Let’s say you have a really good story idea, one that would be best told through sound and visuals. How do you get it published?
So here’s a freebie.
During Beyond Bootcamp a few weeks ago, Meredith Birkett, MSNBC.com senior multimedia editor for special projects, shared tips for how to pitch her. Every editor will have their own preferences; use Birkett’s advice as a guide.
MSNBC.com produces about six major projects and about eight dozen smaller, assigned projects yearly. They have plenty of producers in-house, but not a lot of roving journalists. That’s where you come in.
- Do preliminary reporting on your subject, then pitch the concept for the piece by email. Don’t pitch a vague idea. Go in with something concrete. The MSNBC email convention is firstname.lastname AT msnbc.com.
- Describe the hook or the peg. Is it a national trend that your local story illuminates for everyone? Is it a quirky or wild story that someone somewhere else would care about? Is there a news peg? Is it an evergreen? Is it the kind of project that can be referred to several times within a given time frame?
- Show the story you’ve found with photographs, audio or video. Summarize where you think the story will go and what you’ll do to round out the project.
- Estimate how long it will take you to gather the raw assets. As a newcomer, you’re more likely to sell your story if it’s a small-scale project that takes no more than five days to get what you need. Veterans with a track record in producing multimedia stories may be able to sell projects that will take longer to gather.
- Think about the technical restrictions imposed by where you’ll be going. How will weather affect your ability to get the story? Will there be electricity? Internet connection? Cell phone service? Mail service?
- Send links to your work samples, or the URL of your portfolio site and be sure to describe what you were responsible for in each piece.
A multimedia story doesn’t limit you to a Soundslides presentation or Final Cut video. You could suggest a photo gallery with written captions and no audio, a flipbook, a timelapse video, or a report with an HD View photo.
If your project will span several days, you can propose a blog with photos. Be sure to describe how many posts and how many photos you plan to put up each day.
If your project shows the passage of time or dramatic change in a short period of time, a diptych or triptych could be appropriate. Freelance photographer John Wilkerson was able to sell his before and after photos of a city wiped away by Hurricane Katrina. They were used as part of a larger MSNBC.com feature on rebuilding after the storm.
If you plan to use music, it’s best to use royalty-free clips. Music you hear on the radio comes with all sorts of perils, not the least of which are rights clearances, which are time-consuming and expensive. Don’t have a favorite royalty-free music site? You could try:
Once you’re finished gathering content, be ready to turn over all the unedited audio, photos and video the producer you’ll be working with so that person can edit the piece. The shop will need access to your raw assets even if you’ve already packaged your project.
Get to know the producer or editor who will be shepherding your project. A good working relationship is key to the success of your story. Ask (nicely) if you can review your piece before it goes live to check that all facts are correct.
The Money and The Rights
Regardless of what outlet you pitch to, Birkett says you should insist you get paid extra to do multimedia work.
The MSNBC.com multimedia day rate varies, but Birkett says an average range is about $700-$900 a day, which includes travel expenses.
In exchange, MSNBC.com buys exclusive North American website rights for a limited time. This means you could sell a reworked version of your piece to a website outside North America to run at the same time. Or you could sell the piece to an organization that would not run it on their website. And you could resell your piece within North America after the license has expired. In other words, you could turn your pitch into the holy grail of freelancing: one gathering effort, a multitude of salable stories.