This episode of Coffee with a Journalist is joined by Heather Somerville of The Wall…
In this episode, Inc.’s Brit Morse joins the Coffee with a Journalist podcast hosted by Beck Bamberger. At Inc., Brit Morse is an assistant editor covering startups, entrepreneurship, and access to capital. Listen to the full conversation as Brit and Beck dive into Brit’s running pitch document, how the Inc. team develops stories, the future mediums of journalism, and more.
Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
Her Work Inbox
Beck Bamberger: But let’s start off with your inbox. You were saying it definitely was full post holidays, because we all had time off. You got some time off, which is great. But what is the normal inbox flurry of pitches look like for you on a biweekly basis?
Brit Morse: Gosh, you know, I’m not the best person at organizing my inbox at all. I usually just sort of let it fill up as it goes. I don’t know if I get a specific number per day. Maybe that depends on what time of year. I don’t know, maybe like a few hundred a week, maybe probably more. Right now, it’s somewhere upwards of like 3,000 in my inbox right now. And I’m working on it. I’ll just put it that way.
BB: Do you do any flagging system of any sort or filing? Or are you a mass delete, like you actually delete everything?
BM: Oh my gosh,
I’m one of those people who like hoards all of my emails and I don’t delete them until I absolutely have to.”
So, I don’t delete anything because I’m always like, “Oh, what if I need it later?” So, I actually have like a Google doc or like a really big notes sheet that I keep, and I will write down notes or sort of like copy and paste a name or something if I want it or I’ll make note of an email and then I can come back to it later.
Most of the time, though, that’s just sort of like, if I see a source that I’m like, “Oh, I might be writing about that in the next month or two or whatever.” That same person seems really good. But I don’t need it for a story right now. I’ll just make a note of it. And then whenever I have free time, which is almost never. But should that day ever come, I usually go back to my notes and look it up from there.
BB: So, you’re the first I’ve heard that has a separate running document going like this.
BM: Oh, interesting.
BB: Yes. So, what are you doing? Copying, pasting like pieces of a pitch, pieces of just contact and it’s just kind of – what does this magical document look like?
BM: Oh my god, it’s really not that magical. It’s actually extremely frightening. It’s basically just oftentimes, like a name of a source or who they are or if it’s a founder or co-founder of a company and then just the contact email that I could get in contact with them if I need too. And you know, sometimes like a long time will go by, and I’ll reach back out to that person and they’ll be like, “Sorry, I don’t want to work with them anymore” or, you know, “I’ve moved on or something”. I still just keep in touch that way. And yeah, it is, I wouldn’t say a magical document, but I love to search and find things by key names, because I guess that’s how things stick in my brain. So, that’s usually how I find things. And I’m very bad at deleting things in my email. Really, I keep everything.
BB: And I like how it’s a doc, like not a spreadsheet. It’s just a doc. How many pages is it?
BM: I don’t even know. Right, now, I let me pull it up real quick.
BB: I’m so curious about this.
BM: It’s 47 pages.
BB: Oh my god.
BM: Yeah, it’s a little ridiculous. But it’s just, I can’t use, I don’t really like Excel spreadsheets for some reason. They don’t really work in my brain. I just see things in document for them. I hate scrolling. So, I just command find everything in the document.
Her Thoughts on Pitches
BB: So, what type of pitch gets your attention that you opened? Do you open every single pitch?
BM: I definitely do not open every single pitch. I open a lot of pitches, obviously stuff that’s related to what I’m covering right now. We’re covering in the moment. So, right now, I’ve been looking at a lot of stuff related to vaccines and the workplace and COVID, and workplace safety and covering things related to the stimulus package. So, that’s kind of been top of mind.
But I also just look at stuff too, that could be like potential profile stories, or anything about founders or co-founders running interesting companies. I rarely actually write upon them. But I’ve gotten maybe a handful of pitches in the last couple years that have actually turned into pretty fun profiles. So, I usually keep my eye out for that as well.
Anytime we see any kind of like, growth stats or anything in a headline, I mean, that’s kind of like Inc. Magazine’s bread and butter. How much are you making in revenue or sales? Or how much are you growing in the last few years?”
BB: It’s not percentages, right?
BM: Yeah. Any kind of statistics too, because usually, too, if companies are willing to share that information, it means they’re also a little bit more open to providing those financials, which are kind of necessary for writing for Inc., in general. So, those are like always things I look for in a lot of different pitches.
How She Writes Stories
BB: And then you kind of touched on it just thereon, “Oh, it’ll come from a pitch.” So, when you’re thinking of, “Okay, I want to do this profile”, or you’re thinking of just some story you want to do, does that come from, “Oh, I’m on a walk looking outside”, or “I’m looking at my plants”, or “I’m just thinking about something”, or are you getting actual pitches that result in a story? In other words, how do you come up with the stories you do?
BM: Oh, gosh, that’s a heavy question. Well, we have news meetings, usually every morning or every few days at Inc, where we talk with all the editors, and all the reporters, and a lot of people bring in, ideas there, and we’re constantly bouncing things off of each other. So, whenever it comes to news coverage, so, you know, like I mentioned, vaccines, stimulus, all that’s really come from the news meeting is just come from us, bouncing back ideas back and forth, and what we need to cover.
But a lot of the profiles and features, some of the best ones I’ve written, have actually come from pitches, but I would say it’s been really extremely rare.”
It’s like, I don’t know, one in a thousand kind of thing, where it just hits like the right moment. And I happen to have free time and it happens to be a really good story. Because I do obviously news coverage, but I also occasionally will just take like a random founder interview, just to see like, “Do you have a cool story? Like what it worked for us? Does it make sense? Is there a struggle there? Is there a really interesting plotline?” So, I do take those on occasion when they seem interesting.
BB: And do you do, this has come up a couple times, especially with COVID continuing as it is, do you ever just hop on the phone and be like, “Yeah, talk to me for 15 minutes. Let me see what’s here.”
BM: Totally. Lately, that’s been with a lot of different sources in like HR, and I’ve been on the phone with so many lawyers recently.
BM: Yeah, a lot of like employment lawyers to talk to me about like what’s legal in the workplace and how to set up workplace ramifications and how to set up your workplace for COVID. There are all these really indicate nuances there, especially when people are starting to bring employees back to work. And I talked to them about like, “How does that work with vaccines? How is this going to work in the next six months? How is it going to work in the next year? What is legal? What’s not legal?”
BB: Yeah. Can you ask somebody, “Hey, have you had been vaccine?” Can you ask that as an employer?
BM: That’s a great question. I assume you can, although it may be in considered some ways to be health information.
BB: Yes, is that HIPAA compliant?
BM: It might be considered under HIPAA. I’d actually have to talk to someone about that. I’m not entirely sure. It’s a great question.
BB: There you go. Yeah. It just struck me.
BM: Hey, you may have just sparked another story for me, so thank you.
BB: Hey, look at that. I love it. No, but that’s a real question. Because you know what, little signs, like I was going to the zoo, and they have you read the sign and it says, “Have you been exposed?” And it’s like, anybody could go on this and lie out of their teeth, which I’m sure happens all the time. That is a very sad –
BM: Yeah. And I mean, it’s crazy right now, there isn’t really like one great method to bring employees back to work right now. Companies are kind of having to figure it out on their own. And part of that deals with individual state and local guidelines and having to follow those on a really localized scale, especially since states are doing vaccine distribution and all of that. But a lot of it has to deal too with the fact that businesses are mostly on their own right now, having to figure out what to do about COVID and how to handle it. So, I guess, yeah, there isn’t really one great answer, which is one thing that my reporting is come up with, and that business owners don’t always love to hear. I can give the best advice, but there is no one real answer.
BB: Fascinating. Well, these are the things you get to explore and look into and I like it.
Like Brit, many journalists understand the importance of pitch potential and develop relationships with PR professionals who may be a useful source for a future story. As a PR professional, developing these media relations is key. To learn more about this vital step, check out our all-inclusive guide to media relations to learn everything from what media relations are to how to build an effective media relations strategy.
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