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How The Los Angeles Times Decides Which Stories Have Star Power

Media professionals cannot sit around waiting for pitches if they expect to have an impact on their audiences. The velocity of the newsroom has sped up and with so many publishing options and communication platforms, it shows no sign of slowing down.

So how can communication professionals keep up?

We turned to the top arts and entertainment editors at the Los Angeles Times for answers.

On Tuesday, May 17, editors John Corrigan, Marc Bernardin, Sarah Rodman and Richard Nordwind gathered at the Times’ headquarters to give an in-depth look at the evolving entertainment journalism landscape.

Moderated by John Corrigan, the Times’ assistant managing editor of Arts and Entertainment, the four panelists discussed the influence of the Internet and social media on the newsroom, what communication professionals can do to step up their outreach game and how they decide which pitches to follow up on and center their stories around.

Here’s a glimpse at a few questions asked at Cision Connects with the Los Angeles Times.

Q: How has digital changed the way we’ve done our jobs?

Film editor Marc Bernardin says there are so many more options to get readers to stories that hadn’t been there before. He also points out how digital allows media organizations to have a conversation with their audiences and look at how they might feel or think about the topics covered.

TV editor Sarah Rodman points out that everything is faster because of digital, including how media organizations approach headlines.

Richard Nordwind, Sunday Calendar Editor, compares life pre- and post-digital. For announcements, the first place the Times will likely put a story is online.

“Announcements happen so quickly, you’re not going to put it in the paper like before because the next day everyone already knows what happened,” says Richard. “What can you do with it afterwards? That’s where everyone’s imagination comes in.”

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Q: Have our stories changed because of digital?

“We’re all dreaming of the way to make something go viral, even though there is no actual way to engineer virility,” says Marc.

While there are now multiple entry points for making it into the Los Angeles Times, a story is still a story.

John shares his criteria for determining a good entertainment news story: “Is it significant? Is it interesting?” An ideal story will be both.

Q: What makes a good pitch?

“Knowing what your news peg is and having a clear message about what that peg is,” says Sarah. “The willingness to brainstorm is also really useful.”

For John, the quality of the idea outweighs the communication platform.

“I don’t want to underestimate the power of the word ‘exclusive.’”

Marc agrees. “Exclusive is the magic word, even more than please and thank you.”

He adds, “Be sure you have access to the person you say you have access to. Be able to do what you’re pitching to me is job one. Find a way to do that first bit of legwork and include an angle that makes sense for us.”

For Richard, there are two main factors that determine if a story will make it into the esteemed Sunday Calendar edition.

“Some stories will work well in print, others in video. Know where your story might belong,” he says “Entertainment is a much more crowded marketplace. Knowing the kind of readers we have is that much more important than before.”

Q: When should communication professionals start sending their pitches?

John starts by highlighting the Times’ strong print and online presence and the confusion around embargo times.

“We find a lot of our readers are on the East Coast. We cover a lot of national entertainment stories. When we put those on the clock, we usually put them 3 a.m. because that’s 6 a.m. East Coast.”

“You want the most bang for your buck on both platforms, so you want to get information to us as early as possible,” says Sarah. For TV coverage, look to pitch Sarah two to three weeks ahead.

Marc and Richard require longer lead times.

“The joy of planning film coverage is that I can know what’s coming out in the next 17 months. This means we can be responsive to a thing and pivot and pounce on trending conversations,” says Marc.

Richard agrees. “The earlier we can do, the more we can do with photo and video, the better off we are.” And while the Sunday Calendar Edition has certain set sections, Richard also appreciates anyone who can give a spin on trending topics.

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Q: What are your pitching pet peeves?

“’Hey, do you want more information?’ Just send me the information and make me interested. Don’t ask me if I am,” said Sarah. “If my name could be replaced with anyone’s name, or is missing a letter, that’s also not a good sign.”

Doing your homework is key to starting off on the right foot.

“Pitches are the beginning of a relationship,” Marc reminded attendees. “You have to understand what I’m looking for and be honest about what you can provide.”

Want more insider tips? Learn how The Washington Post leverages social media in its news coverage!

About Katie Gaab

Katie Gaab is a content marketing specialist for Cision. Previously the senior editor for Help A Reporter Out (HARO), she enjoys connecting audiences to exciting, new content. She's a dancer, avid concert-goer, foreign language nerd and book worm. Find her on Twitter @kathryngaab.

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