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Making a difference

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Can one person make a difference? Until a few weeks ago, I wouldn't have thought so; and I certainly wouldn't have guessed I could make a difference. The phrase "make a difference" is one of those dying metaphors that Orwell would have shunned. Usually when we're told we can make a difference it's because we're being asked to sign a petition, donate money, or send letters to elected officials. This sort of thing is important. But recently I had the good fortune of being able to do a little more.

Recently, I visited the Southern Poverty Law Center's Website (www.splcenter.org) and was horrified to learn that an anti-immigrant group is trying to launch a coup at the Sierra Club--a hostile takeover of sorts. Morris Dees, the president of the SPLC, is running for president of the Sierra Club in protest. I was shocked that I had heard so little about this. Why hadn't I read anything about this in the paper, or heard anything about it on NPR? And then it struck me: This was exactly the sort of creepy hostile takeover story that would fit in on the show This American Life.

First, I e-mailed the people at the Southern Poverty Law Center, telling them my idea. Good idea, they said, but they were really busy. But they said they'd be happy to talk to someone. So I took it upon myself to pitch the story directly to the documentary radio show, This American Life. After about a week I got a polite response from the producer, Julie Snyder. They were interested in it, and were doing further research.

Finally, she e-mailed me, thanking me profusely, and even offering a generous finder's fee (which I accepted). At this point, the story is entirely out of my hands, and the story will be airing in the middle of March--thanks more to their hard work than my pitch. I only hope more people find out about this story now.

I've learned quite a bit from this experience. If you're thinking of making a story pitch to a major newspaper, TV station, or radio program, here are some suggestions to get you started.

1. Be willing to e-mail, write, and call anybody and everybody involved.

2. Focus on one program, newspaper, or television show.

3. Persist. Producers and editors get a lot of e-mails. If your e-mail didn't get through, it might be because your e-mail didn't make it past their spam filters. Make sure to include a subject line. If the story idea you had is important, it will get through.

4. Get paid. Not just for yourself, but for the world. Getting monetary compensation will encourage you to keep at it.

5. If your story gets through, tell your friends and family. Maybe it will motivate them to follow suit.

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