Image courtesy of St. Petersburg Times

Stephanie Hayes is a reporter for tbt* and the St. Petersburg Times, covering pop culture, fashion, trends, nightlife, that weird guy on your street — and how they all intersect to shape our lives. She also blogs about style for the Times’ style blog, Deal Divas. She started writing for the Times in 2003, covering everything from suburban politics to zoning to snack foods to Britney Spears. She wrote the Times’ feature obituary column, Epilogue, before becoming a general assignment news and feature reporter. She grew up near Cleveland and graduated from St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida.

Beat/Section: I cover mostly pop culture, entertainment, fashion, interesting people, global trends, weird foods – you name it.

How do you prefer to receive pitches (phone, email, regular mail) and what is the best time to pitch you?
Email is good, but sometimes it helps to follow up and leave a message on the phone because we get so inundated with e-mail day in and day out that things fall through the cracks. If you don’t hear back after that, though, we’re probably not into it.

What kind of pitches from sources grab your attention?
Often, the story that’s being pitched is not the true story. People like to manufacture neat story lines, but the real story is somewhere in the cracks. Maybe it’s not how great your product is, but how it fits into a larger cultural picture. Maybe it’s not that your person overcame adversity to reach for the stars (all too common pitch), but it’s that your person is still struggling to figure themselves out with a lot riding on the line (a much more textured and real story). We like imperfections. We like truth. We like characters with depth. We like tension, and for something to be at stake. We don’t write advertisements, and we don’t let people create their own blemish-free narratives to benefit themselves. Our responsibility is to the story.

How can a person or business pitch a product for coverage in tbt* or St. Petersburg Times?
Be realistic. Understand that the coverage might not end up exactly how you want it to end up. If you pitch us a patch of lace that covers your cleavage and holds your credit cards, understand that we might poke fun of it, and be OK with that. And try to explain why your item is different from the 50 other items that come in each day, and why it’s worth writing about. Get right to the point. Reading “This year in America, 80,000 people lost their jobs and the economy…” is a lot to get through to find out you want us to write about a purse.

What makes a person or product stand out when s/he or it is introduced to you?
Human beings make a huge difference. If you can help us connect with local people who are willing to talk openly and honestly about something and use their first and last names and ages and be photographed, it immediately makes it easier. And then, not to be rude, but it can be helpful to step back. The reporter and the subject can take it from there. Hand-holding and babysitting phone calls can be off-putting.

When there’s a product being pitched, do you prefer that samples be sent to you?
We only accept samples if it’s something we’re going to review. We can’t take gifts, so if you send something and we never review it, it ends up in the charity donation. There’s always the chance we might review something, but sending a product doesn’t guarantee anything.

Additional comments from Stephanie: I do appreciate getting contacted by PR people, even if I don’t always take you up on a story. Publicists get a bad name sometimes, but the best ones who truly try to understand the newspaper can help foster great journalism.

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