Lessons learned from a story breakdown

General Update


I had a really interesting piece lined up for VICE’s crime section last week, but it ended up falling through at the last second.

I was going to do a ride-along with the milestone Foundation, a local organization that patrols the streets of Portland, Maine, looking for homeless people in need of assistance. A lot of their clients are dealing with some form of drug addiction, so they offer counseling services and shelter as well.

I had learned about the organization just a few week’s early when my friend Francis Flisiuk mentioned it in an article on how the city deals with heroin addiction. I took an interest in the Milestone Foundation and decided to pitch the story to a publication with a broader audience. Maine Gov. Paul LePage had just vetoed a bill related to heroin addiction treatment, so I was able to pitch the story in that context.

I was ecstatic to hear back from VICE and get the green light for the story. I reached out to the organization for a pre-interview and to set-up the ride-along.

The day before I was set to join members of the team on their daily rounds, I was contacted by the employee I had interviewed and he told me the story was off the table. I tried to convince him to push forward, but he was set on canceling our plans.

This story was a big deal for me, being the first story pitched to a big outlet I had heard back about, but I was able to pull some lessons out of the rejection.

I should’ve reached out sooner. This happened very quickly. I had never talked to anyone from this organization or that community before reaching out to them and saying, “I want to write a story about what you do and I want to do it right now, please.” I didn’t give the relationship with my sources time to grow. I was parachuting into their world during a sensitive time.

I should’ve been clearer with my editor. I told the editor in my pitch that I was going to be able to take photos, but they went through the trouble of arranging a photographer to come with me. That photographer fell through about the same time the story did, so it wasn’t an issue. I was a little confused over why we weren’t on the same page.

I need to take more photos. I haven’t picked up my camera in months. That’s probably why I was ignored when I said I’d shoot the story.

I should’ve tried to switch up the story. After a failed attempt to revive the story after my source pulled out, I emailed my editor and told them it wasn’t happening. I didn’t offer alternatives. There are surely other ways I could’ve covered the topic. Who knows if those would’ve worked for the section, but I could have tried.

Luckily, the editor was understanding and told me to pitch again. While this story didn’t land, I opened up a new connection for the future.




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