Career Advice

The Atlantic Is Asking for Themed Pitches. Here’s What They Want

By Sam Petulla September 22nd, 2014

The Atlantic, which was founded in 1857, counts Ralph Waldo Emerson and Harriet Beecher Stowe among its past contributors.

What can you do to join that list? Pitch. The Atlantic’s Technology Channel is now announcing monthly themes meant to guide pitches. This month’s theme, for example, is “Addition and Subtraction,” described as “stories of humans becoming more and less and sometimes both with the help of technology.”

The new format is unique, and it’s yielding results. Last month’s call for stories about discovering and escaping data led to a diverse collection of articles that tied the theme to subjects like antique newspapers and marijuana cornfields.

We spoke with senior associate editor Adrienne LaFrance to learn more about the nuts and bolts of pitching The Atlantic’s Technology Channel.

1. How did you come up with the idea of calling for pitches based on themes? Did it evolve from open-ended pitching? Did that yield better results?

Our deputy editor, Alexis Madrigal, came up with the idea to put out thematic calls for pitches back in June. It’s an approach that was inspired in part by how Rookie designs coverage around themes, which is really appealing to me as a reader but also useful for writers.

We wanted to give people a clearer sense of the stories we’re looking for—not just tech news but the kinds of exciting, character-driven, and often personal stories you’d tell your friends. And we hoped that a thematic call for pitches might attract writers who wouldn’t otherwise think to pitch. So the goal was to offer a more precise idea of what we were looking for while also expanding the pool of contributors. We’ve now put out three such calls for pitches (herehere, and here), and we’ve been totally delighted by the quality of story ideas we’ve received in response.

2. What do you look for in a pitch? Beyond subject matter, what makes the Tech Channel different from the other Atlantic channels?

 I look for originality, critical thinking, quality writing, strong reporting, and for ideas that reveal something larger about technology and our evolving relationship with it. I’m most often interested in the human side of tech. What does technology reveal about culture? What does it tell us about ourselves?

3. You freelanced quite a bit—do you have general freelancing suggestions?

Make your pitches as short and as precise as possible. Pitch story ideas, not topics of interest. If you can’t sell your idea in less than a paragraph, it isn’t focused enough.

One helpful way to hone focus is to ask: What question or questions will my story answer? As a freelancer, I almost always described the framing of my pitch by offering a suggested headline—it’s an efficient way to show the editor how you plan to approach the story and also to prove that you understand and can capture the tenor of the publication.

And probably most important: Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Always be pitching. A no from one editor doesn’t mean your idea won’t work. It’s just an opportunity to improve the pitch and recast it for another publication.

4. How much do you pay at the Technology Channel? What are some of the most ambitious assignments you’ve given?

Our freelance rates vary depending on the scope of a piece, so it’s something I negotiate with each writer. Usually, a heavily reported piece commands a higher rate than a personal essay. Part of why we’re so selective about accepting freelance stories is because we have a limited pool of money available for outside work, and it’s a priority of ours to pay competitively for high-quality writing and reporting.

Image by Tony Gutierrez
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