Many higher ed communicators have not had the opportunity to proactively pitch editors and reporters their faculty experts, op-eds or feature stories recently because issues related to COVID-19 and systemic racism have necessitated a constant focus on crisis communications.
Neither of these issues are going away soon, but as the new semester begins (whether online or in-person), and a new crop of high school students begin the college application process, it will be increasingly important to find ways to highlight institutional mission, faculty expertise and successful solutions to the situations currently facing campuses.
We consider ourselves among the lucky ones who, in the midst of colliding crises, have been able to continue to pitch faculty expertise and op-eds. And we’ve noticed some changes. For most of our careers we’ve worked by rules based on newsroom schedules that guided when to send pitches. But with most reporters now working from home—juggling news that is changing by the minute with family obligations—the mid-morning pitch may have gone out the window. Barring breaking news, is there a new best time to pitch editors and reporters?
For one particular piece, we had luck corresponding with an editor at 7 a.m. We also had an editor get back to us at 2:30 a.m., in the same time zone. Normally, we would never pitch on a Friday afternoon, but recently late Friday pitches receive responses that day or over the weekend. We recently asked a few of the journalists we work with regularly how their work has changed and how we can best help support them during a time of furloughs, layoffs and working from home.
One editor at a national business outlet said she is trying to keep normal 9-5 work hours and shares that she likes receiving pitches during regular work hours rather than late in the evening. Another commentary editor said he’s getting more pitches than before. “That means it’s doubly important to make sure the crux of the pitch is at the top of your email and it’s easy to understand. And as always, I want to know what the piece will be about, not the headline/teaser,” he shared.
A reporter at a national education outlet said he finds himself responding to inquiries later in the evening now than he might have done in the past. “The lines between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’ do seem a little more blurred than in the past,” he shared. A commentary editor at a national publication said, “Editors (probably just like communications people) always feel like they are working all the time. Personally, I’m sticking pretty much to my normal hours but doing some more work late at night because there’s a child at home during the day,” she explained.
As one higher education reporter put it, “My work hours are all over the place. I guess I am more likely to see an email that comes early in the day, but [time has] all gone out the window.”
One thing is definite, editors are being inundated with pitches and written pieces. Op-eds we would have expected to place in a couple days are taking weeks as journalists catch up with their inboxes. This has been the case since the earliest weeks of the pandemic and requires written pieces to meet an even higher bar, as we wrote about in this piece for Inside Higher Ed’s Call to Action blog.
We both work from home with children and understand time constraints; we have started to feel like sending a pitch at 7 a.m. is fine if it works for us, and editing a piece after the kids go to bed works if it will make our next day a little easier. While adjusting to new hours, we are just happy faculty and staff with expertise and possible solutions to the issues we are facing continue to share their scholarship.