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    The Difference Between Staff Reporter, Freelance Writer, and Editor and How to Pitch Them

    How a pitch turns into a story can sometimes feel like a black box. Each media room is structured differently, with a mixture of editors, staff writers, and freelance contributors. For PR pros, it can be confusing what the different roles are at each publication and how you need to adjust your strategies for each to create a successful pitch. We break down the differences and how to adjust your pitches for each. 


    What is a Staff Writer?


    A staff writer is a journalist employed full-time by a specific publication, such as a print newspaper, online publication, or broadcast channel. Often focused on a specific industry or beat, these salaried reporters gather and tell stories to their readers or viewers. 


    Staff writers report to an editor, who, depending on the publication type and the way the newsroom is structured, vets the stories pitched by the writer or assigns stories to them. 



    What is a Freelance Journalist?


    As the name suggests, a freelance journalist — also sometimes known as a contributor – is not exclusively employed by any single publication. Freelancers are free agents, writing for multiple publications either on a regular basis — like a weekly or monthly column — or on a one-off basis. Many freelancers are subject matter experts within a specific field. 


    Freelancers can get their stories published in a number of ways. They can pitch their story or idea to an editor at their target publication (much like a public relations pro does) in the hopes that they accept it. They also build relationships with different publications to become a regular freelance contributor when that publication is looking for a specific type of story they write about. 



    What is an Editor?


    An editor helps shape stories. Depending on the publication type, there may be many different types of editors: editor-in-chief, managing editor, assignment editor, or copy editor. Each has a slightly different role depending on where they fall in the hierarchy. The most common types of editors that journalists and PR professionals deal with are assignment editors and managing editors. 


    A managing editor oversees the day-to-day operations of the newsroom. It’s their job to ensure that all the stories meet the journalistic standards of the publication. An assignment editor is responsible for the specific sections of a publication. Because of this, they spend the most amount of time with freelance and staff reporters assigning stories, suggesting angles, supporting the writers as they develop their stories, and providing high-level edits. 



    Similarities and Differences


    Although there are some differences between an editor, a staff reporter, and a freelancer, they are similar in one fundamental way: all three aspire to bring credible news or information to their audience. 


    Staff writers are full-time employees of the publication they write for, so they often stick to one or two beats or industries that they write about. A freelancer’s ability to jump around to different publications gives them a little more flexibility in terms of story format or style. This also means that freelancers are juggling multiple bosses (editors) simultaneously, so strong project management skills are key. 


    Editors spend a lot less time interviewing sources than journalists. Because they manage a team of writers, they must have strong time management and organizational skills to keep it all straight. Editors are also staff writers’ or freelancers’ best advocates since the reporter-editor relationship is crucial for the success of the publication.



    The Best Way to Pitch a Reporter


    A recent poll of journalists found that 92% prefer to receive pitches via email. It's not surprising since many journalists we speak with for our podcast mention email as their top choice for receiving new pitches. That means you have one shot to make an impression. 


    Whether you’re pitching a freelance reporter or a staff writer, there are a few key things to think about:


    • Know your audience: Research your audience (the reporter) before crafting your pitch. Elements like their beat or story focus, tone and style, or preferences are important to know so you can craft a pitch that’s special to them. 

    • Know your angle: A well-crafted pitch should have a clear angle that tells the reporter why your story is relevant and timely for the reporter. Connect your story to a recent or trending story, a piece of news they’ve written about recently, and use data to back it up. Sometimes, a reporter already knows what story they’re writing, and some third-party data could be just the thing that makes the story sing.

    • Keep it short and smart: Reporters are very busy people, so don't write a pitch the length of a book chapter. Tell them the critical information: the who, what, where, when, why. You can get creative with your subject lines to capture the reporter's attention but always include the essential information upfront. If you're pitching a freelance writer and have a publication in mind that you know they write for, include that in your pitch subject line. It helps the reporter organize their stories across multiple publications. 

    Jillian Wilson, wellness reporter for HuffPost, explains why fluffy subject lines can get in the way.


    Beck Bamberger: Is there subject lines that stand out to you? Are there subject lines that stand out to you?

    Jillian Wilson: Yes. I very much like things that are to the point.

    Beck Bamberger: Tell us, tell us. Okay, to the point. No fluff?

    Jillian Wilson: Yes.

    Beck Bamberger: No, Dazzle?

    Jillian Wilson: No. Obviously, no. I appreciate the creativity, but not for this. I love subject lines that are simply expert source in inclusive fitness, expert sources for beauty story, source in nutrition. It's like, that's it. That actually probably is what helps those emails come to the top of my inbox when I do search.


    If you want to read examples of actual pitches that placed, check out our Pitches that Placed series. 



    The Best Way to Pitch an Editor


    Pitching an editor is a different beast than pitching a reporter. Editors are masters in their trade and very busy, so your pitch has to be strong to grab their attention. 


    When Alexis Morillo, Lifestyle Editor at Bustle, joined the Coffee with a Journalist Podcast, she described the mix of story pitches sitting in her inbox on an average day. Sometimes pitches aren’t sent directly to editors but to an email alias, so keep that in mind when crafting your pitch.  


    “I'd say that the pitches from freelancers are definitely way less common than the pitches of story ideas from publicists. I will say that I know how we work at Bustle is we have one lifestyle pitches email. Anything that goes to that inbox goes to everyone on the lifestyle team. So it wouldn't necessarily just be up to me to sift through those, respond back to freelancers, give them feedback on their pitches. We have those emails go out to several members of our editorial team. So that definitely helps when it comes to going through all the pitches from freelancers.”

    Because editors are incredibly busy, the strongest pitches are detailed and include the who, what, why, and how. This way, the editor won’t need to follow up to ask clarifying questions; they can simply accept or deny the pitch. In an example of a thought leadership pitch that placed in TechCrunch, the PR pro explains why making the editor’s life easy is the name of the game.


    “By opening the pitch with exactly what you’re offering, why and how the publication could take it, you take the need for the receiving editor/journalist to figure out the necessary details and make it easier for them to say yes to the submission."


    In Conclusion


    Pitching is an art that's easier said than done. Understanding the nuances of how journalism works and what the roles are will help you in crafting the perfect pitch. Of course, you want to be known as the PR pro who knows their stuff! 


    Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 3.27.26 PM


    Improve your knowledge with these free resources to make your next pitch perfect.




    Want to land a placement in a top publication like Forbes? Try OnePitch for free, submit your client/brand information, get your curated media list, and start pitching directly on your OnePitch profile.

    From an agency reporter to senior editors, learn how to pitch journalists on #CoffeeWithAJournalist. See more examples of pitches that landed on The TypeBar.

    Do you have a pitch that landed your client exceptional coverage that you want to highlight? Email us at with your pitch and 3-5 reasons why you believe it worked.



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