From the Newsroom: How to pitch The Daily a story idea, and how we decide what news to cover


Madison Smith/Daily Senior Staffer

Assistant Photo Editor Joanne Haner works on a story. The Daily Northwestern has a chain of editors who review every story before publication.

Isabelle Butera, Reporter

In this series, Daily staff members hope to provide more transparency about how we operate. If you would like to submit a question to be answered here, please send an email to Editor-in-Chief Isabelle Sarraf at [email protected].

News happens all the time. The Daily doesn’t cover all of it, but we want to report out the stories that are important to the Northwestern and Evanston communities. 

Here’s The Daily’s process for deciding which news stories we cover and which we don’t. Ultimately, we serve our readers, and we know our reporting has gaps. If you have ideas for stories we should cover, both now and in the future, please reach out. We’ll explain how to do that below. 

Pitch process 

With the exception of breaking news, all stories start as pitches. Reporters and editors typically brainstorm article ideas at weekly desk meetings. Our reporting desks include city, campus, arts and entertainment, sports, audio and video. Staffers can also pitch stories to desk editors throughout the week. 

A pitch is a short summary of a potential news story that explains why it’s worth covering. At The Daily, story pitches include potential coverage perspectives, sources and background knowledge. Staffers draw inspiration from many places: the news cycle, social media, campus and city calendars, news releases and their own lived experiences as Northwestern students and Evanston residents. 

NU and Evanston readers can pitch stories, too. Anyone can fill out our tip form or reach out to an individual staff member to submit a story for our consideration. Staffers list their student emails (and Twitter profiles, if applicable) at the foot of each story they publish, so an easy way to reach out to them is through those channels.  

How we determine what’s newsworthy

Not all pitches become stories, as desk editors must consider what news is most relevant to our audiences. That doesn’t mean stories we don’t cover aren’t important — they just might not fit The Daily’s framework of newsworthiness. 

News judgment varies at every publication. At The Daily, we keep our audience, location and impact at the front of our minds. 

Editors primarily consider our audience when determining what is relevant to cover. For example, The Daily covers COVID-19 policy update emails, even though students receive those emails. That’s because our NU audience extends beyond students. We also write for professors, faculty, parents and alumni of the school, some of whom may not receive those emails. And that’s not even counting the vast number of communities in Evanston we serve, who are directly impacted by the University’s policies and decisions.   

When we report on the news, we try to answer questions members of our audience are asking. We try to break down the actions of Evanston and NU leadership, deliver updates to foster community health and safety and uplift and celebrate local communities. 

The Daily mostly covers news local to NU, Evanston, Chicago and greater Illinois. A groundbreaking law passed in New York might not have the same relevance to our readers as one passed in Illinois. We don’t cover everything that happens in Washington, D.C., but we might if student loans are implicated, for example. 

Finally, The Daily keeps impact in mind. We track which day-to-day stories resonate with our readers by looking at page views and listening to audience feedback. When stories do well by those standards, we try to write similar pieces. We also invest time into long projects, called In Focus stories, that uncover policies, issues or trends that significantly affect our readers. In Focus stories can take between weeks and multiple quarters to complete. 

What happens when we break news and publish stories

All publications value timeliness, so The Daily covers breaking news as quickly as possible. (The Daily strives to be correct, not just fast, and that takes time. If you notice a factual error in a Daily article, please reach out to request a correction.)

When news breaks, one managing editor or the editor in chief will read and fact-check a reporter’s article before approving it for publication.  

Non-breaking stories run through what’s called a “chain” of editors who are active in the evenings between 6 p.m. and publication time, from Sunday to Thursday. The reporter submits the story to an assistant desk editor, who makes edits and passes it to the desk editor, who sends the story to managing editors, then copy editors (who look at fact-checking and grammar), and finally to the editor in chief. The reporter can approve or reject edits from anywhere in the chain that change the intended meaning of the article. 

Often after news breaks, we reach out to people who have a stake in the news and also research its context to publish follow-up features and explainer pieces. If major state or national news breaks in other publications and you see little coverage in The Daily, we may be working on longer-form follow-up pieces that tend to be more time-intensive. Again, if you have concerns about the content of our coverage — please reach out

Why we don’t cover everything 

While some incidents may meet all the “newsworthy” criteria, we don’t always cover them right away. 

Most Daily stories require at least three verified sources to publish. Every fact we write must be attributed to at least one, if not two, sources. Rumors or trending posts may spark reporting for a future story, but rumors alone aren’t strong enough grounds to publish an article. 

Additionally, as a teaching newspaper with about 100 active student staffers this quarter, we’re limited in our expertise and personnel. We also know our perspective is limited. 

Our staff has never fully represented the compositions of NU, Evanston or the United States as a whole. The makeup and values of our staff affects our news judgment, which in turn means we sometimes undercover or misreport on certain communities. 

Our newsroom is not the ultimate arbiter of which stories are important. We are constantly considering audience feedback and holding newsroom discussions on reporting more responsibly. While it’s our duty to identify the gaps in our coverage and better serve our readers, we always appreciate your suggestions for how The Daily’s coverage can be more inclusive.  

To our readers, thank you.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @isabelle_butera

Related Stories: 

From The Newsroom: The Daily’s corrections and fact-checking process, explained

From the Newsroom: The new role of Diversity and Inclusion Editor 

From The Newsroom: How The Daily has expanded its multimedia efforts