Do I need a gimmicky cover letter?

I’m graduating in May, so I’m beginning the painful job search process. [REDACTED PUBLICATION] is looking to hire beat reporters, and they’re inviting applicants to pitch their beats for the site. I want to pitch a race/class/gender/sexuality beat because it’s 100% in my strike zone and I know I would do an amazing job with it. But now that I’ve got my blank cover letter in front of me, I’m starting to freeze up. So as my fairy journalism godmother from afar, I’ve got a question for you. Besides the obvious LinkedIn stalking and email intros (I’ve found one 2nd degree connection inside [REDACTED PUBLICATION]), how would you suggest I proceed with the cover letter / job application? The girl who beat me out for an internship last summer tweeted her Storify cover letter, which was extremely playful and irreverent, and it just made my little heartfelt Word doc feel so lame. At this point I have lost most of my faith in an earnest, traditional cover letter. Is it all about flash now? Or is it just a check in the box?

Some editors love a gimmicky resume, others are like, “why are you making it harder for me to sort and compare and contrast?” My sense is to go with a more traditional resume, and then set up a tumblr showcasing the kind of work you’d want to do for them. The best way to convince someone your build-your-own beat would really make sense—not just given your skills but given what readers want—is to show them. What would your daily reporting/wonking about race/class/gender/sexuality look like? What would you call such a beat? These are the questions an editor is going to have to answer, and your case will be more compelling if you’ve already thought through some of that stuff. After all, the job isn’t “making flashing cover letters and data-viz resumes.” The job is beat reporting in a digital context. So my advice with this or any job, when you’re entry-level and don’t have too much of a work history, is to create a compelling sample of what you hope to do in the position.

I hope this helps, if not with this position than with a future application process.