How to pitch to Al Jazeera.com
The in-depth department of the Al Jazeera English website receives somewhere in the region of 100 pitches a week. These may be for written features, long-reads, interactives, photo-essays or videos.
If your pitch is time-sensitive and requires a quick response, please clearly say so. We will then endeavour to respond promptly.
Otherwise, your pitch will be considered in a weekly pitch meeting when members of each team will get together to sift through all of the pitches they have received, and make decisions about those they wish to commission. This may not always be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision. We may like the story you’ve pitched but not the way you plan to tell it. Or we may realise that you’d be the perfect person to tell a different story we have in mind.
We understand that waiting can be frustrating. But giving us the time to give proper consideration to your pitch not only gives it a better shot at being commissioned, it also means that it is more likely to end up in front of the best editor for your story — we all have different strengths and interests — and to receive the most thorough treatment.
Remember that this is just the beginning of your working relationship with an editor. The same editor who fights for your pitch to be commissioned during the pitch meeting — and with limited slots and budget available, this will sometimes involve just that — will likely be the editor who commissions you, works with you to develop the brief for your story and then eventually edits the final version, going back and forth with you to ensure that it is the best it can possibly be.
Even if your pitch isn’t accepted, it can be the beginning of a good working relationship. A rejection isn’t always a reflection of the quality of the pitch. We may have just commissioned something on the same topic the week before or your piece may miss out because there are simply more pressing stories at the time.
But there are a few things you can do to give your pitch the best chance of being accepted. We’ve compiled the tips below from different editors and hope they help.
Your pitch needs to be easily understood. The way you pitch will tell us a lot about the way you write: Can you guide us confidently and concisely through the information we’ll need to make a decision — the what, when, where, why and who of your story?
If you can do that in a pitch, we are more likely to trust that you can do that in a story. But if you leave us baffled and feeling unsure about what exactly your story is, alarm bells may start to ring.
Think like a storyteller
Now, if you can do the above and intrigue or excite us, you are in with a good shot of being commissioned. And nothing intrigues and excites an editor more than somebody with a great sense of story.
You’ve told us what your story is, now tell us how you plan to tell it. Who will your characters be and how will their stories shed light on the topic? Where will your story be set and what kind of colour and detail can we expect?
Something interesting to keep in mind is that at Al Jazeera, we’ll take a writer who is an excellent storyteller but whose language may need some work over somebody with impeccable English but little sense of story every time. We can polish your words, reconstruct your sentences and tweak your grammar, but we can’t portray to the reader the depth of emotion, the sights and the sounds of a mother relaying how she lost her baby because she couldn’t afford medical care — that’s up to the writer to deliver.
Throw the formulas out
Many potentially great stories — compelling stories, the sorts of stories that stay with you long after you have finished reading them — have been lost to the same old formula of storytelling — the one that tells you how to structure a feature, regardless of the content of that story. Okay, this formula works — sometimes. And there are certain checks and balances it provides that shouldn’t be abandoned. But it isn’t always the best way to tell a story. As a writer, ask yourself how you can best communicate this story to really do justice to it. It may be a conventional feature with plenty of voices and a little colour, but it may equally be a first person, a portrait, a letter, a video story, a photo essay.
Suggest this in your pitch. Your commissioning editor may have other ideas. But they will always appreciate the fact that you are thinking creatively, and it could be the start of a conversation that will really bring the best out of your story.
How is this an Al Jazeera story?
So, what is an Al Jazeera story? It’s about the topic, in part. Does this story give a ‘voice to the voiceless’? If it does, that’s a good start. Does it question dominant, mainstream narratives? That’s also important.
But it is also about more than that. The way you tell a story also helps to determine whether it is an Al Jazeera story. Because you can talk to the ‘voiceless’ without necessarily giving them a ‘voice’. The way you approach your storytelling is almost as critical as the stories you choose to tell. Where is the balance of power in your story, with you as the narrator, the journalist, the storyteller or with the characters in your story?
Getting to tell stories that you care about, important stories that people need to read, is a privilege. So, even if one of your pitches is turned down, persevere.
Telling important stories beautifully is as important to your editor as it is to you, so they won’t mind you asking for feedback on how to improve.
Below is our pitch form and the email addresses of the teams to send it to:
HEADLINE: Outline in just a few words what the story is about and where it is set.
TIMING: Is the story time-sensitive or pegged to a particular event that will influence publication date?
TYPE OF CONTENT: Is the story you propose primarily text, video, photos, a long-read? Or is it a multimedia story with multiple elements? What kind of word count do you have in mind?
COMPONENTS: Which elements will you be providing — text, photos, video, audio — and who will provide each of these?
Provide some detail if you can. Photos — roughly how many and of what and whom? Video — how long and of what? Audio — how long and with whom? If you are not providing all of these elements yourself and separate rates may need to be negotiated, you must inform us at the pitching stage.
SUMMARY: In roughly two paragraphs, explain what the story is you hope to tell — the who, what, when, where and why of it — and how you plan to tell it. This part is critical. If your commissioning editor struggles to make sense of the story from your pitch, they are unlikely to trust you to convey it clearly to the reader. And a compelling pitch will give your editor the impression that you have given careful consideration to your storytelling approach, adapting it to suit the story rather than relying on a formulaic one-style-fits-all model.
CHARACTERS AND INTERVIEWS: Who will the main characters in your story be and what light will their stories shed on the topic? Who will you speak to in addition to these people? If claims are made within the piece, to whom will you put these assertions for a response?
LOGISTICS: Please indicate if you will need an accreditation letter. We do not usually pay travel expenses or fixer fees but can, in special circumstances, sometimes factor these in part into the overall rate. However, we would need to know about them at the point of commissioning.
DELIVERY DATE: When do you expect to file the story?
PORTFOLIO: Provide links to samples of published work, particularly if you are not a regular contributor.
We will get back to you within 7–10 working days.
If your pitch is for a long-read or a feature story from anywhere in the world other than the Middle East and North Africa, please send it to: features[at]aljazeera.net
For a feature story from the Middle East and North Africa, please send it to: MENA[at]aljazeera.net
If it is for an interactive or long form, email: AJLabs[at]aljazeera.net