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Coffee With A Journalist: Joel Shannon, USA Today

Coffee with a Journalist: Joel Shannon, USA Today

This episode of Coffee with a Journalist, USA Today Reporter Joel Shannon joins host Beck Bamberger to dive into his role as a part of USA Today’s Nation Now team. During their conversation, Joel discusses his unique position writing for Now News, a more trending-focused, all-encompassing beat. He gives his insights into how he finds the right stories to tell, the balance of timeliness and interest for a trending story, and his views on the future of more subscription-based journalism.

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

His Work Inbox

Beck:

Yeah. Well that’s a lot. Is your inbox any vaster with pitches?

Joel:

Especially since coronavirus, it’s a lot. It’s a lot to go through. Yeah. It’s just a struggle to get to the stuff that is from editors and all that, especially if you have a couple of days off, so yeah. And there’s a lot in the inbox.

Beck:

How do you keep it all organized?

Joel:

I wish I had a better system. I just go through and just scan and I try to stay on top of it in the moment, checking it enough that I know if there’s something important. And then, when I sign on at the beginning of the day, just go through and purge anything that’s just not relevant. It seems like somewhere along the way I’ve gotten put on several distro lists that send me a lot of things that aren’t really in what I’m doing. And I’m a tough journalist to pitch to because I don’t have a beat that I cover. So I might write a story on murder hornets, but I’m not the murder hornet reporter. So all of a sudden now I’m getting all of these incremental pitches about murder hornets.

Beck:

Oh no.

Joel:

I get a lot of pitches that really are in my wheelhouse, mainly because the stories I’m writing, if I’m picking a story, it’s going to be one that is trending at the moment and high interest. And so I’ll go to my pitches sometimes for background or whatever, but it’s hard to pitch to me, unfortunately.

His Take on Pitches

Beck:

Yeah. So speaking of, have you written at all, in relatively recent times, a story from a pitch?

Joel:

Not recently that I can remember. I do remember going back and using some things that were pitched to me within a story I was writing already. In the past, when I’ve done that, it’s usually an editor has gotten in someone that… It’s been pitched to someone who is more on the beat. And so they say, this is good. I cover this topic and this is a good thing. I don’t have the bandwidth to do it. Or this seems like it could be trendy and it gets passed back to the Now side of things. So a lot of times that’ll be studies or survey kind of things. I remember doing several of those where a business will do a survey that’s often newsy topic. And then we’ll cover that in some way. That’s the one I can remember.

Beck:

God. So you’re quite unpredictable?

Joel:

Just because my job is to live in the moment. And often I’m looking for a lot of times, when I’m picking a story, a story to pop up through several different mediums. So, editor might say something about, “Hey, there’s this murder hornet thing.” And usually, unless it’s a direct assignment, that’s not quite enough for me to say, I’m interested in writing that. Usually I need to see it’s trending on Twitter or, in theory, possibly I’ve gotten 15 pitches about that. So I want to hear about it from multiple sources and that tells me this is a buzzy topic. So yeah, it’s an interesting process.

How He Writes Stories

Beck:

Speaking of, because you have to be so in the now, as you just mentioned, how do you know the stories you need to do?

Joel:

Yeah. I mean, I think it’s that there’s a little bit of intuition about knowing that we had a similar story do well, we know that this is something that’s really important to our audience. So there’s a part of that, where sometimes there’s a story I wrote this weekend that did really well. And it was, I think I saw at one place, it was something off our coronavirus party and a doctor’s warning off of that. And I knew that that was something that was high interest. And so prioritized that instantly. But often it’s more, I’m very skeptical of stories and trends because it takes a little bit of time to report out a story and you want to make sure that it’s one that is going to be worth your time.

Joel:

So often it is looking for a topic to reach you in multiple ways. And that’s usually a very good indicator that this is something people care about. And that can come from a lot of things. It can come from searching. We use tools to mine social media to see what people are talking about. So seeing a trend there.

Beck:

Okay. So you’re looking for Google trends, social media trends?

Joel:

Yeah. What competitors have. If you start seeing that everyone has the story and we don’t, that’s a big sign that we missed something. It’s just all of those things and it’s very situational and definitely, when new people come onto the team, it’s tough to tell them it’s an art, not a science. You can’t just say instantly, “Oh, if you see this trending on Twitter, we should definitely write it.” Because it depends on the topic. It depends on lots of different things. And often it’s a cost-benefit of how long is this story going to take to report out, to verify and all that versus how much interest there can be?

______

Find Joel’s take on the struggles between journalists and PR pros relatable? You are not the only one. Media relations is a complicated tightrope to walk. For more background and insight into media relations best practices, check out our blog Your All-Inclusive Guide to Media Relations! In it, we dive into what media relations is, explain why it’s vital for any communications plan, and provide tips and tricks from tenured PR professionals about how to optimize your media relations strategy!

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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