How I Introduce myself as a disabled generalist
Alternatively: Hire me pleeeease
John Loeppky is an RJI columnist who explores issues that focus on journalism innovation through the lens of disability and freelancing.
In my last column, I waxed poetically, or so I like to think, about the barriers facing disabled journalists when it comes to getting regular work and breaking out of that little box called opinion writing.
But what’s a solid dose of complaining without some tangible tips to crack that mold? So now I’ll share how I branched out, provide the general email template I use to contact editors, and go through why I’ve crafted it in the way that I have.
While I was just finishing up my time as a student media editor-in-chief, my journalistic training ground, I pitched an editor at FiveThirtyEight, Sara Ziegler (who is now at The New York Times). I landed the piece, and would go on to write a few more for this person, but at some point she emailed me and said (paraphrasing), “You know, John, you don’t have to always pitch me disability-focused stories. I trust that you can report other things as well.”
That moment changed the course of my business and set out the trajectory that I now use with all of my clients. I begin by pitching disability-focused stories — my bread and butter — and then I transition into pieces (bonus points if they are assigned) that are less obviously aligned with disability.
Scroll through my portfolio and you’ll see pieces about mental health and cerebral palsy next to explainers about Windows 11. I’ve written sports-focused investigations and tackled a genetics-related piece later that afternoon. This article’s invoice will be number 68 for the year. I invoice each article separately in my Freshbooks account. I average one piece per workday.
I have built my business to the point where I can send soft pitches rather than six paragraph extravaganzas. Part of how I’ve gotten there is the pitch template that I use for 90% of my general pitches. The goal, at least for me, is to spend no more than 10 minutes from clicking onto Gmail to hitting send.
I’m reaching out because I saw your call for freelancers [link] and I’d like to introduce myself. I’m a Canada-based disabled writer who tends to write about disability, health, sport, and media. Below are a few of my more relevant pieces that make me think I might be a good fit for you and your publication. I don’t think anyone can fully judge a writer by their bylines, but I have been published repeatedly by the CBC, FiveThirtyEight, Publisher’s Weekly, Insider, and a host of others.
- Inside The Athlete Uprising That Brought Down A Wheelchair Hoops Legend – Defector
- For disabled people, social media can be both a lifeline and a drain – CBC
- Two Hockey Fans Want To Change How The NHL Approaches Accessibility – FiveThirtyEight
You can see more of my portfolio here. I’m open for longer term assignments as well as quick turnarounds.
Thanks so much for your time and I look forward to hearing from you,
If you are looking to book a meeting or interview with me, please follow this link. Please only book if we have spoken via phone or email beforehand. [link]
Please note that my usual office hours are 10-6 CST Monday to Friday and I will answer as soon as I am able. If you are receiving this email, please do not feel pressure to answer the email immediately, especially if it is coming to you outside of your regular work routine. Please respond in whatever way is most accessible to you.
Section 1: The introduction
For my first sentence, what you see is what you get. I want to make sure that the editor knows why I’m contacting them and where I got that information from.
I use newsletters like Sonia Weiser’s Opportunities of the Week and I follow creators like Kaitlyn Arford, but I do not link back to them because creators of these tools prefer that wouldn’t happen — after all, we’ve all sent a pitch that wasn’t a good fit, and I wouldn’t want that to reflect badly on the folks who put in so much effort to organize these collections of pitch calls. Usually, the link I include is from Twitter, though occasionally it might be from a LinkedIn post or a public pitch call on another site.
From here, I lay out who I am. Mileage may vary — I know some people don’t like to be identity-forward, but I treat this like a face-to-face call where you inevitably end up telling part of your life story. Because I’m often pitching disability or disability-adjacent stories, this identity piece is often relevant. Also, thanks to being a dual UK/Canadian citizen, currently living and working in the Canadian prairies, mentioning this helps weed out if a client can’t work with international freelancers. If I’m working with a Canadian client, it helps give them context. Very occasionally, mentioning that I’m British can help relieve some barriers as well, particularly when it comes to talking about humor and tone. I am, after all, sarcastic to a fault.
As a generalist, it can be daunting to decide how you fit into a beat or a topic when you’re pitching. For me, I usually list them all. I want to show people that I’m well-rounded and that I can cover a topic from multiple angles. I then try to show a little bit of my humor — hence why I refer to bylines not being the be-all and end-all — while still getting my point across.
Section 2: The links
This is the section where I usually spend the most time. I start with the three you see above, but I will often switch them out depending on the outlet and the editor. For example, the Defector piece is often shared because it mixes investigative reporting with disability, health, and sport. In other words, it shows range. The CBC piece is a reported piece in the digital realm and the FiveThirtyEight story links data, disability, and sport. This list of links would radically change if I were pitching, say, a tech-focused outlet, though I would keep the CBC piece. I want people to understand my style, but also get a sense of how I integrate the story into whatever the topic at hand is.
I know some journalists worry about the timeliness of any links they send. I don’t, with one exception. If an article is referring to something that has changed — for example, Twitch’s approach to tags has shifted since I wrote this piece for Input (RIP) — then I will note that. Still, it’s the style I want people to notice more so than whether a tech platform has changed its tune.
Section 3: The exit
I’ve experimented with a few different versions since I went full time, but I find that a quick exit is the best approach. If I am adding a more specific pitch onto the email, then this is where it goes, but otherwise I am purely trying to offer up the problems I can solve. I am a quick turnaround person who also enjoys pieces with longer lead-times. I add my portfolio link here because I don’t trust that any busy editor is going to routinely check my signature. I wouldn’t expect them to.
Section 4: The signature
There really isn’t anything special here. The one addition that has made its way into this particular block of text is my access statement at the bottom. I do my best to schedule my emails, but I have clients all over the world. My goal is to take the edge off of that perceived immediacy. I like emailing back quickly, it soothes my brain, but that doesn’t mean I want to add stress to the other person. This version is adapted from another disabled creative, Jillian Weise.
All that in one email?
I know, right? But building a template like this allows me to put less stress into my emails. This isn’t a spray and pray approach, each email gets customized depending on the outlet, the topic, the time of year, etc; but the less time my brain has to spend creating similar strings of words, the better. Ten minutes sounds like an overly ambitious goal, but after 20 I find that my anxiety disorder takes over and I begin worrying about whether I’ve found the perfect link.
All I’m doing, and all you should do in my humble opinion, is trust the editor to read between the lines.
With any pitching endeavor, there comes the question about how and when to follow up. For timely pieces, I wait a day or two, but it has to truly be timely. I will also add timely to the subject line if this is the case. A regular pitch for me, when I’m on my game and not drowning in disabled brain fog, will get a follow up after about a week. I will, generally speaking, follow up twice. I am also not above simul-pitching, depending on the story, but I will always indicate that I’m doing so to my editor.
Editors are getting hundreds of emails a day, at minimum. I just do my best to stay consistent and find the time to pitch my way.