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Coffee With A Journalist: Ben Schiller, CoinDesk

Coffee with a Journalist: Ben Schiller, CoinDesk

This episode of Coffee with a Journalist, host Beck Bamberger is joined by Ben Schiller, Managing Editor of Features and Opinions at CoinDesk. With more than 20 years of tenured experience writing about business and technology, Ben is no stranger to covering quick-changing landscapes. Listen in as Beck sits down with this Ben to discuss CoinDesk’s position in the cryptocurrency conversation, how cryptocurrency news impacts the average citizen, and Ben’s wary words for journalists entering today’s landscape. 

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

His Work Inbox

Beck:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). You mentioned just then about receiving the PR pitches for the pieces that get published on the opinion section. So now, let’s talk about your inbox and how you sort through those. How does your inbox look on a week by week basis?

Ben:

Well, like everyone else’s inbox, it looks quite messy and full of stuff. 

Beck:

You’re not an inbox zero? We have a couple of hardcore dedicated people.

Ben:

We try, but I think it’s impossible to keep up.

Beck:

I was going to say.

Ben:

I’ve tried to answer this question before, and I don’t really know how to answer it. It needs to be either topical. I fit with a… Have a news pack or it needs to be something that’s trending. So for instance, we ran an op ed yesterday about tech talk, which is obviously very much in the news. It’s a part of this emerging fight between the US and China. So it’s something that’s very topical and new-sy. So I think generally, we’re looking for pitches that have that sort of currency.

Beck:

No pun intended.

Ben:

No pun intended. I think we’re just looking for things that are outside the usual suspects, as well as I say, there are these kind of cliches of crypto, Bitcoin journalism and we’re always looking to kind of get outside of those cliches and do new things and reach new audiences and make people think, really.

Beck:

So when you’re in that inbox that is messy, as you’re saying, do you actually read every single pitch that comes in? Do you do the mass delete thing? How does someone stand out?

Ben:

They stand out by having an original idea, having something that’s new and it hasn’t been covered before. So we’re always looking for things that break the mold.

His Thoughts on Pitching

Beck:

Got it. So is subject line really important for you before you open it? Or are you like, “I don’t really care. I open everything”? Some people, for example, that I’ve talked to, they will open every single email, which I find fascinating. Then there’s like the hardcore deleters where if they don’t know you, you get deleted.

Ben:

It is very frustrating to receive a PR pitch where people don’t explain in the first line who they are and what their kind of perspective is because you just think, “Well, this might be a good story, but if I don’t know where it’s coming from, if I don’t have any sort of perspective or context around it, then how am I supposed to really make a decision?” It’s like when you don’t know someone it’s hard to trust them, you know? So I think almost as important as the pitch itself is to really clarify what your credentials are and what your perspective is. What are you trying to sell? What are you trying to do? Nothing more annoying than having to go to the seventh paragraph to find out what the story is really about or where it’s coming from or what the motivation is for the story.

Beck:

Yeah. I have to say, not that I’m receiving pitches, but people want stuff for whatever reasons for me and then it’s exactly what you’re describing. Seven paragraphs, I hear your whole sob story or whatever your story is and then it’s like, “Oh, can you get on the call with me?” And I’m like, “Okay, I would have loved that on line one.” “Can you get on a call with me? I’m so and so this is why.”

Ben:

I think sometimes having said that it’s good to have a news hook on your pitch, often we get pitches that are a little bit forced. Something will happen in the news. There’ll be some tragedy or wildfire or something, and people will try and make a linkage between their product or their service and this thing like, “Now more than ever because of the fire in California, we need toilet rolls.” So that’s kind of awkward, I think.

Beck:

What’s the worst you’ve ever gotten, just so we know?

Ben:

I don’t think I would like to embarrass anyone but sometimes it’s really, really kind of bad, you know?

Beck:

I don’t know what came through your inbox, but I can absolutely see, “Black lives matter. That’s why we got to have Bitcoin,” or some like-

Ben:

Exactly. Yeah. Some things are best as left on their own. Black lives matter is Black lives matter. There’s no sort of product opportunity there.

Beck:

That’s right. Oh God. Okay. So I think that distills for publicist, what they need to know here have; just upfront, make it clear, tell them what you want and you’ve got to have a really distinct opinion.

Ben:

And I think you have to be relatable as well. I think we’re all very attuned these days to people who are sincere in what they say and people are not so sincere. So I think don’t claim through something you’re not. Don’t don’t claim that you’re offering something that you can’t and just be straightforward and upfront. Yeah.

How He Writes Stories

Beck:

So let’s go into the story making. As editor, kind of the role’s a little bit different. You can talk about that. I know a couple of last pieces you wrote was on the Post-Trust Election and how you’re hitting the 2020 campaign trail. You also had a new opinion section of the future of financial systems and how it’s up for debate, et cetera. How do you guys decide what to write?

Ben:

First of all, we have an audience that we’re trying to reach and that kind of is segmented into three different groups. There is a kind of core crypto audience coming out of the Bitcoin and Ethereum communities mainly, and that they’ve existed for a number of years and they’ve always read CoinDesk, but we’re trying to also reach more of what we call a discovery audience. These are people who are maybe-

Beck:

A bit curious.

Ben:

Yeah, definitely curious. That was good. Yeah. They’ve heard about digital currency. Maybe they’ve heard about Bitcoin, but they don’t know a lot about it and this is a sort of notoriously tough subject to crack or to understand. So we’re constantly trying to find those ways to reach people in a kind of relatable, easy to understand way because there has been a sense in the past of the crypto industry and of crypto media talking to itself all the time, and we want to break out of that bubble and reach new audiences, whether that’s corporate audiences or more sort of mass market.

Beck:

Okay. So you’re thinking of the audiences in mind. Especially now, is there a Zoom call you guys all get on once a week, every day or something to say like, “Okay. Here’s the stories that are potential”? How do you guys discuss then, especially in your role, what actually turns into a published piece.

Ben:

Okay. We do opinion, so we have a roster of columnists who send us pieces all the time, and then we have contributed pieces that come, a lot of them from PR people.

Beck:

We’re going to talk about that in a second. Yes, go ahead.

Ben:

They send us pieces and then we work on them together, but they have to meet a certain kind of standard that we have. It has to have an opinion rather than just being kind of a sales talk for something. So that’s one side of things. Then more on the feature side, to features are profiles of people or longer in depth trans stories. So I can’t really tell you how we decide those. They either come from writers, they come from me or they come from other editors who decide what we should cover. But we’re trying to find a balance between editors deciding what is important and listening to the various channels that we have as to what people out there think is important and we find a balance between those two things.

______

Similar to how Ben notes technology is revolutionizing currency and journalism, the public relations landscape is no different. Learn more in our recent guest blog How Technology is Changing Public Relations where we dive into various key topics from the importance of one’s online reputation to technology’s effects on crisis control. Also, to stay updated on the latest podcast episodes and blog releases, be sure to subscribe to the podcast and follow us on Twitter!

Mathew Cruz

Mathew started at OnePitch in January of 2020 as a Marketing Apprentice. At OnePitch, he handles content creation from social media to the OnePitch blog. Mathew studied Integrated Marketing Communications at San Diego State University. In his free time, he loves creating art, visiting museums, and traveling.

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