Whether they freelance or work full-time in a newsroom, a journalist’s job is to lob story ideas across an editor’s desk and hope they generate home runs. The Pittsburgh Pitch is getting into the game by helping reporters create thought-provoking pieces that turn pages and raise eyebrows.
Here’s how it works: Local writers who want to explore the region’s social, cultural or economic divides are invited to share their ideas here by midnight on Sunday, May 20. Along with a brief synopsis of the idea for the article, journalists should list the modes they’ll use to report the story and explain why it would make for a compelling read (or video or audio file).
The goal is to find the specific, personal stories within larger issues like affordable housing or racial equality. Whose lives are being affected and who is fighting to make a difference?
Jake Lynch, community engagement editor for the independent, nonprofit news outlet 100 Days in Appalachia, started the Pittsburgh Pitch after witnessing the success of a similar business development program in Wheeling, W.Va. called Show of Hands.
For that program, community members were invited to a party focused on a select group of entrepreneurs. The guests voted for their favorite start-up by simply raising their hands.
Lynch thought that approach could also be a creative way to build stronger relationships between journalists and the communities they cover, and he’s testing that idea here in Pittsburgh.
For years, he explains, people simply had to walk down Main Street and into their local newspaper office to engage editors and writers. Today, thanks to online news consumption and the closing of many of America’s smaller print newspapers, that dynamic has diminished.
“The Pittsburgh Pitch is not just a creative way to fund journalism. It’s a creative way for journalists to use their audience as a sounding board,” Lynch says. “If you have 100 people in a room and they’re all putting their hands up to say, ‘That’s a story that’s relevant to me and my community’, well, that journalist has a guaranteed audience.”
The entries that come in this week will be whittled down to four to six shortlisted scribes. Then, on Thursday, May 31, those finalists will present their ideas to a crowd of potential readers. Stay tuned for final details on that: The event will be held at 6 p.m. at a soon-to-be-announced Downtown establishment. A $10 admission fee includes beer, appetizers and the opportunity to vote for one pitch.
All of the money collected — which depends on the number of attendees but is expected to range from $1,000 to $2,000 — will go directly into the winning reporter’s pocket to help fund their work and get the story published.
For local assistance with the project, Lynch reached out to Andrew Conte, director of Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation. Since 2016, the Center has served as a storytelling laboratory where students, professionals and the public are learning how to combine traditional journalistic values with cutting-edge practices and technology.
“From a funding perspective, we think The Pittsburgh Pitch also has the potential to stimulate new ways of funding reporting,” Conte says. “This will not solve the problems of paying for good reporting, but the $1,000 or so that we hope to raise could be enough to help a journalist tackle a story they might otherwise find too difficult, or to help them dig deeper than normal.”
If folks are receptive to the concept, Lynch says he’d like to hold a pitch contest every few months. He hopes local reporters are willing to embrace this new model for coverage.
“That’s part of the experiment,” he says. “We’re working under the assumption that there are hungry journalists out there who have stories to pitch.”