Q&A with WABC-TV Producer Diane Oates: The Inside Scoop on Pitching the #1 Media Market

The Paws PR team spends the day on the phone with reporters from coast to coast. We know newsrooms are inundated with story ideas from publicists and the general public every day. We asked veteran T.V. producer, Diane Oates at WABC-TV, to give us the scoop on the inner workings of a newsroom in the number one market: New York City.

Q: Approximately how many pitches from publicists cross your desk every week?

A: I would say anywhere from 100 to 200.

Q: Are they mostly email or do you still receive snail mail?

A: All email, occasionally phone calls.  I only pick up the phone if I know who is calling me, but, if I do answer and it’s a cold call pitch, I ask them to email me.  However, it can pay off to make follow-up calls.  Once I happened to pick up the phone and it was a PR person following up on an email he had sent (which I hadn’t read).  I listened to his pitch and it actually was perfect for a show I was working on– I ended up doing the story and we now have a working relationship.  Chalk that one up to part serendipity, part persistence!

Q: And the big question – do you read every pitch?    

A: Unfortunately no, I rarely open a pitch from someone I do not know, but if it looks like it might be something good for a particular show I’m working on, I may open it

Q: How do you identify newsworthy content for the audience?   

A:  I produce ½ hour specials which are generally topic-specific (e.g. Organ Donation, Broadway Previews, NYC Marathon, Holiday, Summer, travel, etc) so if I’m looking for story ideas and I see a pitch that looks like it might be good for a show, I’ll check it out.

Q: In a nutshell, what’s the best way to pitch a story to a local NYC TV station?

A: I work in the Programming Dept., so I’m only looking for the kinds of stories that pertain to particular show topics.  Generally the News Departments of local stations are the biggest ‘consumers’ of stories; they’re on the air every day, for many, many hours, so they are always looking for content.  That said, thousands of pitches cross news desks every day and the only way to catch the attention of the work-weary assignment editors is to tailor your story to a current news-worthy topic or event, and catch their eye with a great, clever subject line.  It also helps to ‘think like a producer’.  Lay out the story clearly, name the interviewees and their credentials, give their availability and say what visuals exist to tell the story.  If I see two stories I love, nine times out of ten I’ll choose the one that’s already ‘produced on paper’ because I know the PR person knows what they’re doing and it’s less work for me!

Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve in working with publicists?

A: Publicists who are not prepared and give inaccurate, incomplete or vague information.  Also, if I do open a dialogue with someone about a story and it turns out that it’s not something I can use, I really hate it when they won’t take no for an answer and become pushy & arrogant— it has happened more than once and they are immediately put on my junk mail list.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about your profession and your role in sharing news and stories with the rest of the world?   

A: I feel privileged to be able to working on a wide variety of stories- entertainment, community affairs, medical, travel and meeting a wide variety of people who allow me into their lives to share their stories.  I try to do justice to each and every one of them and tell their stories as best I can.

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