authors who have written books about relationship issues or therapists, professors and other folks who are experts in relationship stuff. There are many times that I find myself staring at a deadline and I have all my interviews completed for a story--but I haven't found a relationship expert to interview. So I'm scrambling like mad, emailing folks to try and secure someone for my column. (I'm getting to a point here.) It would make sense to prepare for this in advance and line up interviews with several authors, professors and therapists. But I don't do that. I scramble at deadline time. Most editors do. So. November 4th, I get an email.

investigative_journalism11 Editors actually do read their email. All of them. Every single one. Maybe not on the very day it comes into their mailbox. But they do read it. I think one of the biggest strengths I can bring to you, my dear readers, is that I play both sides of the fence. I write. And I edit. I send out pitches. I accept pitches. I'm a switch hitter. A bi-writer. So I know what editors want. And I know how they treat the communications we send them. It starts with a subject heading.

Reporter So, I lost my phone the other day. (So long Blackberry! Hello i-phone!) I know I lost my phone near the Urban Outfitters in Montclair, New Jersey. (I was on my way to buy another headband. It's a long story. Right Lil Miss Brown?) Anyway. So I lost my phone somewhere near Urban Outfitters. I came home and Googled the store to get the number. I ended up on a site called Yelp, a pseudo social networking site where users post reviews on restaurants, clothing stores and anything and everything else in their area. And that's how I discovered Sadia B. [caption id="attachment_3401" align="alignnone" width="280" caption="This is Sadia B. Stolen from her Yelp page. Sorry Sadia. I only mean the very best!"]Sadia B. Stolen from her Yelp page. Sorry Sadia. I only mean the very best![/caption]

Reporter I am a mid-career journalist. I was a teacher for several years before I jumped ship and tried to craft a career as a writer. Because I did not have a journalism degree or many contacts in the field, I felt like I was starting at the bottom of a ladder with missing rungs and splintering wood. I harassed everyone I knew for help. Tips. Phone numbers. Email addresses. I hand wrote notes to writers I admired. I left voice mails after hours for editors I hoped to write for one day. (Too afraid to call during the day when they might actually pick up). Getting on is a hustle. Now, I've made my way a bit. And surprisingly, I've become one of those people that new writers want to know.

dance1 A special treat today dear readers. Ms. Clover Hope, who blessed us with an awesome guest blog back in June, is back! This time, she's here to impart wisdom on the rewriting process. I've said it before and I'll say it til I'm in the blue face: Clover is nice with the words. I'm honored and excited that she's agreed to giving us a peek into her methodology. Clover recently wrote a piece for XXL magazine on the phenomena of southern dance music. (Do the Hally Berry!) Today, she guides us through her process, from rough draft to published piece. Enjoy!!

Reporter I'm going to share three of my real life pitches that worked with various degrees of success. The first is a very informal pitch I sent to Smokey Fontaine at GIANT. I was writing for GIANT regularly and I had a relationship with Smokey. So I didn't need to introduce myself or explain why I was the right person for the project. This style of pitching is ONLY when you have a strong relationship with the editor. I'd run into Smokey a few days before and he told me to send him a few ideas. This was one of them.

Reporter I got an email from a dear reader yesterday. And she was a bit frantic. She's just published a short piece in a national entertainment magazine. (Yay!) She sent off a thank you email to the editor, (good job!), and asked about pitching more stories. The editor invited her to start pitching. (Yay!) And then she freaked out. What to pitch!? She started flipping through the magazine, hands on her keyboard, ready to dash off an email with tons of great story ideas. Luckily, before she pressed send, she emailed me:
Hey Aliya!
How are ya? I'm kind of in a bind. Do you have any advice for generating story ideas? I got the green light to start pitching [NAME REDACTED] But I think my ideas are wack or they already have them covered, which means they're not original. I can write. I know this. Pitching is my problem!!! Ughhhh.
I told homegirl to step away from the keyboard. She was about to make a grave mistake.

Reporter Last week, one of my dear readers posted this comment:
Hey Aliya (and fellow writers), got a totally non-blog-related question for you: I got an interview tomm with sonia sanchez. Is there a way I can record the conversation while on my blackberry (conducting the interview on the phone and also record on the bb)?
I immediately broke out in hives when I read this. I love this dear reader. (She was the first person to make me feel like a real blogger by screaming FIRST! in my comments section. Heh.) But her comment was perplexing. She wanted to know how to record an interview...on her Blackberry?

Reporter I started freelancing in '98. When tax time came around, I did what I had done since my first job at the East Orange Public Library. I gathered up my paperwork and gave it to my mom. She and my dad had an accountant who came each year around the same time. And for years, he did my return for a small fee that my parents paid for me. Then I moved out of my parents home. And soon, taxes were one of those Things That Grownups Did. You know. Like, laundry and food shopping. In 2000, I didn't file at all. The 1099 forms that came in the mail from the magazines I wrote for scared me. There were no taxes taken out! What did that mean? How much did I owe the government? How much would I have to pay to get the return done? I did what I usually do in these situations:

Reporter From my InBox:
Hi Aliya!  I searched the web for XYZ’s email address and it came back to me unanswered.  I then searched for the managing editor’s address and sent her my pitch.  However, I didn’t hear back from her and I’m not quite sure if it was the correct address or if I should have sent it to her in the first place. I was wondering if it was possible you could point me in the right direction to getting editors’ email addresses? Thanks, NAME REDACTED
It's a common refrain. You've got the perfect pitch. You've done your research. You know it's appropriate for the magazine. And you know the right editor to pitch it to. Now how the heck do you get into the editor's inbox?