July’s Freelance Friday feature is award-winning journalist Melanie Reffes. A year-round globetrotter, when not exploring all the Caribbean has to offer, she lives in airplane mode while seamlessly balancing writing for USA TODAY Travel, the Caribbean Romance Report: MarryCaribbean.com, Montreal’s The Suburban newspaper and CaribbeanTravel.com.
Melanie helps her readers discover the deep, intricate beauty of the Caribbean. Her stories introduce the world to many of the talented individuals of the Caribbean community showcasing island cuisine, off-the-beaten path experiences, not-to-be-missed resorts, and stunning wedding and honeymoon locales. If she’s not home in Canada, trust that she’s in search of a good story and a strong WiFi signal. Sounds like a dream job, eh?
Q: How many times a year do you travel?
I think the better question for me might be, “how many times a month I travel?” to which I would answer, so often that the guy in the café airport in Montreal knows what I take in my coffee.
Q: What draws you to your stories?
I have a real good nose for news and a real good eye for what is interesting. My father once told me that journalism is the perfect way for me to pay my bills because I started asking questions as soon as I learned to talk.
Q: What is something unique you do while at a destination/resort?
Explore on my own, take public transportation, if available, read the local newspaper and check the resort or destination’s social media feed to see what local events might be going on.
Q: What is a fun fact about you?
I once lived (and worked) at an orphan elephant sanctuary in the middle-of-nowhere Zimbabwe, an hour north of the South African border. The trainers told me that should I visit that sanctuary again, the elephants would remember me. So yes, the expression ‘elephants never forget’ is accurate.
Q: Can you share a favorite press trip experience? Why was it memorable?
One of my favorite trips was to Zortman, Montana. Zortman where? The most interesting thing in that town – population of 68 people without us 2 reporters – was the prison where people with too many unpaid driving tickets were kept. The other reporter on the trip was from Miami. We giggled our way through one full week there. We’re still in touch (me and her, not me and the prisoners) and when either of us needs a good laugh, we tell Zortman stories.
Q: What is your ideal pitch?
One that gets right to the point in less than one paragraph and does not include “Hey Melanie, I hope your weekend was great.”
Q: What is the best pitch you have received? Why did it stick out?
I received a pitch to cover a city in Alabama. That pitch included 4 photos and a website. Perfect.
Q: What is the worst pitch you have ever received?
One that required the publication date, word count and number of photos to be included in the story guaranteed prior to travel arrangements made. I ditched it.
Q: What is your pitching pet peeve?
Spell my name correctly, spell every word in the pitch correctly. No PDF’s, know the difference between Barbuda and Bermuda, do your research which will reveal I do not live in the USA, which means don’t wish me Happy Memorial Day and dump the ‘Hey Melanie’ unless you know me.
Q: What is your favorite destination and why?
Born and bred in NYC, stays with me always.
Q: What do you wish people knew about the Caribbean?
Not all the islands are alike and not all the countries in the Caribbean are islands.
Q: If you weren’t a writer, what would you do?
I’d be an FBI agent. I can find anyone anywhere, which is a plus when gal pals ask me to check out their blind dates. (note to the interested: I need at least a last name and a city).
Q: Fill in the blank. I look ahead at the future of travel and see…
More hassles with airlift, unpredictable weather due to climate change, experiences that are life-affirming and locals who inspire.
Melanie, thank you for always making it a pleasure to work with you.
If there’s someone you’d like to see featured or just want to say hello, e-mail Erica Hammett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay updated by subscribing to our blog and following us on Instagram and Twitter @MPA_Digital. Happy pitching!