Behind the Headlines With Sharon Ward Keeble
Journalist Sharon Ward Keeble stresses the importance of providing value and detail when pitching your story. In this interview, she discusses how she came to her success, what makes her choose to cover a story and how communication professionals can improve their pitching strategies.
How did you get your start in journalism?
I wanted to be a writer from an early age and after I completed a National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) course when I was 18, I started working for my local newspaper in Cheshire, England, where I lived.
Then, I worked my way through the ranks at various weekly and daily newspapers until I joined a press agency specializing in real-life women’s stories for international magazines and newspapers.
Your peers around the world and your earnings ability put you in the top 10 percent of journalists/writers in the UK and U.S. How did you get to this stage in your career?
A lot of hard work, my love for people and listening to their incredible stories and the fact that I treat every story just as important and special as the last.
For anyone wanting a lasting career as a writer, these are important attributes. When you start to become blasé and complacent about your writing, that’s when you stop doing such a good job.
How do you choose what stories to cover?
I have been doing this for so long that I have a great eye for what makes a good story. I always look for the human element in a real-life story, what a person has suffered or experienced, what makes them unique, what advice they may have to give anyone reading their story.
I don’t write a story just for the sake of writing it – there has to be something our readers can learn or gain from reading the piece.
Where do you find expert sources to reference in your stories?
I have a huge network of sources, many of whom I have used for years. I am a member of several women’s journalists groups, and we help each other – we share our contacts and our time.
Cision’s State of the Media 2016 Report found that 93 percent of journalists prefer to receive pitches via email. Do you find this to be true?
I think so. Time is so precious these days – I like to see an email with the bare bones of a story, the main details and a few attached photographs before I decide whether or not I would like to pursue the story.
I like to see the main points in a story, what makes it different or unique, what makes it interesting, before I will commit. Then if I want to know more, I will request phone numbers so that I can get the information myself.
What is the most memorable pitch you’ve received?
I think it was a story about a woman who had spent more on cosmetic surgery than anyone else in the world and she was from where I was born, the UK. It was quite astonishing what she had spent to make herself look young and the lengths she had gone to get that “perfect” body.
What is the biggest pitching mistake that communication professionals make?
Uninteresting subject lines made worse by very bland writing of the pitch synopsis. There has to be something to spark my interest and to make me want to know more otherwise it goes straight in the junk pile.
How do you think communication professionals could improve their relationships with journalists?
It’s frustrating when they take days to return a call regarding an interview with a client you are desperate to get a hold of. Or they don’t check their emails or get back to you in a timely manner.
I always follow up on my stories even after they have been printed – a little more care goes a long way.
Rapid Fire Round
1. My favorite social media platform is…
2. If I was stuck on a desert island, I’d…have to have a computer to record my experiences to do an article or write a book.
3. My biggest pet peeve is…someone agreeing to be interviewed and then backing out at the last minute with cold feet.
4. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…my love for writing and hearing people’s true life stories. It’s an honor to have people trust me with their lives.
5. I laugh most at…my eight-year-old daughter’s take on the world. She’s going to be a comedian when she grows up!
6. My hobbies outside of work include…horse riding, the gym and wine tasting.
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