If you're trying to grow disc golf in your community, the first step is making people aware it exists. A great way to do that is to get it covered by local news sources, and now might be the most opportune time in the history of the sport to make that happen.
The pandemic has halted play of mainstream team sports in many areas across the United States, and sports reporters around the country are clambering for content. Events or interesting stories from your local disc golf community could provide it.
But no matter how badly new content is needed, you still need to present it correctly and get it in front of the eyes of the right person to have a decent shot at coverage. This article is aimed at helping you do both.
We were lucky enough to find Jesse Wright to help us create this guide. Wright is both a disc golfer and an experienced journalist who is currently an instructor at the West Virginia University Reed College of Media. Previously, he was an editor of The Dominion Post of Morgantown, West Virginia, and news director for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
In an interview, Wright provided detailed advice for how to give disc golf story pitches the best chances of success with local news outlets. Below, we've organized that advice into six main points.
1. Pick the Right Topic
Before even trying to make contact with a local news outlet, you need a story that will appeal to a wide enough audience.
"You have to really think in terms of ‘What’s the headline?’” Wright said.
Wright gave an example for one topic he said was almost always in vogue: charity.
His club runs a winter event that he can sell to journalists because "there are a bunch of idiots out here when it’s 20-below-zero, they’re making chili, and they’re raising money for the soup kitchen." It's odd and feel-good enough to catch the attention of readers who don't know anything about disc golf. Additionally, managing to get coverage of an event like this helps you make a media contact you can get in touch with in the future, too.
Other prime topics are sizable economic or community impact. Big disc golf tournaments or a new course building buzz can bring large numbers of people to town who put their money into a community's economy, and that's a storyline local news might want to tell. The same goes for something like a new course going up in a park that has been otherwise neglected.
Of course, you may also have the odd outstanding result from a local player that could interest the general populace. Wright gave the example of how a Junior player in his area placed near the top at the Amateur World Championships.
Essentially, always remember you're hoping that a news organization will tell a disc golf story to an audience that more than likely knows very little about disc golf. Your pitch needs enough universal themes to be understandable and interesting to that audience.
2. Find the Right Outlet
More and more local papers are being purchased by larger corporate entities and don't have much local control over the content they publish. Wright said you're more likely to have luck with a paper that is locally-owned and making its own calls about what stories it includes. Due to this, do your best to research an outlet's ownership before taking the time to pitch it a story.
3. Find the Right Contact
No matter how good your story is, it needs to be seen by the right person to have a chance of being told. With a disc golf story, you should contact the newsroom to find out who the person in charge of local or community sports coverage is. Some outlets also have "non-traditional sports" sections that would be a good fit for disc golf.
Generally, publications' websites will have a "Contact" section where you can find the appropriate e-mail address or phone number. Wright also said print publications typically have this information around page two.
At this stage, making a call could produce better results than an e-mail, according to Wright.
"I’ve found that it’s much more useful to talk to a real human being," Wright said. "E-mails can get lost in the shuffle. Spam filters do weird things.”
Remember that this call should just be about making initial contact. You should certainly have details of the story you'd like them to cover at the ready, but developing a strong text with compelling and thorough information to send a journalist after this call will greatly increase the likelihood of your story making it to the page, whether physical or digital.
4. Effectively Structure Your Pitch
"Newspapers these days are very understaffed and overworked, so the easier you can make it for people, the better," Wright said.
We lead this section off with that quote because it gets at two very important points:
1. If you pitch a story in a way that makes it difficult to understand, it will almost certainly be ignored.
2. Time is very precious for modern journalists, so your pitch needs to very quickly convince them a story is worth telling and make finding out more information about it as simple as possible.
Below we outline step-by-step how to structure your e-mailed story pitch for maximum effectiveness.
4a. Write a Strong Subject Line
Make sure the subject line of your pitch is succinct, compelling, but not sensationalized. For example, if you go back to Wright's example of his club's winter event, something like "Locals Brave Subzero Temps to Aid Soup Kitchen" would be appropriate. There are active verbs, the hooks of "subzero temps" and the charity aspect are mentioned, and it's not over-the-top.
4b. Start with the Basics
After a concise version of the usual polite greetings, Wright suggested starting off with the information a journalist will most want in easy-to-read bullet points, like so:
- What: (very briefly say what's happening)
- Where: (what location—be fairly specific)
- When: (times, dates)
- Who to contact: (contact information of people who can be sources for a potential article—make sure these people know they might be contacted!)
After these bullet points, have a compelling paragraph that says what's happening and shows why the story could be worth telling readers.
In these first sections, you should avoid getting into dense backstories about things like your club's long, illustrious history. Stick to the most crucial and intriguing parts of the story.
4c. After the Basics, Add Detail
Once you've presented the essential information, you can add other details that could help a hopefully now-interested journalist get a fuller understanding of your story's context.
Still, Wright suggested that most e-mails like this should max out at 5-6 paragraphs and stressed that any longer blocks of text should be far from the top of the e-mail.
4d. Include Interesting, High-Quality Media If Possible
Everyone's a sucker for a good photo, and they undoubtedly help compel people to read stories. If you have one (or more) that match your pitch or could help show a journalist the type of shots they could capture at your event, include it in your e-mail. The same goes for videos, too.
Just don't forget that size can be a factor with media. Be sure anything you send isn't too large of a file or find a way to share the media that doesn't require it to be attached to the e-mail.
5. Write Clearly, Well, & Politely
Even with a good structure, you should never forget that you're communicating with someone who's a professional writer, so their bar for grammar and coherence will be much higher than most. If your disc golf community has a good writer, see if they'd be willing to write or at least edit any communication before you send it. Should that not be an option, sending a text around between a few individuals whose feedback you trust to be constructive will help make sure it's as strong and understandable as possible.
It's likely also a good idea to rope a non-disc golfer or two into proofreading to make sure they can easily follow the e-mail.
Finally, make sure to stay polite and don't make demands or take a combative tone.
"Being antagonistic was always my first turn-off,” Wright said.
You're not a warrior for disc golf in this e-mail, just a citizen with an interesting story this person or outlet might want to tell.
6. If At First You Don't Succeed...
Just because your early attempts at pitching a story don't work out, don't stop trying. Wright pointed out that things like event coverage are "often at the whim of the news cycle," but that could go for almost any type of story. If you pitch a good story at the right time in the right way, it will get covered.
Let Us Help!
We hope you've found this advice useful, and we couldn't thank Jesse Wright more for helping us put it together.
Moreover, we want to help you put this advice into action. If there's a story within your disc golf community you think is newsworthy, we want to help you pitch it. Here's how to get in touch:
- Write an e-mail with the subject "DG in the News"
- Address it to Alex, our editor, whose e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
- Briefly fill Alex in on the topic you'd like to get covered
Our goal is to help you create a strong, well-written pitch, and in return all we'll ask is that you keep us updated on the response you get from the outlets you contact. We hope to be able to use this information to help disc golfers everywhere make the sport more visible to their communities.
We're looking forward to hearing from you soon!