The GEN Feature Pitch Guide

Michelle Legro
Sep 12 · 7 min read

I know pitching can be scary. There is you, the writer, sitting alone in a coffee shop, or at your desk, about to hit send on an idea and have it woosh out into the ether. Then there’s me: cold, heartless, silent. Who is she? What is she thinking?

GEN is the magazine here at Medium that covers politics, culture, and power — we help readers you understand the forces shaping the U.S and the world. And as the features editor for GEN, the first thing you need to know is that you should pitch me a feature.

A feature is not simply a long article. I’m looking for something a little different from the exhausting pace of the daily news grind. I want stories that really take a moment, step out, slow down, and give readers a perspective on the news and culture of the day. I want stories with great access, memorable characters, unique perspectives, and thrilling narratives. Don’t worry, I have LOTS of examples.

What I’m looking for:

Narrative journalism that reflects the world we live in today: Where you just have to be there to tell the story. Take us inside a place we’ve never been before, tell us how the sausage is made. Take us on a journey, not just a physical one, but an emotional one too.

  • Lost in Trumplandia,” Patricia Lockwood, The New Republic: During the 2016 primaries, Patricia visited a rally in New Hampshire that proved we were already living in Trump’s America.
  • “Climb Aboard Ye Who Seek the Truth!” Bronwen Dickey, Popular Mechanics. The only thing worse than getting involved with conspiracy theorists is taking a week-long cruise with them.
  • “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave” Mother Jones, Mac McCelland: Before we really knew what was inside Amazon warehouses, the author got a job working in one, and relayed a tale of extreme exhaustion and dread.
  • For One Last Night, Make it a Blockbuster Night,” Justin Heckert, The Ringer. An absolutely delightful tick-tock of the workers going about their jobs on the last day at the last Blockbuster in Soldotna, Alaska.

Culture features: Really take aim at the moment we’re in and the people who drive it. We’re not looking for straightforward book reviews or tv reviews, but broader essays that really make an argument about why we love to watch what we watch (or love to hate-watch). Have a theory about a celebrity or a cultural moment? Someone you have to profile because you know them like no one else? We want to hear it!

Profiles of surprising/fascinating people in the news: Maybe they aren’t always the face of a situation, maybe they’re a little behind the scenes. Maybe this is a person who made something you love or destroyed something you love. Maybe you’re looking to confront this person, maybe you’re looking for them to confront themselves. Maybe these are people who had everything and lost it, people who had nothing and gained everything.

  • “Fearing for His Life,” Chloe Cooper Jones, The Verge. This incredible profile of Ramsey Orta, who filmed Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the police, and has since faced harassment and imprisonment.
  • “The Believer,” Davey Rothbart, The California Sunday Magazine: I bet you forgot about Elizabeth Swaney, who finished in last place at the 2014 Olympics qualifier with a spectacularly mediocre performance on the half-pipe. I love this story of a young person who believes she can achieve anything.

Stories with a great plot: And I don’t just mean heist stories or true crime. What is surprising me halfway through your piece, and getting me to read all the way to the end?

  • “Promethea Unbound,” Mike Mariani, The Atavist: The saga of a child genius in Montana who meets a mysterious benefactor who changes her life before tearing it apart.
  • “The Mortician and the Murderer,” Angella D’Avingnon, Topic: Okay this is about a crime, but the victims are already dead. It gets grosser from there, trust me.

Reported essays that blend research/reporting with the personal: There’s only one person to tell this story, and that’s you. You’re also the only person who can put your experiences into context.

  • “My Grandmother’s Desperate Choice,” Kate Daloz, The New Yorker: The writer discovers that her mother had been keeping a family secret: that her mother had died during a self-induced abortion, leaving behind two young children. A devastating look at a world before Roe.
  • “Outside the Manson Pinkberry,” Rachel Monroe, The Believer: A longtime Manson obsessive joins a Manson fan club and learns what it means to be a true fan of true crime.

Stories about money, work, and class. This can include on the ground reporting about a job or work experience, a personal essay about the experience of class, or a cultural essay about our changing understanding of class, inheritance, poverty, the middle class, etc.

  • “How Beige Took Over American Homes,” Kate Wagner, Atlas Obscura: There was a reason all of those HGTV makeovers looked the same in the mid-2000s, viewers were being taught how to value their homes not as a place to live, but as an asset to flip.
  • “The Real Cost of Working in the House of Mouse,” Jaeah Lee, Topic. Disneyland was once a place where you could make a solid wage and have a job for life. Like most of Main Street USA, this is no longer possible.
  • “Dollar General Hits a Gold Mine in Rural America,” Mya Fraizer, Bloomberg Businessweek. When major food supermarkets have ignored rural areas, Dollar General has swooped in, betting on the presence of a “permanent underclass in America,”
  • “The Last Days of the Appalachian Poverty Tour,” Alison Stine, Topic: Poverty tours have been a part of the political stage since the 1960s, with well-meaning folk swooping in getting a photo op, and leaving. Here, the writer, who lives in a region that has experienced many of these tours, goes on one and argues why they need to end.

Stories that get at climate change in new and interesting ways. How does climate change affect real estate, food, education, sports, television, houseplants, home renovation, reality TV, etc.

  • “Heaven or High Water,” Sarah Miller, Popula: Miller goes on a tour of Miami high-rises, posing as a possible buyer, and pointedly asks the real estate agent how the apartments will fare as Miami steadily sinks underwater.

Stories about internet culture, youth culture, subcultures, and stories that are FUN with a purpose. If you want to visit with an interesting group of people or a strange place, you should have a good reason why!

Stories about marketing, advertising, consumerism. Surprising stories about things we encounter every day. Give me an emotional profile of an object!

  • “The Launch” Brooke Jarvis, California Sunday Magazine: There’s a hot new apple product coming, and it’s been more than twenty years in the making. This piece details the making and marketing of the Cosmic Crisp, and how you make the launch of a fruit into an event.
  • “They Welcomed a Robot Into Their Family, Now They’re Mourning Its Death,” Ashley Carman, The Verge. The bankruptcy of the robotics company Jibo has left hundreds of users with a small, loveable toy that is slowly dying a server death. What to tell the kids?

What I’m not looking for:

— Quick takes or reaction pieces. (“I’m proposing a feature of 900 words”)
— Anything on the political horse race, there’s a place for that at GEN but it’s just not here!
—One line pitches, or ten ideas at once. Really take the time to tell me your one good idea. Maybe two good ideas if you have them.
— Book reviews, film reviews, tv reviews. Instead, consider how you would turn what you want really want to say here into a broader cultural essay.
— Anything that you think deserves to be long for the sake of being long. There should be shifts and beats, twists and turns in your idea that will propel the reader (me) all the way through the end. Longer is not always better (in fact, it rarely is)

Some great examples from GEN:

“The Teacher. The Basketball Coach. The Dead Rat In the Mail,” Sarah Fuss Kessler. Inside the #MeToo crisis — and coverup — sparked at Golden Valley High. (Narrative journalism)

“The Rise and Spread of Excessive Wealth Disorder,” Chuck Thompson. How this so-called affliction became a rallying cry for liberal elites who want to tax the hell out of themselves. (Culture feature)

“Catfished by Jacob Wohl,” Lexi Pandell. How a Texas oil heiress got scammed — and then seduced — by Twitter’s most inept Trump-loving troll. (Profile of a fascinating person in the news)

“Gen X Is Having a (Very Gen X) Moment,” Alex Pappedemas. Why the opt-out generation should reject its nostalgia bath. (Culture feature/reported essay)

Phew! You made it.

Now you’re ready to pitch. Good luck, and remember, if I don’t get back to you right away, I don’t hate you.

Now go ahead and get in touch at mlegro@medium.com.

Michelle Legro

Written by

Features Editor, GEN by Medium. Previously an editor for Topic, Longreads, The New Republic, and Lapham’s Quarterly.

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