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The secret sauce to creating a pitch that will land with journalists? You need to know the people you’re pitching to. Jean-Paul Salamanca, Towns Reporter at Newsday Media Group, joined Vanja Lakic on the latest Cogcast to share what makes the difference between a pitch that goes nowhere and landing an opportunity for your spokespeople. This is one you won’t want to miss!


Transcript for podcast

Vanja Lakic  00:05

Hi everyone welcome to Cogcast, Cognito's podcast where we speak with journalists and media pros and the latest happenings in the world of media and PR. I'm Vanja Lakic, your host. Today we have in our show Jean-Paul Salamanca. He's a reporter at Newsday covering multiple beats in Long Island. Jean-Paul has been with Newsday for almost eight years. And today he'll talk to us about how to think like a journalist and how the journalism industry is changing. John-Paul, thank you so much for joining us. We're excited!


Jean-Paul Salamanca  00:42

Pleasure to be here.


Vanja Lakic  00:43

If you can start by telling us a bit about what you do at Newsday, what beats you cover?


Jean-Paul Salamanca  00:48

Well, since I started in 2016, I've largely been in the town's reporter, which means that largely, they assigned me to a community and or communities plural and I would run the happenings and goings in in those communities. I've covered multiple needs on and on and community since that time, from the East End Riverhead, Southold, and parts of the South Fork and now my latest one is Smithtown. So that one has its own different challenges but that's the uniqueness of Long Island. So


Vanja Lakic  01:19

And so when you come into the newsroom every day, what kind of happens? Walk us through your day.


Jean-Paul Salamanca  01:24

Well largely, I try to prepare ahead of time for the day, which means I know before I go in, I generally spend the morning and sometimes parts of the evening considering what stories I'm going to pitch when one has a better chance of hitting with our readers or and, of course, what our editors will be interested in. And from there, I go in and I watched, I lay out several pitches of that I'm working on. If I already have been pre-approved on something, I let my editors know how it's going. If I have a new idea, I lay out what the story is and I pitch why we should probably do it and of course, what the art is, people tend to forget that even in print, although we're starting to segue more towards the video aspect of things to now with the launch of Newsday TV, we're very visual medium. So whenever I guess this is probably maybe a little bit ahead of time, but if you're pitching a story, you got to think what's the art going to be? What's the visual? And is it going to be something that's captivating is it going to be something that grabs people's attention, and all those factors play a role and what a story pitch is going to be? And once I get the green light, I just start making phone calls and going ahead with the - with tracing people down for the stories.


Vanja Lakic  02:33

And dare I ask, how many story pitches do you typically get in your inbox every day?


Jean-Paul Salamanca  02:38

Pitches that are coming from other people?


Vanja Lakic  02:41



Jean-Paul Salamanca  02:41

A lot. It varies from day to day. But it's, it tends to be a bit usually they are from PR folks who will pitch one thing or another. And I won't lie every now and then I kind of look through those inboxes and I see these pitches. And I'm like, I don't think this person knows a single thing about me or what I feel I write about but because this is the most random thing I've ever seen. But of all those pitches that I usually get less than a handful I've ever actually it's okay, that's kind of interesting. So I can I can pay probably pitch that. But it's got to be something that's very specific to what I do and also has some kind of interesting hook to it. So


Vanja Lakic  03:21

Right yeah, so that was going to be my next question. What makes a good story pitch what stands out to you?


Jean-Paul Salamanca  03:28

Let's see, I can't tell you how many pitches I've just gotten that I don't even answer or I just or some - every now and then I'll just take the courtesy to say, "Hi, thanks for reaching out. But I can't do anything with this." Which sometimes I get back the "Thank you", appreciation email, but largely, it's, for me what what makes a good pitch is number one, it should be at least connected to what I do. If it's not my town specifically then at least to Long Island. This is something that maybe PR folks aren't really very cognizant to that you need to - when I do a story, I vet my sources. I think that you know, maybe that should be kind of something that also should be taken to heart for PR folks, you should probably know the people that you're going to pitch it to if I'm going to be pitching a story about cooking, why am I going to send a cooking pitch to somebody who covers business? Like it just - you got to try to make the circle fit in those in the round peg in the square peg. So


Vanja Lakic  04:27



Jean-Paul Salamanca  04:28

And plus when; if the few times when it does tailor to where I'm at, it should also take into account a couple of things about, you know, obviously the strength of the pitch. It should be something that you know, it can grab people's interest. I would pitch something that you know, deals with a specific angle and not so much - I mean, I know that there's probably a product or an angle involved but the strength should probably be on the story itself and what, how that would connect to our readers for and also I would probably pitch a what makes good, a good visual. You can grab some ways interest with something with a great picture or video opportunity, which is, you know, everything is gearing towards that nowadays, that will also probably help increase the chances of me giving you a callback and saying, "Hey, let's talk" instead of just alright, next.


Vanja Lakic  05:17

Right and with visual, do you mean like a story arc? So thinking about what story arc a reporter would want to cover? Or are you talking about like graphics and videos?


Jean-Paul Salamanca  05:28

It's a little bit of a mix of both. I mean, if you can, obviously doing the former would be great. I mean, we all do like arcs in store in any kind of storytelling, but largely, I would start with first, look at the graphics. I mean, if we're going to do a story, then the first question my writers are going to ask is usually Well, aside from trying to pick apart how strong the pitch is, afterward, the other priority is, what's the art going to be, and the art should be something that that's, that's strong, and it should be an interesting visual or picture or video opportunity that will be able to kind of see our make our readers kind of put, you know, put them inside of this, of this story and really tell a tale of a narrative here. If there's a strong visual that's that's attached to that, then that does help. Because sometimes we do like the; what grabs people's eyeballs and that sense, good art, well, it definitely helps in that, grabbing people's attention and telling that kind of story. So if you can make sure that the art is good, that's, that will make something for a very strong case for people considering that story.


Vanja Lakic  06:36

Right. How many sources do you typically talk to? And how many of those actually get quoted?


Jean-Paul Salamanca  06:45

I usually source a lot of folks and my stories but depending upon how; the word count for each one, you know, it depends. Sometimes I'll kind of paraphrase what people say, just because maybe, they said something of interest or something that would be kind of a quote that kind of pops out and grabs people's attention. From there, I won't say quote everybody or everything because you know, there are sometimes I've gotten really outlandish quotes where it's like, I can't use this or this, and I would have to do X, you know, they had to do a lot of more reporting to prove this one point, because it's so outlandish. But largely, I try to use everybody that I spoke with in some sort of fashion. But I'll say that you know, if I'm going to use like huge quotes, we're trying to get out of that in terms of if it's going to make it in the paper have like a full quote from start to finish, it would have to be something that grabs people's attention. It's really something that people wouldn't necessarily say every day or really kind of puts the reader into the story where they can, it puts them in a person's shoes when they're experiencing either anything simple from like a house fire, to budget cuts to, you know, all sorts of issues that people don't really deal with, or that we'll be writing about.


Vanja Lakic  08:03

Right. And how important do you think relationship building is between PR people and journalists? Like do you ever go to coffees with PR people, even though you may not be quoting them or writing a story at the moment, but see it as an important relationship for downline.


Jean-Paul Salamanca  08:21

I do that a lot now. I usually do the coffee thing with folks from either my local civics or sometimes with PR people, I haven't dealt with the experience of a PR person really like on a regular basis until I transferred to Smithtown. Normally now there are towns on Long Island, that do have public relations, folks or media folks, people, it's not often but every now and then you'll run into a town or a village that they have somebody there who's kind of speaking for that government. In that case, it's usually very good to; I try to touch base with them very often, I've taken the PR spokesperson for Smithtown for coffee every now and then especially when I was first starting out in the beat just to introduce myself and that way we can, build that kind of interaction face to face, it definitely helps establish some level of trust in terms of being able to talk on a regular basis and especially when you're talking about future stories and information and all that other stuff. That kind of trust is its key.


Vanja Lakic  09:21

What are some of your do's and don'ts for PR people to follow when interacting with the media?


Jean-Paul Salamanca  09:26

Oh, let's see. As far as do's and don'ts. My big don't for whenever I get these pitches, is don't try to sound like you're selling a product. That's for me. That's a huge turnoff, like I remember one time, a couple of years ago, I got a pitch of a story and I was covering Riverhead, snd it sounded like it was interesting, but then I started digging from the bottom and it sounded like the person who was - it sounds like an environmental story. At first, I was really excited because environmental stories are something that I've always been pretty interested in. But then when I started to look more into what she said that this thing was about I realized that she was trying to sell me on a product and changed the whole thing. I was like, "Nope, this, I can't do that." That's not what we do. I mean, if you want to do that kind of stuff, you'd have to take out an ad or go to a Penny saver or something. But that's not what I'm supposed to do on my beat. So try to avoid that, we're more interested in what the story is, and what the something that can connect with people. And I get that there's probably a mission in terms of we're trying to sell something or put the face on that. But at least I tend to watch out for that, because I get that all the time. So like, we were just gonna go, Okay, what's the agenda here? So? For do I would say, like, you're going back to what I said earlier, it would help if you're a PR person if you're going to be looking if you're going to email a reporter, I would say do your research on who you're pitching it to. I again, I get I've gotten a lot of emails over the years where it's completely unrelated to what I do. And I look at this as like, what, what is this, like, I can't do anything with this. So I pass up on it, but there is one guy who I've dealt with in the PR world who every now and then he'll, he kind of has a better understanding of what it is that I tend to look for. And whenever he's pitched something, and usually it's on, it's more on the human-interest side of things. I won't lie, though, the pitches that he usually sets are usually pretty good. He always focuses on people, which is another thing that I do, you should probably focus on if you're going to pitch something, you know, we're looking for, like, who's the - I hate to use this phrase, but who's the character? If there's a person who you can kind of set me up with who can kind of put me in their shoes and kind of put the bigger perspective of something, that's usually a huge asset there, that same guy had pitched me a story a year and a half ago about a blind artist, somewhere Long Island and he, I think he would, during COVID, he had been trying to learn how to how to make all these extravagant, like metal work through and he was and he was blind. And then he lost most of his senses. But yet he was able to craft this exquisite artwork. And I thought, well, that's an incredible story. It made, paid for, it did really strong numbers actually. So that, I chose to focus on the person that you can offer, I won't use character, because that's kind of a cheap way to boil people down, it - focus on an interesting person that you can you can pitch to, and that's a really strong hook for us. I would say don't pitch something that's the something that somebody that's outside of their beat again, like if you're, if you're trying to pitch a story about golf, don't pitch it to somebody, to someone who's covering governments, or investigator affording like this is like, again, you're trying to fit a round shape into a square peg, it's not going to work, you have to search and you have to know who you're pitching to, if you know that the person that you're going to pitch it to is largely covers governments or a beat on a specific community, try to tailor it to that specific community. It can't just be any random thing, if I wish it were that simple. You have to do a little homework and if you had to try to make a match.


Vanja Lakic  13:14

Right, that makes sense. If you don't have an interesting person, though, to pitch, and you have a product, but the product, for instance, is making an impact on the wider community or the wider world, how would you suggest people go about those types of pitches so that they still get your interest, but it's not necessarily like about an interesting person, as you mentioned?


Jean-Paul Salamanca  13:40

Well, if that's the case, I would think that those kinds of things can are still interesting, because even if it isn't, if you can put me through to the eyes of somebody who can do something with it, you know, issues like that are can be interesting if, if possible. But again, it's got to it has to fit to what that reporter does. So if you're going to pitch it, I would say if you know that the person that you're pitching it to is based in the Boston area or the New York area, the Houston area, look at the face of okay, we could be a good talk to you about you know how this affects people in Houston or in Boston or in Long Island and that kind of thing, try to make it fit to what the mission statement of that of the journalist that you're reaching is, again, it has to go with them, you know, trying to fit the peg in the right in the right position. If you can try to at least do that, then that might have some kind of success especially. I mean, at Newsday, we always try to look at the bigger picture, you know how things are affecting people on Long Island, even if it can't fit to say Smithtown something like you know, we know that your paper does this. I think that it could cover - this could be an interesting issue out there in that broader region where this is, because this is where - this is the kind of stuff that could happen out there. So I think that this one might make something that's interesting for your readers to read a little bit of research. But if he can fit that criteria, then the chances of me giving a second look are much higher.


Vanja Lakic  15:14

And do pitches kind of get passed around the newsrooms? So let's say, you know, I pitch something to you, that might not be exactly what you're going to cover that day, but maybe your, you know, colleague who covers similar beats as you like, what you kind of pass that off to him or her?


Jean-Paul Salamanca  15:33

Do you mean, if I saw something that was interesting, but it didn't fit what I do that like?


Vanja Lakic  15:39

Right, like if a PR person pitch something, and you're like, okay, not pretty good, but like, I'm not exactly the right fit, or I'm not going to be covering that, like what you pass that on to someone else?


Jean-Paul Salamanca  15:50

Oh yeah, I've done that a lot. Usually, sometimes if I, if I'll come across something where it's a great story, and I get excited about it, oh, but it's in say, I don't know, Bayshore or something that's which is nowhere near might be like, alright, well, I'll just find the right journalist who is supposed to be doing that. And yet, this might be something of interest, I can't guarantee that they'll take that same interest. Because you know, what I think might be interesting is different. It may be different from somebody else's point of view, but I'll at least make the attempt to like, alright, well, it's the least connected to the right community. And sometimes vice versa. Sometimes people will send me stuff that might fit where I cover. So yeah, pitches can be passed in between. Because ultimately, we're, we're on the same team and we all kind of want to make sure that our communities are being covered in the best way possible. So but it just has to, the story just has to be able to fit what we do.


Vanja Lakic  15:54

If we switch gears a bit, can you tell us how the journalism industry has evolved since you first entered? I mean, you mentioned Newsday TV, if you can kind of tell us about changes, how might technology and specifically maybe AI have transformed your newsroom or the industry?


Jean-Paul Salamanca  17:08

Since I started officially as a Professionally licensed like, what 2008 November-ish, in a small town and Garner when, it was like a legacy newspaper. It's seen like a lot of changes. Now, I mean, back then, you know, Twitter wasn't really a thing. And social media, like fake Facebook, was the big thing. And that was, and now obviously, that's evolved to a huge degree. Now, that's, that's something that we were all trained not to do, be able to be able to report something at a moment's notice. Usually, it'd be should - shoot a video quickly and tag our social media accounts and try to have it you know, so we can have a first and Newsday kind of thing is very as quickly as possible, then now yeah, now there's a greater emphasis on video, I think that now journalists definitely are expected to do a lot more than just write the story. It's about trying to reach as many platforms as possible. And then being open to that kind of stuff. Like right now we guys, I've been getting a little bit of training now and then about how to go onto Newsday TV. They've been, that's been a new directive that's been very important for us here. And, rightfully so, it's videos, kind of the way of the, that everything is going, and we need to adapt to that. It's another way how to take your story and reach people on a bigger platform. And it connects with our communities a lot better, usually. So I think that I haven't seen AI go there yet. That's felt, I don't know, it's probably a good thing, because I still and from what I've seen, I'm still kind of leery about how that whole thing works. But I'd say that right now, the changes I've been seeing have been good. It's just it's a matter of trying to embrace all of that, for example, I think it was about a year ago when I was covering a story in Greenport, where, it was kind of a big deal out there, where it was closer to the village elections suddenly, like through an obscure New York state law, like 80% of the people who are on the ballot, were suddenly disqualified from running. And at the very tail end of it, the village agreed, and they put them back on the ballot. And as soon as they did, I was just basically shooting video from my phone while taking notes. And, you know, a lot of multitasking and I sent that right over to our social media folks. And we managed to break the story as it was, as it was going on. And it was a pretty big story around these parts here. So that's just another example of how quickly technology has been able to evolve and change usually, you know, go back a couple of years, you'd have to just wait till the next morning to figure out how it happens. Whereas now, we have the ability to reach our viewership and people beyond that in the blink of an eye to a couple of buttons. So I'm sure that it's going to keep growing. We're all just trying to adapt to our mission statement and try to connect with as many people as possible as the you know, as is more of these opportunities with technology, can they come forward.


Vanja Lakic  20:08

On social media?  Would you say you're connected across platforms? So do you get pitches for like LinkedIn and Twitter? And do you answer those?


Jean-Paul Salamanca  20:18

I can't say I get many of those through that that way largely, the pitches that I get from public relations, folks, I would usually my inbox directly. So I haven't seen that you know, I haven't gotten approached that way yet. I mean, usually, with social media, sometimes that's why I put myself out there publicly that way. So that's more for regular folks and sources, who want to talk to me to find a way to get in touch with me, which you know, that has worked. I haven't gotten approached on pitches, you know, from a PR perspective that way yet, but you know, that's I'm sure, that's something that's coming probably any


Vanja Lakic  20:58

Final views on how journalism might change in the years ahead?



It's been, let's change so much since when I was since I first started. So I think that And this doesn't just go for, you know, for the organization I work with, I think just looking at a better bigger picture. Now, journalists are just going to be expected to be able to do a lot more, you're going to have to really embrace the idea of being a multi, of being multimedia. And it’s not, it's not just writing the story and going into people's homes, that's just going to be a part of it, you're going to have to find ways how to better get the story out across the more people and connected and that's sometimes that's through video, sometimes that's through social media. That's why I don't know how AI would focus featuring on that. And I don't want to speak that yet. Because I don't know. But I think that as technology keeps growing, we're just going to have to find a way how to understand it and connect with it and try to use it for our mission statement. It goes back to the core of what we do we do journalism because we feel that there are things that people want to know, that we know the stories that each person has that can inspire people or can serve as a warning or it can or there's an example of a bigger problem. And ultimately, that helps people out by just having that knowledge. As with technology, it's all ultimately, it's meant to help. And I think that is we try to understand it as these new technologies kind of keep emerging. We're just going to be trying to understand that as it goes along and figure out a way how we can use it to connect this movement with as many people as possible.


Vanja Lakic  22:54

Well, John-Paul, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a pleasure. Thanks for making time.


Jean-Paul Salamanca  23:00

It was a pleasure Vanja.