In the series, "Worth Pitching?" I'll describe research I've come across in the course of science journalism and whether or not I pitched it as a story. All research may be worthwhile, but what might the general public want to read about?
Regarding pitching stories, here are two pitches of mine that became stories in The New York Times, which recently appeared in The Open Notebook, a site that seeks to tell the story behind the best science stories. You can compare and contrast the pitches and the final published stories to see how the pitches expanded and altered during the editing process.
When it came to "At Trading Crossroads, Permafrost Yields Siberian Secrets" (pitch here), there's a funny story here. I pitched this story on Siberian mummies at the end of 2002 to the science editor at the Times at the time, and she accepted, on the reasonable condition that I get a photo of the mummies to accompany the story. The article then languished for nearly a year because the Russian researcher didn't send over a photo. I finally went to Russia to shoot pictures of the mummies (an ordeal in itself, involving buying a visa, flying into a snowstorm, and a government escort to a vodka bar and Scottish ballet) only to find out the mummies had been moved back to Siberia. However, the researchers did have a CD-ROM of pix of the mummies, which raises two questions: a) Why not just send me the CD-ROM instead of me flying out? b) If they're files on the CD-ROM, why not just email me the pix? Still, the trip was worth it, as a lot of matters were best discussed with the researchers face to face, given my non-existent Russian and their good but imperfect English. This pitch is unusually long -- I was still feeling out the Times at that point, and I was nervous pitching to the Times, being only in my second year as a freelance.
For "Looking This Way and That, and Learning to Adapt to the World" (pitch here), the pitch on this piece for the Times was much shorter than my pitch on Siberian mummies, and is of the usual length of my pitches for them now. I figure you want about four paragraphs of story to start with, to show that you have storytelling chops and that there's an article worth investigating there. I then give a paragraph explicitly selling why this story works for readers. The two paragraphs after the asterisk are replies to the editor on questions as to how timely this research is, what has been published on it, and unique scientific findings associated with the work.
You can email me regarding Worth Pitching? at email@example.com.