On this week’s episode of Coffee with a Journalist Season 2, host Beck Bamberger is joined by Alex Heath, Los Angeles-based reporter for The Information. Alex covers all things Facebook, from its competitors to the latest game-changing moves of the tech giant. During their chat, Beck and Alex dive into his advice for PR professionals, the unique storytelling approach at The Information, his views on pursuing a journalistic career, and predictions on the future of journalism.
How He Writes Stories
Beck: I want to dive into, to get rolling here, just what it takes for you to craft a good story. You write specifically often about Facebook and all of the shenanigans going over there. So there’s a lot of probably deep reporting that happens there, but what does it take for you to craft a piece? You can maybe reference a recent piece if you want and how that story came to be, but we’d like to know what does it take to make an actual story, get it printed and up online.
Alex: Yeah. I mean for those who aren’t familiar with The Information, we have actually a pretty unique approach. I mean, I don’t know how unique it is, but we have a very high bar for exclusive content and stories for our full stories. We have another product called briefing that’s more of a daily kind of our take on the news of the day. So obviously, we don’t break all of that ourselves.
Alex: But for our stories, there’s a relatively high, either original info or original take or an exclusive interview or something kind of bar to meet. So that’s the starting point is what I have, either a scoop or an original smart take on something that no one has done, something that will make people, readers think differently about whatever the topic is. That’s really the starting point.
Alex: And then from there, it’s all the normal stuff that every journalist will tell you. Just is there tension? Is there an interesting character? For us usually, is there an interesting business angle or we do lighter stuff as well like, we had a great story today about etiquette in the age of Zoom, virtual hangouts and all the weird things people do and the weird snafus people get in on Zoom calls.
Alex: We are a little flexible, but I tend to do more of the business type stories. So, that’s where I start always.
His Thoughts on Pitching
Beck: Yeah. Speaking of leaving your desk, as it relates to just your phone and how you’re on the go and maybe not at this current time, but in the midst of the Facebook empire of sorts, what is your just inbox look like if you’re maybe out on the prowl, you’re on campus with folks at Facebook? Are you spending a lot of time in your inbox at all? Are you inundated with pitches?
Alex: I’m not inundated with pitches because, I don’t know, maybe a lot of folks already understand that now about the information that you’re kind of wasting your time most of the time. I do get stuff that it’s like, “Oh, that’s… Maybe I’ll talk to that person one day when I’m working on a story about that.” But I’m always working on something and I’m pretty heads down on it so I don’t really have bandwidth to… I’m not just usually waiting in my inbox for a story to arrive in my inbox. I don’t find that that’s how the best stories happen. That’s like 1% of the time.
Alex: I mean my inbox is a mix of PR people that I have relationships with that understand how I work and what the relationship is like. But it’s mostly emails with colleagues, emails with the companies I cover. And you caught me on a Friday, so I’ve actually cleared out a lot of my inbox. I’m really bad at getting through my inbox during the week because I’m usually on deadline or trying to confirm a tip or something, and I just put blinders on and ignore my inbox.
His Work Inbox
Alex: So Friday morning is my day to sift through everything. So we’re Friday afternoon, so I’ve actually only got eight emails right now and they’re all from colleagues or just things I need to respond to. But it certainly is a lot different like on a Wednesday and I have about 52 newsletters that I need to skim that I haven’t gotten to read this week because I’ve published three stories this week. But yeah.
Beck: Yeah, yeah. You’ve been busy. So you have an interesting cycle. There’s some folks we talk to, and they just let it ride. There’s like 42,000 emails in there. Some are adamant deleters, like get it to zero, I can even tell you. So you kind of have the cache, like let’s get to Friday, then you’re going to clear it out, get to zero. That seems very reasonable. Do you ever file stuff? How do you manage, oh, maybe that’s someone I want to talk to in four weeks or something?
Alex: Yeah. I have an email app that I just like I tell settings to come back in my inbox and whenever I think it’s relevant.
Beck: There we go.
Alex: I am an inbox zero person, so by the weekend, I try to be as close to zero as I can. Just while we’re on the topic of inboxes, I’m currently in this newsletter overload thing where I have a… I know these great reporters who do all these great newsletters and I subscribe to them all and it’s like, I don’t know which ones to unsubscribe for, but it’s Friday, I’m looking at 42 newsletters in my inbox that fall from this week that I already skimmed.
Alex: I already probably read 26 or so yesterday, and I’m like, “I want to read all these, I love all these people.” I don’t think they’re all interesting and have interesting insights, but I’m like, “I can’t. I can’t do it. I can’t read all this.” So I’m in this weird thing where I’m just in a newsletter overload but that’s a whole nother topic.
Beck: Yeah. There seem to be a lot of fricking emails, newsletters from all our favorite people, et cetera. But yeah, how do you go through all of them?
Alex: Yeah. But anyway, that’s a whole nother thing.
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