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Coffee with a Journalist: Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic

Coffee With A Journalist: Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic

Our guest this week on Coffee with a Journalist is Adrienne LaFrance, an executive editor at The Atlantic. She’s held numerous roles with the publication since 2014 and prior to that was an investigative reporter for several local news organizations.

During the episode, Adrienne starts off by telling us about her role as executive editor, her thoughts on cold pitches, her advice for sources approaching journalists, and more.

Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:


Her Work Inbox & Pitches

[00:03:19] BB: Oh, my gash. Adrienne, that’s a lot. That’s a lot. Well, then, do you get a lot of pitches?

[00:03:26] AL: Yes, definitely. 

[00:03:28] BB: Okay. Let’s talk about the pitches.

“I mean, if I see something that grabs my attention, either just because I find it interesting, or because maybe it’s something that is in the realm of something I know, someone on my team is working on, I might forward and just say, I do definitely forward things and just say like, “In case of interest”, or, “This looks like the story you’re working on”, or whatever it may be.”

[00:03:30] AL: My inbox is chaos, honestly. I think yeah, I mean, I get like most journalists, just all kinds of things, things that are of interest, things that the Atlantic probably would never do, things that are just random. So yeah, all kinds of things.

“A cold pitch, it’s really hard to have that result in coverage” 

[00:03:44] BB: So, you mentioned it’s chaos. That is the typical journalist experience that’s has been on the show for 130 episodes, or whatever we’re on here now. How do you organize it at all? Everyone has a technique of some sort.

[00:04:01] AL: I really don’t keep up very well with email. I have to confess. I think I organize it in the sense that I’m really scanning for people I know. So, it’s hard to break through, if it’s not someone I know already. I really don’t organize. I’m not a good inbox zero person at all. Nothing like that. It’s just sort of – 

[00:04:21] BB: Are you a let it ride person?

[00:04:24] AL: Hundred percent. I can tell you, I’ll look at my –

[00:04:26] BB: Yeah, let’s look at it live. Tell us. Tell us

[00:04:31] AL: My unread right now are 362,000 –


Her Thoughts on Subject Lines

[00:06:35] BB: And that’s okay. This is why we have this show, so people know what’s up and how to finesse anything. Related to that, if there’s even a glimmer of hope here, is there a subject line you’ve recently seen or one that you remember where you’re like, “Damn! That was an email I had to open from the pitch.”

“but I think demonstrating that you understand what the person is trying to do in their work is a helpful starting point. And so even like, like someone saying, “Oh, I read your story on whatever the last story was”, might be a better entry point than just pitching something out of the blue.”

[00:06:53] AL: I mean, I guess one tactic that sometimes works is someone asking, if someone – I can’t think of a specific subject line. There are definitely creative subject lines. I feel like you find this with like political campaigns too, where you’re like, “I see what you’re doing there. You’re trying to get my attention.” But I think, the thing that has been more effective has been, if someone reaches out and rather than just saying, “I have this client, what do you think?” More like, “I’ve noticed you cover X, Y and Z. I think there may be areas where I could be helpful to you. Could we find time to talk at some point?” Or like, “Could I tell you more about what we’re focused on?” Or something where it’s like, trying to understand what the journalist is focused on, rather than sort of throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks approach, which is, I think, a lot harder.

Obviously, it’s more time consuming, and some people don’t want to talk on the phone. So, it’s hard to break through in any case, but I think demonstrating that you understand what the person is trying to do in their work is a helpful starting point. And so even like, like someone saying, “Oh, I read your story on whatever the last story was”, might be a better entry point than just pitching something out of the blue. 

[00:08:10] BB: Although, I feel that that line has to be very careful. Because also on the show, we’ve heard people who are like, you just throw out a line that said, “Yeah, I read your story on baseball”, and they’re like, “How about we talk about shampoo?” And you’re like, “What does that have to do?” It’s like, you didn’t read the story.

[00:08:30] AL: I think, it’s also like, you have to demonstrate that you actually have read it too, because people we’ll get pitches where it’s like you obviously just links to my last two most recent stories. You know what I mean? You have to be careful with that one too.


Her Thoughts on Exclusives & Embargoes

[00:10:00] BB: Oh, great way to describe that. I hadn’t heard it like that. Wonderful. Do you ever get exclusive pitches? 

[00:10:06] AL: I think so. Yeah. For sure. I’m trying to think of a recent one. But yeah, occasionally.

[00:10:15] BB: Okay. And this is always a topic because people have varying viewpoints of exclusive versus what the true exclusive or an embargo or anything like that? So, would you ever take an exclusive? Let’s ask that.

[00:10:28] AL: I think it depends what it means. I mean, we certainly, if someone’s offering exclusive access to someone to be interviewed, sure. If it’s someone who would want an interview anyway, great. But just by nature of something being exclusive doesn’t necessarily mean we’d be more interested in it. 

[00:10:46] BB: Mm-hmm. Then is there ever a time, and I think I would know the answer, but just to make sure we handle this question. Is there ever a time that an embargo would be appropriate for The Atlantic or that someone would that would fall across your inbox? 

[00:11:00] AL: Yeah. Certainly, I mean, where that comes into play for us is perhaps like academic studies or scientific findings. That’s something that we definitely accept in terms of embargoes, when it’s – again, it’s like something’s coming out in a scientific journal, and we agree that we’ll keep it embargoed until the next day and have early access so we can start working on it. That’s critical for us. Other embargoes, maybe not as much, but that’s a common one.




Adrienne blatantly mentions that cold pitches rarely result in coverage or interest. For her, and for many journalists, it’s all about building up the relationship and then working together on future pieces.

Learn more about previous guests on Coffee with a Journalist, their pitching preferences, relationship-building tips, and more in our journalist spotlight videos available for free on YouTube.

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Jered is the co-founder, COO and support manager at OnePitch. He handles operations for OnePitch; along with strategy, support, business development and hiring. He studied Communications with an emphasis in marketing at Cal State University Long Beach. In his free time, he enjoys surfing, eating cheap street food, cooking, and exploring the outdoors.

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