Journalist Tips: Nicola Slawson, Freelance Journalist

This month’s guest for my journalist Q&A was the lovely Nicola Slawson!

Nicola is a news, culture and social affairs journalist who writes for the national press. Before going freelance, Nicola worked for the Guardian and HuffPost UK. Now she writes mainly for the Guardian and the Evening Standard and has been published in the Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, the Independent, Refinery 29 and among others. Nicola is also the founder of The Single Supplement, a weekly newsletter for single women.

Nicola shared her top tips for developing relationships with journalists and getting your name in print.

Where do you get ideas on what to write about?

One of the main ways I get new ideas is by reading widely – the Guardian is my favourite newspaper, but I don’t just read that. I sometimes pick up a few different magazines from the shops – the more niche publications often give me an idea on what might become more mainstream soon.

I also talk to lots of different people to see what’s going on in their worlds and I sometimes reach out to PRs I’ve worked with before to see if they’ve got anything interesting on.

Can you give us a bit of an insight into how newspapers plan their content?

When I worked at HuffPost we would have a 9am meeting every day where we would pitch ideas. We’d go through the planning first, which was things in the diary such as court cases or new TV shows starting, for example. Then we would go round the room and each pitch our ideas in front of the team – and you’d get a yes or no from the editors right there.

We also had a weekly planning meeting at HuffPost where we would discuss stories with a longer lead times, special projects we were working on and have the chance to take our feature ideas to the editor.

At the Guardian the morning conference is huge – it can be attended by anyone in the organisation. We’d start off discussing the news – what was coming up that day, how we had covered stories from the day before. Then we would look at big news stories and see how other papers had covered it and look at the approach we would take. You’d be assigned something to work on for the morning from that meeting. Then in the afternoon if you had an idea to pitch you’d just walk up to the newsdesk where all the editors sit and pitch it to them there.

What are editors looking for in a story idea?

They ask a lot of questions. You need stats, facts and figures to back a story idea up. They’d want to know if you had a case study and if they were willing to be photographed and that sort of thing.

If I’m looking to pitch a story, who should I pitch it to?

There are so many different journalists and sections on each paper – don’t just pitch one! One person might say no to you while someone else across the newsroom might say yes.

Also try pitching freelancers – they’re always looking for stories and will have good relationships with editors already so could be your in. Try and find freelancers who are covering relevant topics, not just contributing to publications you want to be featured in.

Don’t dismiss more junior or even student journalists. When I was still a student I already worked for the Guardian and would pitch stories to other publications. Junior people still trying to prove themselves – they’re enthusiastic, looking for stories and contacts and trying to make a name for themselves. They’re great connections to make – if you help them out now, they’ll remember you in the future!

Getting started with PR and media coverage

Commenting on wider issues or for bigger pieces, not directly related to your business, can be a good place to get started. You will get a mention as the journalist has to write what you do, but it also allows you to build up a relationship with them, so when your business is relevant, they’re more likely to come to you.

If I’m asked for a comment – what should I do?

Have an opinion – don’t be afraid to say something different. The more you get known for something, the more you’ll be asked to comment on it. And don’t just talk about your business – talk to the issues, your comment should speak for itself.

If you do get approached, move fast! If you’ve given a good quote with a quick turn around, a journalist will know you’re reliable and be more likely to come back to you in the future.

Any final tips for working with journalists?

Ask journalists what they’re currently working on (if you already have some sort of relationship with them) and don’t dismiss more niche publications or locals news - the national papers sometimes lift stories from them, so you could end up with wider coverage.

Get in touch with Nicola!

You can follow Nicola on Twitter and Instagram and subscribe to her email The Single Supplement (which comes highly recommended by me!)

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