Sam from 99% Invisible here. I’m reaching out because I would like to encourage you to pitch our show, and help you do so successfully.
Since the beginning, 99% Invisible has benefited from freelance contributors. In years past, at least one or two stories a month would come from a freelancer; in 2016, we only had ten for the whole year. Why? Because we just aren’t getting as many pitches as we used to.
Our working theory is that it must be it’s because everybody has jobs now. Jobs are great! Yay jobs! But we miss you guys, and we miss your pitches. And so if you’ve ever wanted to get a story on 99% Invisible, read on, I’m here to help.
First, let’s talk about what we look for in a pitch:
We tend to go for stories that reveal something surprising about the built world. We tend to avoid stories about things that are cool in their own right—we look for the cool thing inside of the mundane or overlooked thing. And our “cardinal rule” is “no cardinals,” i.e. no stories about nature or science; we focus on things built by humans.
Consider a few freelance stories that worked well for us:
Awareness (reported by Audrey Quinn). Tells the surprising and moving story of the AIDS crisis through the history of a simple object, the awareness ribbon. http://99percentinvisible.org/
Longbox (reported by Whitney Jones). Reveals the surprising connections between an obscenity lawsuit and a massive voter registration movement, all playing out in the physical packaging of an REM album. http://99percentinvisible.org/
Pagodas & Dragon Gates (reported by Chelsea Davis). Revealed the surprising history of a thing we see everywhere—orientalist architecture in Chinatowns across the country—and how it actually first emerged as a tool to resist anti-Chinese politics. http://99percentinvisible.org/
America’s Last Top Model (reported by Ryan Kailath). Tells a story of a fascinating place, teaches us about physical watershed models, and reveals something surprising about technology: that physical models are still better than computers. http://99percentinvisible.org/
What do all these have in common?
A designed object/building (or class of objects/buildings) + surprise + joy and wonder about the built world.
Now let’s say you’ve found something that fits the above criteria. Hooray! The next step is to write up a pitch. A good pitch tells us what the story is and who the people are you’d want to interview (ideally you will have already talked to them on the phone to hear if they’re good talkers and are game to be interviewed). You don’t need to have an ending or a structure totally worked out, but you should be able to show a richness of detail and get us to care about something we otherwise would not have thought twice about.
Pitches are usually about a page long, single-spaced. If we haven’t worked together before, please include some info about your experience level, where you’re based, and your phone number.
Once you’ve got your pitch written, head over the contacts page of our website: http://99percentinvisible.org/
Those submittals go into an email box that I check. I read every pitch. Seriously—every single one.
I generally check that inbox every 7-10 days, and when I come across your pitch, I’ll email you a pre-written form letter saying that we’ve received your pitch and that we’ll get back to you within two weeks if we’re interested. This email was sent by me, a real human, and I, a real human, will take it to the next pitch meeting. (If for some reason you submitted a pitch and didn’t get the form letter within two weeks, please write to me directly at email@example.com. But please do allow us two weeks to get back to you).
Next, I take your pitch to the team, and if there’s interest, I’ll follow up with you to greenlight your story and we’ll discuss next steps.
If not, I’ll try to personally let you know that we’ve passed on the story, though I’m not always able; if it’s been two weeks since you got the form letter saying your pitch has been received, it’s safe to assume we’re passing on the story and you should feel free to pitch the story elsewhere. If you get an email saying that we’ve passed on your story, please don’t ask for more details why, as we generally don’t discuss our decision-making process with non-staffers. If there’s anything I can tell you about why we’re passing on the story, I’ll volunteer that info.
So, that’s the process. It can sometimes take about a month between submittal and a response, and I’m sorry for that, but that’s realistically the fastest we can go.
If you have any questions about the process, feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope this was helpful, and I hope you pitch us soon!