By Amy Do
Hey there, future journalism rockstars! If you have dreams of making headlines, the Hire DePaul blog is here to help. I sat down with two journalism heavy-hitters, Sonal Soni and Cam Rodriguez, for a heart-to-heart chat about the journalism game and how to make your mark.
MEET THE ALUM
Sonal Soni (they/them) is a South Asian reporter based in Chicago. Their reporting has been published in WBEZ where they were formerly an Audio News intern, The Chicago Reader, Documenters, the City Bureau, and the Harvey World Herald. They’ve been freelancing full time for over a year while working towards graduating from DePaul’s College of Communications Journalism program.
Cam Rodriguez (she/they) is a Double Demon alumni with a BA and MA in Journalism with a minor in Geography. They’ve been a full time journalist since 2022 and have 3 years of experience in both student news and professional outlets.
Although they’re now a seasoned data journalist, Cam’s journey into the world of GIS and data viz was unconventional.
“I actually came to DePaul as a Chemistry minor. I basically wanted to be Bill Nye, but then I found out that I’m very bad at calculus, and you need 4 years of calc(ulus) to do Chemistry. I bounced between Chem and Documentary Production as a minor.”-Cam Rodriguez
After realizing that Chemistry didn’t align with her skills and interests, Cam started casting a wide exploratory net. “I kind of added Geography as a joke because I had space,” she said. “It ended up being something that really clicked so well with what I wanted to do.” Cam went on to declare a minor in Geography.
Cam constructed their course load creatively. “Geography and specifically cartography enabled me to think more visually about stories,” they said.
Their combined Journalism and Geography coursework developed practical skills in GIS and Excel along with a foundational knowledge of investigative reporting. Cam now puts their skills to work as a full time investigative reporter at the Better Government Association, and focuses largely on longform data-driven investigations and watchdog reporting.
WHAT IS A PITCH?
In journalism, a pitch refers to a brief, engaging description of a potential new piece. It usually includes a general outline of the content, a timeline, and potential interviewees. Pitches can be given in-person, in a zoom meeting, over the phone, or via email. Not sure what one looks like? A database of successful pitches is available in The Open Notebook!
Note: Pitching as a skill transcends journalism! If the show Shark Tank rings a bell, the premise of that show is essentially a televised pitch competition. Film and television, design, fashion, and many other creative/freelance-based companies gather new ideas from pitches. Being a rockstar pitcher is one sure way to make your way into the big leagues of any industry.
Cam says, “Whether you’re working freelance or full time… I still have to pitch stories every week… it’s a fact of life when you’re reporting.” Her newsroom has standup meetings once a week with time dedicated to pitching new stories.
Cam says that getting the editor to see the vision for your final story is key, especially for longform stories that can take months to write, research, and fact check. “The ‘So what?’ question is really important to answer…you have to find ways to differentiate your pitch from others… making sure you have the characters + who you’re trying to interview, always try to lead with the point.”
Sonal adds that a good pro tip is to differentiate your idea from what’s been done before. They said, “Including what prior reporting has been done so you’re not covering the same things but offering a way to take on a new angle that is newsworthy and that makes stories stand out.” Your perspective is unique! It’s important to market yourself and your work well.
HOW DO I FIND THE RIGHT PEOPLE TO PITCH TO?
There are lots of ways to get your pitch in front of the right people! Here are a few ways to do just that:
- Mastheads – Websites will have mastheads listed (editorial listing of staff members, EOC, managing editor, all the way down to reporters, graphic designers, etc. Contact information will be listed there, and reaching out via an email is typically a good route to go if a pitch guide doesn’t exist on their website.
- Pitch Guides! Outlets like the Chicago Reader that partner regularly with contributing writers will have best practices laid out on a dedicated page. On that page will be topics that they’re looking for and guides for content and formatting. Cam added that paying attention to funding sources is a great way to see which outlets might be receptive to pitches.
- Poynter’s 30+ Resources for Freelancers
- Taylor Moore’s Freelance Reporting Resource Via Twitter @taylormooresays“Freelancing is hard, esp. for newer writers, so I compiled a Google doc with resources that helped me, including pitch advice, source databases, and online tools. I also added my own organizational tips and pitches that have worked. I hope this helps!”
Sonal says that interest groups are a cool way to get in touch.
- NAHJ, AAJA, NABJ, NAJA, SAJA , TJA – Journalism affinity groups bring members together to build community, share knowledge, and push for equitable representation in the industry.
- Writers of Color Twitter – A lot of information sharing in the journalism industry happens on X/Twitter. For those based in Chicago, follow your local Block Club Journalist, and any other writer/outlets you admire.
They added that DMing journalists who have written for the outlet before on X/Twitter can be a great resource.
COLD-DMS AND EMAILS SOUND HARD! DONT YOU GET NERVOUS?
It makes sense to be nervous when trying new things! Sonal says it’s a part of growing as a professional.
“As anxious as it can make you feel, sending out cold calls, cold DMs, cold messages, it’s something that’s inherent in the field. I consider myself an early career journalist and i still get nervous sending out messages. I know it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, what if they don’t respond to me… but always ask yourself- what if they do?”-Sonal Soni
Sonal suggests starting with student publications in order to get practice at pitching articles. They said, “(my first pitch) was definitely for a student run publication. Think they’re a great way to get your foot in the door and are a super accessible way to start (pitching).”
PRO TIP: pitching pieces written for class can help build connections in the industry while still in school. Cam said, “One of the first freelance pieces I have done was for SouthSide Weekly… It was written for class and I really wanted to find a home for it.”
The pitching process took several exchanges of back and forth. Cam said, “…it was a series of emails and really cringe-inducing voicemails and trying to hype myself up to do these cold emails, cold DMs…once you get really used to doing it, it gets easier” Like any new skill, outreach and networking gets improves through repetition.
Networking with professors in the Journalism program is also a great way to establish industry connections.
“One of the biggest things I’m grateful for in DePaul’s journalism program versus other schools is that a lot of the professors are actively reporting and working in the field…it’s honestly a massive asset to have professors also be reporters.”Cam Rodriguez
Sonal says a strategy they use is to email professors every few months with updates on their career trajectory and new published work. Their consistent outreach ensures that when opportunities come across a professors’ desk, Sonal is top of mind.
Finally, it’s important to not be discouraged. Cam said,
“It’s a practice…you’ll have pitches rejected. I’ve been working in journalism for the past three years and there are plenty of pitches, mistakes, fumbles, it comes with the territory of being an early career journalist. It’s all about building community- and you might not know the answers off the top of your head – but it’s important to always be pitching.”
Sonal added, “Your favorite journalist has had their pitches turned down.. Just keep going.”
WHAT DEPAUL RESOURCES CAN HELP ME PRACTICE PITCHING/ GET JOBS?
DePaul has 2 major student run publications:
- The DePaulia / La DePaulia https://depauliaonline.com/get-involved/
- 14East http://fourteeneastmag.com/index.php/about/
Both have open calls out for contributors, photographers, and other multimedia journalists!
Additionally, Radio DePaul and Radio DePaul Sports, and Good Day DePaul provide excellent opportunities for on-air/broadcast reporting.
A huge thank you to Sonal and Cam for sharing their wisdom in this article! If you’re a student or budding professional and want to express your appreciation, connect with both of them on X/Twitter at https://twitter.com/sonal_soni_and https://twitter.com/journo_cam?lang=en .
Feeling lost and don’t know where to start? DePaul’s Career Center, your professors, and your budding professional network are your trusty sidekick in this adventure. We’ll show you how to find your guiding star, from sharpening your pitch to finding internships and building a killer network.
Book an appointment with Amy, or another member of the advising community through Handshake, or by calling the front desk at (773) 325-7431.