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Coffee with a Journalist: Gabriela Barkho, Modern Retail

On this week’s Coffee with a Journalist, host Beck Bamberger is joined by the incredible Gabriela Barkho of Modern Retail. Gabriela is a New York-based reporter with previous experience covering tech for publications including The Observer, Crunchbase News, Inverse.com, and VICE Motherboard. Beck and Gabriela sit down to talk about her experience in the industry, story turnaround, and her notorious @3olivesmartini Instagram.

Click above to listen to the episode or read below for a full transcription.

Jered: “Welcome to Coffee With a Journalist – a podcast featuring the tech industry’s most well-known tech journalists. We uncover the real person behind the stories you love to read. We discuss their beat and news coverage, what their inbox looks like and a whole lot more.

Jered: I’m Jered Martin, the co-founder and Chief Operations Officer at OnePitch. Our host for the show is Beck Bamberger: the co-founder of OnePitch, CEO of BAM Communications, and a current journalist.

Jered: Today, Beck sits down with Gabriela Barkho, one of the newest Reporter’s at Modern Retail. Gabriela gives us an inside look into her turnaround time on stories, her martini-themed Instagram, her favorite movies and lots more.

Jered: Let’s hear more from Gabriela and Beck on today’s episode of Coffee with a Journalist.

Beck: Hey everyone. Today on Coffee with the Journalist we have Gabriela Barkho who is a New York-based reporter for Modern Retail. She covers the impact of technology and what it does on the retail industry. Gabriela, thank you for being here.

Gabriela:  Thank you so much for having me, I’m excited to chat.

Beck: Me too, and we’re, footnote not doing coffee. We’re doing wine. Today is a wine day, so thank you Gabriela. It’s been quite the time and I know you’ve been quite busy, so we’re going to start and dive in here. First off, you’ve been in a number of various stints. Your job is rather new at modern retail, so you’ve been there since January, so congrats on the new job first off. And have otherwise been at Crunchbase, at Inverse, at Vice, Observer, so you’ve been even around the bend a little bit here so far and started out as an intern at Hearst magazines. How was that at Harper’s Bazaar, by the way? Was it fun? Was it crazy?

Gabriela: Well I didn’t sign an NDA, so I guess I could say.

Beck: Oh, okay. Okay.

Gabriela: It was, but I feel like as an intern at a really large magazine conglomerate, it’s actually not as fun as they portray it in like The Devil Wears Prada, which is probably what I thought it was going to be but apparently it was just mostly like answering emails and updating context sheets.

Beck: Oh bummer.

Gabriela: It’s a fashion magazine, so I did get to see a lot of the behind the scenes, but I didn’t, it’s not like I got to like write articles or anything, but a good start.

Beck: Good start. Well, look at you now.

Gabriela: Oh, thank you.

Beck: And you’re back in fashion retail and all that stuff.

Gabriela: Sort of full circle yeah, I don’t consider myself a fashion writer at all, but it’s there.

Beck: Tell us a little bit, give us a little plug on your cocktails.

Gabriela: My cocktails?

Beck: We got to talk about that in case people don’t know.

Gabriela: Okay, true. I mean, they probably shouldn’t know because I have like 40 followers.

Beck: Well now we need to get it up to a hundred at least, come on.

Gabriela: Oh man. Okay, here we go, here we go. Okay. So-

Beck: Yes, yes. Martini Instagram.

Gabriela: Yeah. So I run a martini Instagram that I made because I actually really hate scrolling through my own Instagram and I find it really depressing and it makes me kind of just anxious and yeah, you know what it is. It’s the whole like, looking at people’s perfect lives. So I decided, I’m like, well what do I like doing? I like drinking martinis and I was scrolling through my camera roll and realized that I have so many photos of them from a lot of different bars. So one night I just made an account called “@3olivesmartini”. Yeah. And then just some friends started following it. I wasn’t really updating it as well, but this year my resolution was to update it more often. So that’s what I do, yeah.

Beck: Okay. @3olivesmartini on Instagram?

Gabriela: Mm-hmm (affirmative), thank you.

Beck: That’s fun, I like that. And it’s not, yeah, because you could get depressing when you look at it.

Gabriela: Yeah, it’s low, low risk. I don’t have to really think about it, I’m not trying to really be an influencer so it’s good for myself. I mean, I don’t know, never say never.If you’re out there, I could use some sponsorship.

Beck: Yeah, who knows? Maybe a year from now you’re going to have all these martini companies coming after you. Well, why don’t we jump into the making of a great story. This is one portion of this podcast we like to talk about. Just how do you come up with a story? Where do you source it, where does it come from your brain? Do you get into a certain spot of like thinking where you’re like, “Oh, I go to my one corner or my little meditation pod and I come …” well how do your stories come about?

Gabriela: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, so I think it’s different because I felt it on, or I’ve experienced it on two different levels, which is when I was a freelancer it was a really different process because you’re not on the staff and you’re not in a newsroom with any editors. So day-to-day it was really different and I guess I can give some examples. So I was a freelancer so I had to sign up for health insurance through the ACA and then I downloaded the app, they’re just like Oscar Health. And I noticed that they do a lot of their interfaces telemedicine-focused, which obviously is huge now. And this is a few years ago and I was writing for a motherboard at the time, so I pitched a story about why are a lot of insurance companies sort of turning to telemedicine because I had used them and they’re actually really great and it saved me a trip to the doctor.

Gabriela: And so things like that where you just are a natural consumer, a lot of it does come from that. Yeah, and so I think it’s also a motivation when you’re a freelancer because the more ideas you have, the more likely you are to be paid right? To write them.

Beck: That’s true.

Gabriela: That’s a whole different beast but a lot of that also came from just me throwing ideas out there about everything around me. And then on staff it is a little bit different, especially when you do have a beat or a focus. A lot of times, because we’re following certain companies, we do follow a lot of lists and social accounts and news alerts. A lot of it comes just from news pegs. So, let’s see, I mean Casper for example, recently we got a lot of coverage on because they were IPOing-

Beck: The IPO, yeah.

Gabriela: Yeah. They’re a direct consumer company. They’re within our wheelhouse at Modern Retail. And so that’s an example of a company that we would just kind of check in on all the time. So definitely, I think you can kind of sense that on staff. It’s really more about just keeping up with what’s going on than trying to get the news out, but then also doing analysis of what that means.

Beck: So then when you, okay, so you see that little news kernel coming by or something and you go, “Okay.” And now it’s like, “Yeah, go write a story on that.” So then what? How do you then go from there? In terms of getting the sources, the quotes, the people, all those things.

Gabriela: Yeah. So that’s the hard part. Yeah, so I guess to take you through the day, you’re so optimistic at 9:00 AM when you get started and you get your edits approved and you’re like, “Okay, I’m going to file this by like 4:00 PM or tomorrow or whatever.” And even, so at Modern Retail, we do have a very high standard, even new stories do you have to have original reporting or analysis data. So I do have to literally go out and well not go out but find them. So that’s when you kind of have to jump in and a lot of times it’s easier to plan when it’s ahead of time, but that’s not always possible. So you start reaching out to your sources, analysts, kind of your Rolodex of people, the company itself, if they’re involved. And then you kind of just play this, I don’t know, praying ball where you kind of just hope that everything comes back together and on the phone with people and yeah, it’s very adrenaline rush-focused. And when it doesn’t, then you kind of have to go back to the drawing board and see what you could salvage.

Beck: Yeah. Now at Modern Retail, and I know this is all new, but what’s the turnaround for stories for you mostly? Is it 24 hour, 48 hour? Do you get a week sometimes on longer form stuff?

Gabriela: Yeah, so obviously if it’s something that I’m working, features which I haven’t really obviously delved into too far because a lot of our long-form can also be pitched towards our magazine, which is quarterly. So it’s a little bit of an overlap. So I started out kind of trying to focus on either a couple day turnaround where I can just get like a couple of people on the phone, which doesn’t really, I mean if they reply to your requests, usually people are like happy to get on the phone and you can kind of just get everything you need and put it together and then submit a first draft, kind of see who else you can talk to. A lot of obviously resources are helpful. I don’t know if you want to plug one.

Beck: Oh yeah, plug one.

Gabriela: Oh, I was making a joke about-

Beck: Oh, Onepitch? Yeah, yeah, we know about that one. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gabriela: Oh yeah, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, it’s just this little-

Beck: It’s so good.

Gabriela: Yeah. So it’s always helpful to put in those requests like either the night before or early morning and put in your deadline. And so it kind of doesn’t hurt to do it just because you might even get a source. I mean, I’ve had sources reach out to me where they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I know you just missed your deadline.” Whether it’s like a VC or an expert. And then I end up actually using them another time. And so-

Beck: Oh, that’s probably good for people to know because often they think, “Oh, I didn’t get the quote or my piece in. Boo, and I never hear from you again.

Gabriela: We can always use someone some other time there’s that.

Beck: Yeah, exactly. So how do you organize that? So someone you’re like, “Ooh, that was a good conversation. Couldn’t use it now, but maybe eventually.” Like what do you do? How do you organize that? Do you have a little Rolodex somewhere?

Gabriela: Yeah, I try, it’s always so much easier when you could just search your inbox, which is something that I do. Yeah, like I’ll just literally write in like VC, I don’t know, like just any phrase.

Beck: VC Casper, and then see who, yeah.

Gabriela: DTC is a big line for us. And then, Oh, for example, I had a pitch from the first week I started and it was about a brand that uses a KOLs, the like yeah. And I was like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t think I’m really good over here writing about this right now.”

Gabriela: And then the other day we, I did like an explainer about them and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know anything about this. And then it turns out that a pitch from a month ago, I replied back and there’s always the, “I’m so sorry. I know this is a delayed reply, but are you still interested?” And I mean, nine out of 10 times they’re like, “Oh yeah, oh my gosh, I’d love to.” Yeah, we got on the phone like a few hours later. They were in China, so I did have to do it at like 8:00 AM. Yeah but it’s very unrealistic to promise people you’re going to reply if it’s a no, just because it’s literally so hard to go through the inbox while on deadline.

Beck: So let’s talk about the inbox.

Gabriela: Yeah, I do try to at least open them and like see and then I’ll just either leave it in there. I try not to delete them because again, like if you search-

Beck: Oh, so you’re a non-deleter. Okay. So some people are deleters.

Gabriela: I used to be a deleter and then realized I might need them later and I know it’s very selfish but it works for me.

Beck: No helpful. Okay, so we want to talk about this, the inbox. How does your inbox look? Is it like 85% pitches? What do you do with all these pitches? Tell us more.

Gabriela: Yeah, my Modern Retail email, I mean like right now it’s at two.

Beck: Wow, that’s amazing. Do you get to zero every day?

Gabriela: Pretty much. I try too. Well I think it goes back to the thing where it’s like, just because it’s at zero doesn’t mean I reply to all of them, which is a habit that is just really hard to, I don’t know, get into. But at least when I know I opened them, then if they follow up, this is not a prompt to follow up with you.

Beck: No, go ahead. Go ahead though.

Gabriela: I might and obviously the subject line is relevant that day, then I am more likely to see it because it’s not buried under all of the unreads, if that makes sense.

Beck: So do you then, you click every single one open?

Gabriela: Yeah.

Beck: Oh wow. You’re the first one I’ve heard who does that.

Gabriela: Really?

Beck: Yes. Yes.

Gabriela: Well, so I open it like just because I think it literally is this maybe anxiety germ because I like have to open it. And it probably came from being a freelancer it’s like you’re just waiting, if you want to email me back and so maybe you just came from my natural sense of opening everything. Even when they’re literally, I know this is not going to be anything, but I still just open it even if it’s just to like, have it be read, yeah.

Gabriela: I don’t know. It’s something I’ve been doing for years and it’s really hard to get out of but I do do that. And then sometimes I tried to, Oh, I do star things. I’m not very like high tech when it comes to my inbox, but I star things that I’m working on right now. Yeah, so if I’m like replying to a person for a story, like right now I’ll just, instead of trying to look at my entire inbox, I’ll just go to the stars and then it’s just like a short, cut away but I’m trying to be better about like labels and stuff.

Gabriela: I just know I’m never going to be like minute by minute or like I know people who do the whole like app Trello, Vision Board, I just don’t have time. Because if you do all of that, I feel like when you have to be on the phone a lot, like I don’t have the time throughout the day to do that I need to just like get to the email and …

Beck: Call the person and get it done.

Gabriela: Yeah.

Beck: Okay, so that’s your inbox. Basically what we got from this is you technically open every single pitch.

Gabriela: Yes.

Beck: And you keep every single one of them?

Gabriela: Yes.

Beck: Wow. How many, could you give us like a range of how many are you getting? Are you getting like 200 a day? 100 a day?

Gabriela: You know what it is? I think because I haven’t been specifically in Modern Retail too long, I don’t have as many, I guess as most people would’ve been at a staff writer job for years. But the email is in my bio on Twitter, so it’s not like I’m-

Beck: That’s true. Hopefully then more people will find you too.

Gabriela: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Beck: Yes, because every pitch will be read technically. This is great.

Gabriela: Yeah, I mean one thing that’s hard, especially when you pivot your focus is like, I will get pitches that I would have maybe written at my previous job at The Observer because a lot of my…you’re on these lists.

Beck: Your contacts.

Gabriela: Yeah, they’re like, “Well you’re a…for her, why won’t you write about this?” And I’m like, well technically I’m not really want any more. Yeah, so there’s a lot of, it feels like you kind of have to rebrand as a person to people. When you are-

Beck: You changed?

Gabriela: Yeah, exactly. Even if they’re just a slight pivot, it still feels like you have to tell them and there’s always like a disappointed reply.

Beck: Well, they got to update their contacts lists.

Gabriela: Exactly, but that’s my inbox for now.

Beck: Okay. Well why don’t we do a little word association game. Are you ready?

Gabriela: Yes.

Beck: Here we go. So I’m going to just give you some words and you’re going to tell me what you think.

Gabriela: high pressure.

Beck: Just, yeah. Here we go. Here we go. Food.

Gabriela: Avocados.

Beck: Martini.

Gabriela: Gin.

Beck: Hobby.

Gabriela: I guess it would be movies, like right now.

Beck: Yeah, yeah. Silicon Valley.

Gabriela: Sorry.

Beck: No comment?

Gabriela: No, I was going to say San Francisco boys.

Beck: Okay, San Francisco boys. E-commerce.

Gabriela: DTC.

Beck: Unicorn.

Gabriela: Overvalued.

Beck: New York.

Gabriela: Home.

Beck: Brick and mortar.

Gabriela: This one’s going to get me in trouble. Adapting.

Beck: Amazon.

Gabriela: Life.

Beck: Life? Amazon is life. Consumers.

Gabriela: People, they’re people.

Beck: Journalism.

Gabriela: Fake news.

Beck: Pitch.

Gabriela: Useful, I think.

Beck: Inbox.

Gabriela: Anxiety inducing.

Beck: But also it sounds like your inbox gets very close to zero, at least for now. Okay. What are you reading right now? Anything you’re loving, just like in general? Movies even, all types of storytelling.

Gabriela: Oh, okay. Yeah. So reading, yeah. Reading is hard to be honest, especially because I read for work all day and obviously reporters do read. I do have a hard time looking at even the Kindle after a long day. So I don’t read as much as I used to, but I used to be really into the classics. Yeah, I like really liked Russian lit. 

Beck: Do you pick up an actual book too?

Gabriela: Yes, because I used to be one of those people who’s like, “Oh I would never …” like, I just love the feeling of books.

Beck: I love that too.

Gabriela: I know but then someone gave me a Kindle and then I started borrowing them from the library because they could, you could just borrow Kindle books. A lot of public libraries have a lot of that now. So there’s just, because I don’t have room for books anymore. A lot of them are at my parents’ house, my apartment can’t hold anymore books, so it just streamlines things for me. And then I don’t feel bad about buying them and not reading them because I’m just borrowing them.

Beck: There you go. I saw a word for that yesterday that was mentioned about people who buy too many books and then guiltily they feel like-

Gabriela: Oh yeah, that’s a thing.

Beck: Yeah, that’s a thing. Yeah, yeah.

Gabriela: It’s like the idea of being intellectual, I’m just kidding.

Beck: Well yeah, or like I’m a voracious reader and then just happenstance. No, you don’t read five books in a month, so there you go, yeah.

Gabriela: Yeah. I really like, I mean the books that I do still buy are definitely just geared more towards like coffee table, which like architecture, design, like that stuff I know that I can just flip through and people, conversation starter like, and I got gifted them a lot I think. So yeah, those are cool, just decor.

Beck: Exactly. Now transitioning then … Oh yeah. Movies, movies. Tell us, tell us, tell us.

Gabriela: So I’ve been doing this thing where I’m rewatching a lot of old movies. Like, even ones that I wasn’t old enough to really go see in the theater or haven’t seen since I was very young. Yeah, I was really into like ’80s like yuppie culture. You know what I’m talking about?

Beck: Yeah, yeah, I know because we’re about the same age, yeah.

Gabriela: Yeah. So obviously I wasn’t alive for that, but I’m really obsessed with the whole like Wall Street excess like that late eighties. And there’s a lot of good movies set in that era. Obviously American Psycho is like the parody version, but then there are real ones like Wall Street and Metropolitan, which is about like waspy Upper East Side, like in New York culture. And so I’ve just really been into those because it’s like the furthest thing from my own life and so yeah.

Gabriela: And then it’s always predictive of the future because I feel like I had this theory that lifestyle is parallel to what Silicon Valley lifestyle is now. And people laughed at me when I said that. But here’s my theory, this is where I get to tell it. Okay, so obviously you see like those people eating at like Delmonico’s like all these really old school, the restaurants and bars. And then I feel like today’s crowds, not going to name any names, but the ones who do frequent these, like the nomads and these French laundries like of the world are technically tech people. So I feel like they replaced that yuppie culture and so you know that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

Beck: I like it. Yeah, Wall Street in 1987 I just looked it up. Damn, that was good. Oliver Stone, amazing. Dealers, that was ’89, love it. British classic.

Gabriela: So good.

Beck: Yeah. Oh, I feel like we could just do like a whole binge on these.

Gabriela: I think so too.

Beck: Other People’s Money, 1991. Oh, that was great.

Gabriela: I know.

Beck: Anyway, oh Working Girl was in the ’80s.

Gabriela: Yes. Working Girl..

Beck: Oh, synopsis: An investment bankers secretary has her investment ideas stolen by her boss, so she gets revenge by pretending she has her bosses job.

Gabriela: That’s like the original Lean In I think.

Beck: Oh, I got it. Okay, you’ve given me some inspiration. I got to go back on these, this is great.

Gabriela: Yeah, do it.

Beck: Okay, okay. So different transition here. What do you think, we’re not going to talk about the future of retail because that’s a whole other discussion of course, but what do you think, just the future of journalism? How are you feeling about it?

Gabriela: I actually feel fairly optimistic. I think there’s a lot of stories to be told and despite a lot of hardships, like I’ve myself have been a victim of two media layoffs in my 20s. So I get, like I’ve been on both sides. I do think that, and I hate the whole like, “Well the ones who work hard will weather the storm.”, It’s not like that because there are a lot of people who do work hard and then end up not really being “rewarded” as far as doing the journalism. And it’s frustrating especially as a woman, but there’s minorities, like there’s a lot of different intersections of just the system. But I think it’s still exciting because I think for the first time, at least since I’ve been a reporter, I do feel like there is more room despite publications shutting down there are just … Yeah, I think people are just more willing to hear out different types of stories. And so I still think, I don’t know, I feel hopeful. I think it’s an exciting time still. So we will see, maybe get back to me in a year and I’ll have a different…

Beck: Yeah, maybe. So cautiously optimistic I would say is where you’re at.

Gabriela: Yeah.

Beck: That’s good. Well let’s play a little catch phrase here if you want. Let’s see here.

Gabriela: Let’s do it.

Beck: I got my list of phrases, I’ll give you them and then I’m going to read it back to you, so let’s go here. First off is a catch phrase, do you have any catch phrase?

Gabriela: No, I just repeat like memes that I’ve internalized. So just whatever is trending, which is really stupid if It doesn’t make any sense. Like, I’m just like, “Oh my gosh. Like she’s shaking.” And then my mom will be like, “What?” But I don’t have a real catch phrase or anything.

Beck: Oh, that’s okay. Okay, that’s fine. I put something in. Okay, what about like a journalist scare phrase?

Gabriela: Not getting back to me.

Beck: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative), okay. What about an empowering journalism buzzword?

Gabriela: I don’t know if this was empowering, but putting “gate” at the end of things. Like Watergate, like they’ll just put “gate” at the end of things.

Beck: Oh yeah, yeah.

Gabriela: It’s more of a bad habit than Empowering, but I feel people abuse it.

Beck: What about an adjective?

Gabriela: Calm.

Beck: Yes. What about part of a pitch?

Gabriela: Desk side intro.

Beck: Oh gosh.

Gabriela: Which I didn’t know what that was until recently.

Beck: Yeah. Desk side, I don’t even know what that is anyway. Okay. What about adjective and then another part of a pitch?

Gabriela: Driven.

Beck: Okay, driven. All right. Then what about another part of a pitch?

Gabriela: INVITATION, All caps.

Beck: Oh God. What about amount of time?

Gabriela: Deadline.

Beck: Deadline, okay.

Gabriela: It’s not an amount of time, but it’s kind of how my life …

Beck: Yeah, no, that makes sense. Okay, how about another adjective? We’re almost done.

Gabriela: Anxious.

Beck: Okay, okay. Then what about a noun?

Gabriela: Home.

Beck: Okay, great. And then a topic?

Gabriela: Politics.

Beck: And then a verb that ends in ING?

Gabriela: Disrupting.

Beck: Okay. Hey, that’s good. And then another verb and then that’s it. And I’ll read it back to you?

Gabriela: I guess checking.

Beck: Yeah, check. Okay, all right. Are you ready for me to read this back? Here we go.

Gabriela: This is going to be awful, okay.

Beck: Okay. To me, tech journalism is a trending meme. It consists of not getting back to me and putting gate at the end of everything on the daily. If a pitch has a calm, desk side intro offered, I will absolutely respond to it. However, if a pitch has a driven INVITATION in all caps, you can expect no reply for me. This maybe true, maybe true. If the deadline goes by and you don’t see an email back from me, you can just assume I am not anxious about it. The best stories always have home and are usually about politics and the best way to reach me is disrupting me, but you can also check me.

Gabriela: I feel like you just read like my tarot card.

Beck: I love this. It kind of has worked out like that for a lot of people. They’re like, “Oh, can you actually send that to me? It sounds accurate.” I’m like, “Sure.” Well Gabriela, thank you so much for hopping on here and drinking some wine. We just drank all types of stuff on this show besides coffee in most cases, it’s great.

Gabriela: It’s the journalism beverage menu.

Beck: It’s true, true. and we will be on your Instagram.

Gabriela: Oh yes, please.

Beck: What is it again? “@3olivesmartini”, get on it. Great. With an S, with an S Martinis. Okay everybody, you heard it here first. Thank you Gabriela.

Gabriela: Bye.

Beck: Thanks.

Jered: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Coffee With a Journalist featuring Gabriela Barkho from Modern Retail. The goal of our show is to give you an in-depth look into the tech industry’s most well-known and coveted journalists, and we hope you found today’s episode insightful.

Jered: If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to our show on iTunes, Spotify, and everywhere else you enjoy listening to podcasts.

Jered: We’ll see you next week with an all-new guest and even more insights. Until then, let’s quit bitching about pitching and start great stories!

Love getting the 411 from awesome tech journalists like Gabriela? Be sure to check out more episodes of Coffee with a Journalist dropping every Tuesday! Our new bi-monthly Twitter chat “Twitter with a Journalist” (#TWJchat) also has unique insights from journalists about pitching and more. Follow the conversation on Twitter HERE!