Know Who You're Pitching To: How a News Assignment Editor Makes Your Story Happen

Through the Eyes of WSOC-TV’s Annmarie Rosenquist

Before I became a news producer, I was an assignment editor. I learned from some of the industry’s best in Raleigh, N.C. at WRAL-TV and Spectrum News. This position taught me how to find news, distinguish the best stories from the duds and interpret cop-speak over shoddy police scanners.

I loved life on the desk, because you never knew who you were going to get to talk to: a crazy viewer who missed their afternoon soap opera, someone reporting breaking news, a scandalous tip or someone pitching that story your 6 p.m. show desperately needed that day. Assignment editors are truly the eyes and the ears of the newsroom, and if you can cultivate a relationship with them, you have a better shot at getting your pitch heard by the masses.

One of the best assignment managers I had the opportunity of working with is Annmarie Rosenquist at WSOC-TV in Charlotte. She’s been in the biz for more than 20 years and knows the ins and outs of the Queen City. It’s basically her job to tell the editorial staff (the producers, managers and reporters) what’s on tap for the day and which stories viewers will care about most. Annmarie was kind enough to talk me through her role as an assignment manager, her biggest pitch pet peeves and her advice in getting a story covered.

Me: Can you explain what your role as assignment manager means in the newsroom?

Annmarie: Essentially making sure that we’re following and cultivating all of the sources and stories that our station wants to pursue. I’m making sure we continue to follow those stories and that the assignment desk is organized to stay on top of them and any breaking news that may unfold at any given time.

PR pitches fall into a different category for us. When we are listening to scanners, and something happens, that is a decision that we’re making to pursue that story. Whereas, a PR story is a decision that someone else made, it’s not something we have followed or came up with ourselves. It was cultivated by someone else. When we consider pursuing a PR agency’s story idea, we have to consider who pitched it, is there a slant to the story and how does it affect and impact our viewers.

Me: What’s your biggest pet peeve about a PR pitch?

Annmarie: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE! Timing is usually the biggest pet peeve. Don’t call a station when you know they’re on the air with their newscast, be respectful of their busy hours and have an idea of those busy hours. If you don’t, you’re not going to get the attention you need, because there are just too many other things going on.

Me: What makes you open an email – and push for it as a story?

Annmarie: The thing that makes me look at a pitch: is it timely, or in terms of the narrative, is it relevant to something going on right now? Is it an event that can be tied to something impactful going on locally or even nationwide? It needs to stand out, because – you have to remember – we’re getting so much of these on a daily basis.

Also, we need the bullet-points. Who do you have that can speak to what you’re pitching, and I’m not talking about your CEO. I’m talking about real people who are willing to speak. We don’t want it to be dry, we want our interviews to speak to our viewers. We want that personal story, and make sure it’s actually lined up.

Finally, and most importantly, make sure you have ALL the information on it and make sure it’s correct. Sometimes people get caught up in font or the pitch, they forget the basics. Having a contact name, number and the correct date.

Me: If you could give someone in the PR world advice on getting their story covered, what would it be?

Annmarie: I would say, have a care-factor story. Make sure that your story encompasses a personal reason why this pitch is important. As soon as you can make a human connection to the pitch, it becomes that much more successful.

Also, know the stories the news stations cover. If they’re not into fluff, don’t pitch them fluff.

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