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This week on season 2 of Coffee with a Journalist, host Beck Bamberger is joined by Mashable Tech Reporter Brenda Stolyar. Beck and Brenda sit down to talk about Mashable’s unique journalistic freedom in the tech-journalism space, Brenda’s interests outside of tech, and her predictions for the future of journalism. Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
How She Writes Stories
Beck: All over the place. Global team. Well, why don’t we get in first to how you come up with your stories? Where do you get the kernel of, “Okay this is definitely a product I need to review”? Is it just …? Or, for you, is it more like, “Yeah, I’m sussing out what’s given to me via pitches and I go with that. I know my Samsung, Apple people and wait for that”? Because you obviously cover that. How does it work for you in terms of how you come up with the piece you’re going to write?
Brenda: Yeah, there’s always the standard procedure of we always are going to cover the flagship phones. Samsung comes out with a major phone, Apple comes out with a major phone, then there’s no question, yeah, we’re definitely covering it. The cool thing about being at Mashable specifically is that we don’t have to cover it from the same standpoint as a lot of other publications do in the sense of, “This is a standard review.” We have the ability to cover it from a unique standpoint. It’s funny because it definitely took me longer to write reviews at other publications, but at this one, when I realized it’s because it’s just I can throw in just my stream of consciousness in a way.
Beck: That must be very freeing.
Brenda: Oh, it totally is. Even when there’s things that I think my editor’s going to take out because it’s like either too, I don’t know, snarky or out of the blue, it stays in most of time.
Beck: It stays? Oh. Well, you have found your people then, I would say, where you let that persona come out. That’s good.
Brenda: Yeah, for sure.
Beck: Then obviously, okay, you have the flagship ones. Do you, though, for smaller, lesser-known companies, are you relying on pitches? Are you relying on the Slack channel? Where are you finding and unearthing the next Apples and Samsungs of the world, if at all?
Brenda: I do rely on pitches a lot, especially for the smaller companies that I normally wouldn’t find just browsing through different other publications or even just social media and stuff. It’s always nice to be able to get pitched something that falls under my category in terms of tech, something I don’t have to squeeze in in a weird way that sort of relates but doesn’t, so I always appreciate the pitches that are like, “Okay, this connects to your phone, this is a tech product,” and it falls under my beat, which is either a phone or a wearable or anything fitness-related.
Brenda: Yeah, I mean, it gets a little difficult because there are, unfortunately… Not unfortunately, I shouldn’t say “unfortunately,” but there are always tons of major products coming out that it gets hard to be able to take a break and cover more niche products, but every now and then, there’s a bit of a lull in the review cycle and we get to jump on things that we weren’t able to.
Her Thoughts on Pitching
Beck: Got you. You’re mentioning pitches and that you rely on pitches. Everyone who listens to this podcast likes to know: How do you organize and suss out pitches? We’ve talked to people who delete every single pitch they get and keep inbox zero. We have people who have said, “Oh, no,” someone I just spoke to yesterday saves every single pitch she ever gets because she unearths them for a later time. What do you do with pitches and how does your inbox look?
Brenda: Okay, it’s funny, my work inbox, I always have to keep it at a zero because for work, it bothers me. My personal inbox is like at a-hundred-thousand-plus emails, so it’s like two completely different worlds. In terms of organization and stuff, I do read through all pitches that I get because I don’t get that many each day that it’s not as difficult to sit down, yeah, and actually read through them. But to save time, I’ve gotten into this habit of I already know if it’s something I’m going to cover based on the first sentence or even the subject line.
Beck: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Ah, so you’re looking at just even the subject line, to know if it’s legit or not?
Brenda: Yeah, it’s a bad habit sometimes because I’m sure there could be something I might miss out on, but I do make sure that I do read through it, but am I really sitting there and giving it my full attention as I would if, say, Apple email me and they’re like, “We have this new thing. Do you want to review it”? In that case, I’d make sure that it’s a priority that I answer and I coordinate that, but if it’s something that isn’t timely or isn’t really that major, because we also have to take into account our audience and our traffic and whether this is something that our readers would even want to potentially purchase or read about.
Beck: Mm. Do you look at it from that lens of, “Is my reader going to want to purchase this and if no, forget it”?
Brenda: Yeah, I mean, is it useful to their everyday life? Is it worthy of even my time to review, you know?
Beck: It has to even pass that hurdle.
Brenda: Yeah, yeah. There’s so many products out there that, while I wish I could review everything because everyone’s out there making some pretty cool things, there’s also the fact that there are certain products that we need in our everyday life that’ll just make it a little bit easier, so they have to be able to work well and check off these boxes of is it worth their money? Is it worth their time? Is it worth having in their house or having on them every single day?
Beck: Then what do you do in the sense of you have this product, you’re like, “Eh, it’s kind of lame. I was planning to review it”? What do you do? Are you just like, “Eh, okay, I’m not going to post it. I’m not going to review anything,” and blaze them? Or do you move forward? The reason I ask even further is because you’re rather new in this particular role, so you don’t have necessarily a reputation yet established of, “Oh, god, Brenda really roasts some things if she hates it,” you know what I mean? How do you think of that?
Brenda: Yeah, that definitely… Well, okay. If I have the product or if I’m going to review the product and I all of a sudden realize that it’s not as cool, if it’s really something that our readers might care about even if it’s kind of lame, then that’s where that weirdness in Mashable comes in where we have that opportunity to cover it from some crazy angle, that’s even if they don’t want to necessarily read a standard review of, “Here are the specs, here’s how to use it. Does it perform well?” We can kind of take it from a different… Here, I’ll give you an example.
Beck: Yeah, yeah. What’s an example?
Brenda: We reviewed a charging case for a phone and a lot of the times when we review, we want to compare these products to similar ones on the market that might be cheaper or worked better, but we didn’t want to do a review that literally mimicked the charging case review that I already did because I’m essentially writing the exact same thing.
Her Work Inbox
Beck: I hear you. Well, let’s talk about, okay, we covered your inbox and what it looks like inside there. Oh, by the way, with all the pitches you get, do you ever delete? Do file? Do you folders? What do you …? I know you get down to zero, as you said, but how do you organize, if anything?
Brenda: It depends on the situation. If I have, say, a conference coming up, whether that’s CES or Mobile World Conference or EFA, then in that case, I will create folders for them. Whenever I got a pitch that’s related to being there, then I’ll put it in that folder or I’ll label it. When I know it’s a major event that I cannot miss anything and I have to make sure that I’m on top of everything, I will organize them in that manner.
Brenda: Otherwise, though, I don’t delete for sure because there’s always a time where I’m having anxiety that’ll have to refer back to something because there’s always that scenario where they’re like, “Did you get that email?” and I’m just like, “I don’t know. Did I?” Then I’ll have to go look. You need the receipts, let’s just say that.
Beck: Yes, yes. You need the receipts. I like that.
Brenda: Yeah. Yeah, I just really keep them in there in the main inbox unless there’s something that really requires meticulous, like my full attention, I’d say.
Brenda: Yes, very important. It’s a lifesaver, for sure, especially because people still pitch you. That’s another thing.
Brenda: People still pitch you when there is a major conference going on. It’s really important that certain things don’t get lost amongst.
Beck: Ooh, what do you do with that where they’re pitching you during, let’s say, CES and it’s not related to CES, but it’s during that heavy time? It just goes into the regular box of sorts?
Beck: So, you don’t do it. Yeah, mkay.
Brenda: Honestly, I’m-
Beck: Because you’re like, “Unrelated,” yeah?
Brenda: … Yes, yes. I feel so bad. I mean, my brother, he has been in PR for, I don’t even know, so long at this point.
Beck: Oh, he’s on the other side? Okay, yeah.
Brenda: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. I’m very conscious of all… Knowing the other side of it, I always take that into account. When it is CES, I think I’m a little bit more aggressive where I’m like, “Okay, literally cannot pay attention to this right now because things are so crazy.” I think there’s also the fact that like, thankfully most PR people are aware that…
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For more tech journalist insights, head to the podcast page and listen to other guests on Coffee With a Journalist including journalists from Modern Retail, NBC News, and CNN Underscored.