Joanna Nikas, fashion and style editor at The New York Times, is teaching Newhouse students how to pitch stories like a pro.
In the 15-week course, MND 400 Pitching 101: Craft, Frame, and Get Paid, students learn how to pitch stories across various journalistic disciplines like news, podcasts, personal essays and photography. Nikas says she asked herself, “What class would I want to take?” and this was her answer.
“I really wanted to think of a class that would give students, people just starting in their careers, resources and [show them] how to get their foot in the door,” she says.
Nikas realized that as an editor at the Times, she is more inclined to work with young writers or first-time writers if they have an impressive pitch.
“I really find that every good story comes from the initial pitch,” she says.
Nikas wants her students to be constantly thinking of story ideas and new ways to frame them. Her theory is that the more ideas they have, the better their chances at having one approved.
“The process of pitching can be very emotional. If you have an idea, and you get attached to it, and you hear, ‘No,’ [it] can be disappointing,” Nikas says, adding that she tells freelancers to keep pitching. “Because maybe the first three ideas won’t be right for the editor, or for the publication. But the fourth or the fifth one will.”
In addition to her lectures and discussions, Nikas will host various speakers throughout the semester to complement course content and show her students the different ways people in the industry craft their pitches.
“Having multiple people who have done it say, ‘Hey, this is how I do it,’ is important,” says Nikas. “Everybody’s process is different.”
Nikas says the keys to pitching are knowing the difference between a topic and a story idea, doing the research to see what’s been done on the subject and figuring out what you can add to the discourse that’s new.
After teaching a social media class for Newhouse NYC last year, Nikas learned that it’s best to be flexible with her planning. “If something comes up throughout the semester that the students want to learn about, incorporate that into the lesson plan.”
“We are so honored to have Joanna back teaching for Newhouse NYC,” says Cheryl Brody Franklin, program director. “Her students raved about her class last year, and she was so generous with her time, often working with students on the weekend to refine their pitches for stories they dreamed of writing. She is truly perfect to develop and teach this course because she is so passionate about helping others make their ideas come to life.”
Nikas is excited for this class not only because she gets to teach, but because she also gets to learn from her students.
“What I love about teaching and working with students is that my career informs my lessons, and my lessons then inform my job,” she says. “Students teach me so much as well. So, it really is a cool thing.”
Adrianne Morales is a senior in the broadcast and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School.