How to Pitch: Catharine Hamm, Travel Editor, Los Angeles Times

November 24, 2014

LA-TimesThis month we touch base with seasoned Los Angeles Times Travel Editor Catharine Hamm (@CatHamm).

Originally from Syracuse, N.Y., she began exploring the world early in life when her family moved from the Northeast to Washington, D.C., then on to Honolulu and Manila and back to Washington, D.C. Her career in journalism has been highly decorated, having twice received individual Lowell Thomas Awards; the Travel section has also been recognized eight times during her tenure as editor.

Let’s discover why…

MG: What makes a story interesting for your outlet?
CH: Every story must answer two questions: Why now? Who cares?  Stories are also assigned to align with the newspaper’s print versus digital readership channels. Our print reader tends to be older, better educated, have more disposable income and enjoy reading. Whereas our online reader skews younger, do not have as much disposable income, and consume information from a variety of platforms.  We also try write through a “Southern California” lens, tapping into our readers’ needs and tastes in travel.

MG: How many pitches do you receive in a single day – and how many do you read?
CH: Between PR pitches and article queries, more than 100 a day, and I probably read just 20% of these.

MG: What elements influence whether or not you read a pitch?
CH: The subject line is of critical importance, especially with reference to geographic context. Is it about a place or subject our readers are interested in? For example, “Escape the polar vortex!” goes into the delete file. We don’t have a polar vortex here. Such a pitch suggests a lack of the most basic understanding of the Southern California marketplace.

MG: What is an example of the best pitch you have received in the past six months?
CH: The McMenamins UFO Festival in McMinnville, Oregon. Everybody knows about Roswell, N.M., but not many people know about McMinnville. It has historic elements, with experts who could talk about UFO-logy that were made available to me for interviews. The pitch was so well-crafted that I couldn’t resist and didn’t!

MG: Do you use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest as a resource for story ideas?
CH: Yes, especially Twitter and Facebook.

MG: Should PR professionals be incorporating social media ready content in their pitches for you? If so, what do you need?
CH: It is helpful to receive social media-ready content and important to remember that many social platforms are very visual. Ensure imagery is provided in the proper format. Twitter photos can be very effective, but verticals don’t work well. Instagram? The opposite. We also occasionally use videos on Facebook, and they should be informational, not promotional in nature.

MG: What role, if any, do press trips play in your editorial decision making?
CH: We don’t accept press trips, nor do our freelancers if they are working on something they wish to pitch to us. If a press trip shows up on our radar, we try to avoid accepting any stories that might appear to have been a result of that trip. We do understand the problems that this policy creates for working journalists and ourselves, but that is the newspaper’s policy and we stand by it.

MG: What types of story ideas excite you personally – and motivate you to pursue them further?

CH:

  1. Stories that involve a trend (sometimes tech related)
  2. Stories that involve history, especially if it’s a historic anniversary.

MG: What is your pet peeve when being pitched and/or working with public relations professionals?CH: Being promised something that can’t be delivered. This could be an exclusive on a story, high-quality photographs or an interview with an expert that falls through. Under-promising and over-delivering is always a wiser course!

MG: In your perspective, where is travel editorial heading?
CH: I see an increased tendency toward brand journalism. It does have a place in this world but is an odd bedfellow for us. Will the world still value articles about destinations chosen not because of paid considerations but because we know where our audience travels and likes? Will the world value a discovery that a hard-working journalist makes instead of the hype of something that’s really ho-hum? Will the world value articles written with the reader’s — not the client’s — needs in mind?  We can hope, and I do hope. How we present that information may change. But our field and industry are at their best when we continue a history of service to our readers, helping them navigate as well as enjoy the increasingly complex world of travel.

Written by Malcolm Griffiths

Malcolm is Vice President in Development Counsellors International’s Tourism Practice. Since joining DCI from Tourism Australia in 2003, he has developed creative marketing and public relations campaigns to communicate travel experiences for destinations spanning the globe, from California to Sweden, Miami to Tasmania.

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