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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.
How She Writes Stories
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.
Her Work Inbox
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.
Her Thoughts on Pitching
Beck: Okay, so that’s your inbox. Basically what we got from this is you technically open every single pitch.
Beck: And you keep every single one of them?
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.
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!