Wednesday, September 8, 2010

THE BIG QUESTION: If your pitch is rejected, can you bring it to another reporter in the same section?

"If you can't move a mountain, go around it."
-- old Drew Kerr saying

When a newspaper reporter turns down your pitch, does that mean you are prohibited from going elsewhere in the paper?

Of course not. However, is the same section of the paper off limits too?

I didn't think so and this theory was put to the test not long ago. Turns out that it's a touchy maneuver.

I had a very good story on my hands, so I pitched the lead industry reporter of a large newspaper. He replied that he didn't think his editors would go for the story, so he passed.

In baseball, when a batter swings halfway around, the catcher will ask the first or third base umpire for a call, hoping it's a strike. When a doctor gives you a prognosis for surgery, there's a good chance you'll go for a second opinion.

Therefore, my feeling was: if the reporter wouldn't even run it by their editor, how do I really know if that's the last word? I needed an editor's viewpoint. Besides, wouldn't it be fair game to go to another column in the same business section of the paper?

That's what I did, except I contacted a freelancer who contributes frequently to the column. They ran it up the flagpole, and after a few questions checked out, received the green light from their editor. We set up the interviews and one week later, the article ran in the column.

Which my client loved, but didn't make the original reporter too happy. He dropped me a note saying that if he turns an idea down, "it's not a fit for the paper." I called him up to apologize that he felt this way, that I did provide the courtesy of giving him the idea first, but could he clarify the way he preferred to work since I had not seen this as a crime? He seemed particularly sore that I went to a freelancer as opposed to a staff writer. The message was clear: if I reject it, you can't go anywhere else in the paper.

One industry colleague said the reporter had a lot of hubris gatekeeping what goes in and out of the entire newspaper.

For the long run, there was one further question which hung there: was my going to another reporter a universal faux pas or a case of reporter upset at rejecting a story the editors did in fact like?

For in-house guidance, I went to a longtime editor friend at the paper and he said that the mistake was the original reporter's surprise. Next time, he advised, ask the writer if it's okay to take the idea elsewhere.

What do you think?

A reporter should understand that you are doing your job.

The reporter gets the right of first refusal, so if they pass, can you go elsewhere?

Should you tell the reporter what you are doing?

Can that "elsewhere" be in the same section or a freelancer?

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