Updated January 2024 – Jeff Zurschmeide knows what makes a good news story. A veteran of digital journalism, Jeff is a freelance writer who works with outlets such as Digital Trends and Ride by KBB. In this exclusive interview, Jeff tells us what to expect when working with freelancers, how to package a pitch and the one thing he’s never going to write about. Read on for key insights into working with freelance writers.
Jeff Zurschmeide’s Media Profile
Years as a Journalist: 17+
Number of Pitches you get per day: about 20
Number of pieces you write each week: 5-10
Do you use a wire service? PR Newswire and a few other automotive oriented daily emails
Pet peeve – Someone who gets an assignment and then uses that to score some free stuff that they didn’t tell you about. Be ethical about it!
Let the interview begin….
TST: As a freelancer, do you pitch your outlets or do editors contact you with assignments?
JZ: It’s about 70% editors telling me what they want and sending assignments, and 30% pitching. My editor at Digital Trends has a wish list, so as I find pieces that fit I can pitch those to him.
TST: What kind of story/pitch gets your attention?
JZ: It’s a little bit of kismet – it tends to be either something that I’m looking for or something an editor wants in general. My editor at Digital Trends has a wish list, so as I find pitches that fit I forward those to him.Nobody is going to report on your Kickstarter. It’s a waste of money and time to send those pitches.
TST: How far in advance do you prefer to receive pitches?
JZ: I prefer a week out – that way it’s not too far out and not too far in advance either.
I don’t mind embargos; I respect them. That’s just part of doing business in our world. Receiving pitches under embargo is fine.
TST: How long do you typically have to write a piece?
JZ: It depends on the piece. Sometimes editors will assign me a piece and say, “at your convenience” but I also have SEO pieces that have to get kicked out this week.
Key takeaways for what makes a good news story
Make it easy. Provide the press kit upfront. You’re more likely to get my attention if everything I need is in a package – graphics, quotes, press releases, background info, and Q&A if possible. I also like links in the pitch because I can review all the materials before I make a decision and respond.
Be responsive. Sometimes I’ll accept a pitch and then the person doesn’t get back to me with a time for an interview. Nobody wants a news item from last week.
Take a look at the Muckrack / Cision profile of the person you’re pitching and make sure you’re in the right industry. Mine clearly says automotive yet I get 3-5 pitches a day for things like calorie counters, Fitbit technology, and baby monitors. While a pitch doesn’t have to be strictly cars for me to accept, it does at least need to be relatable to my industry.
Be patient. Everyone on our side of the field is working really hard and evergreen articles may not get immediate placement. In a given week I might be interviewing for future pieces, knocking out SEO, and then pulling something out of the bucket. Stay in touch with your contact but know your piece will be placed when it’s the right time and outlet.
If you aren’t sure that your brand’s pitch is making reporters think, “this would make a good news story!”, we recommend reaching out to The Silver Telegram for a complimentary call to discuss your current pitch angle and approach.