Season two of Coffee with a Journalist continues with special guest Alex Kantrowitz, Senior Tech Reporter at Buzzfeed News. Alex is based out of San Francisco and reports on the latest news in social and communications, from industry updates to the moves of tech’s biggest players such as Google and Facebook. Alex recently applied his expertise to his new book Always Day One: How the Tech Titans Plan to Stay on Top Forever out now!
Host Beck Bamberger sits down with Alex to talk about his new book and how it came about as well as his takes on tech reporting, journalism, and his journey to Buzzfeed News.
How He Writes Stories
Beck: Let’s drop some little tidbits then as we chat so people can get a little two for one on not only how you like pitches, but also then how this book unfolds. First off, talking about just how you make a story, and this could apply to your book, but also just the articles that you write. How do you go about starting from square one creating a good story that’s going to be an article that’s up on Buzzfeed or a book that’s going to be a bestseller?
Alex: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the key is to be speaking with people all the time. Anyone who’s in this business and is shy is going to ultimately close themselves off for opportunities for good stories. Anyone who’s in this business and isn’t curious is going to close themselves off to opportunities for good stories. So since I’ve been doing this and I started out actually working in sales and marketing before moving into journalism.
Alex: But since I’ve been doing this, I’ve just made a point to fill my days with interviews and conversations with people and just to prod a little bit, but also most importantly to listen and see what they think is interesting in the world. And then I think that what you can do is when you’re in a position, it’s actually a really cool job, because when you’re in a position to be doing that all day every day, sometimes people will say things or act a certain way that will cue you into the fact that there’s something different going on that your readers might be interested in. And that’s sort of where a story begins.
His Work Inbox & His Thoughts on Pitching
Beck: Love how that works out. That’s nice. What is in your inbox now that you’re done writing this book or maybe previously while you were writing this book, when you were off to do this, so you weren’t necessarily in the pitch machine trying to get all your work done at Buzzfeed because you had time out or time off. What does your inbox typically look like with just pitches?
Alex: Oh yeah, it’s a complete mess. It’s really just a total mess. It’s chaos. So it’s a struggle to keep on top of all the emails. But I guess you know for this audience’s purposes-
Beck: Oh yes, no, we want to know intimately. So do you save every pitch? Do you just delete everyone? Do you ever reference one back? What’s your protocol? How do you do this?
Alex: I have most PR agency emails filter into a PR stuff folder. They skip my inbox and they filter into that folder. And so instead of having that sort of take my attention throughout the day, all day long, I’ll go a couple times a day and just kind of take a look through-
Beck: Do you ever peak?
Alex: What’s in there. Yeah.
Beck: Oh, so then that way it stays contained.
Alex: Exactly. Yeah. So, it’s contained and I always feel like it’s amazing how many PR agencies there are out there. Because I feel like, okay, I’ve done a good job, I got them all. And then there’s another seven that show up one morning and I’m like, “Where did these come from?” So, I do my best.
Beck: Oh wow. They just keep multiplying.
Alex: Yeah. They keep multiplying. So I do my best to be diligent and put them into that PR stuff folder. And it’s not that I ignore the folder, I definitely check it. But yeah, it’s less frequent.
Beck: But what happens when you get one that files into it but is actually not? Do any of them slip through to your regular inbox by chance?
Beck: I’m just wondering about? Because people have weird domains.
Alex: Yeah. So then when I get a new one in the regular inbox, I just… Usually if I see three or four I’ll just go make a filter, put the top level domain, and then just filter them into that folder. I mean, just to be completely honest, when it comes to pitches from the… Like people who are in-house, those will go directly into the inbox. So if it’s at like @facebook or fb.com or twitter.com those will be messages that will come straight in.
Beck: Got you. Okay. And then what happens to the rest in that folder? Do you just keep it the PR folder? You keep it indefinitely? Does it just get bigger and bigger? You ever delete them? You go back to them two months later? What happens?
Alex: Yes. It grows. It grows and grows and grows.
Beck: It just grows.
Alex: This is the cool thing about Gmail though. Right? It’s like you can go into Gmail and search anything. So for me, there’s really no utility in deleting these pitches. And trust me, there’ve been times where I’ve gone back to an email that I got three years ago and I’m like, “Oh, okay, well now you know…”
Beck: Three years ago?
Alex: I mean three is… Yeah, maybe five years ago. I don’t know. That’s the cool thing about Gmail is. I think just having that contact in the inbox sometimes… Oftentimes I’ll be proactively reaching out after I’ve heard something. So, for me to delete those emails would be silly. And of course the fact… Gmail search is amazing. Google’s done a pretty good job with search. It’s almost as if they knew something about it. So yeah.
Beck: Yeah, right.
Alex: I think that that’s super helpful.
Beck: Wow. I can’t believe someone getting a pitch or response from a journalist five years later. But hey, everyone who’s listening, that might be Alex writing back to you.
Alex: Well, just to be realistic about it, I’m probably not going to say, “Hey, I’m now interested in your product news from 2015.” It’s more like, “I’ve heard this thing about your company. Can you please confirm or deny.”
Have a great pitch for Alex or tech reports like him? Before you press send, be sure to check out our eBook covering 5 key essentials to pitching! With specified guides based on criteria from subject matter to timeliness, it is sure to make your next pitch top-notch. Download your FREE copy by clicking HERE!
Also, don’t forget to check out Alex’s new book Always Day One: How the Tech Titans Plan to Stay on Top Forever today!