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Coffee with a Journalist: Katie Notopoulos, BuzzFeed News

Coffee With A Journalist: Katie Notopoulos, BuzzFeed News

Our guest today is Katie Notopoulos, a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News. Katie covers tech and internet culture including topics such as privacy, news and investigations about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, personal tech, influencers and the FTC, social media trends, and looking into the strange and wonderful (or not) characters that make up the internet.

During the episode, Katie talks more about her role & beat, her honest thoughts on pitches in her inbox, how she circles back to sources, and more.

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

 

Her Work Inbox 

[0:03:13.0] BB: Yes. I love it. Everyone must, must look at Katie’s deep trench of stories that are wide ranging from everything Facebook is messing up, to, I’m not even going to say more. Just go and look at her extensive author page. It is a fascinating dive into what’s going on in the Internet. Katie, we’re talking a little bit about this before we were doing some other segments. You were just talking about your inbox and how you get stuff for fashion and food and what a celebrity ate on Tuesday, or whatever. How is your inbox? 

[0:03:44.6] KN: I am so happy that we get to talk about this, because as a technology reporter, I love talking about how people use their inbox and their email. I think, that we ignore email. I mean, as tech reporters, thinking about the ways that humans use different Internet services. I feel like email is such a like, “Oh, well. Everyone has email.” You’ve had email since you were a child, or a teenager. 

[0:04:10.0] BB: Yeah. Pretty much. 

[0:04:10.6] KN: Before. Actually, it’s fascinating. I find email fascinating. As a general concept, I think how someone manages their inbox says a lot about them. My inbox currently is, I have described it as a little – Well, when I’m apologizing to someone for having missed an email, I say, “Oh, my God. I’m so sorry. My inbox is a warzone.” In reality, I get a ton of email. I get a ton of PR pitches. I ignore most of them. Don’t even open them. For the most part, the thing that makes the most difficult is it actually does make it hard to literally, visually see in my inbox when a real email is coming in, like something that is someone who is specifically trying to reach me about a specific topic that is not necessarily a PR email.

I use the tabbed Gmail inbox. So that, and I use that a lot — for that kind of stuff. I try. Although it’s a warzone, I believe, it’s actually not that bad. I have the filter. Basically, all sorts of internal email. BuzzFeed mainly runs on Slack. Most of my work-related messaging is happening on Slack. My emails with my editors, mostly with other colleagues, my team, that’s rarely over email. Email’s a little bit more for company-wide announcements or something, which I mostly use rarely, or super urgent that I need to read. That means that I’m not in my inbox all day long. I’m on Slack all day long. That’s where I’m really doing the bulk of my in and out work day with my team, with my manager, with my editors. 

[0:05:58.4] BB: Does that mean though, you said most of your inbox is just pitches you don’t even open, you don’t even do. Are you one of those masterly 47 that just came in in the last hour? Or do you save and use it as a search box? Or what’s your way to manage the tsunami of pitches?

“Sometimes, I will go into my sent box, and I’ll look to see, “Oh, has someone responded to that email that I sent yesterday asking about this thing?” Because it’s easier for me to find their response by going to my sent box, than it is my inbox.”

[0:06:17.6] KN: I do. I mean, I don’t delete. Occasionally, I will, if I’m having trouble. The only time I will delete is sometime, I realized that I’ve fallen behind on finding emails that I actually needed to see, because I have so many new PR emails that have come in, that I’ll go ahead and delete some just to visually clear it out, so that I can quickly look and find, “Oh, yes. Somebody emailed me about that thing that I have been meaning to hear back on, or something like that.”

I honestly end up, I use my sent box more than my inbox for that, because for the most part, in the course of my reporting, I’m usually sending out emails and waiting for responses, more than I am sitting around, waiting for a new incoming email that using a response really nicely.

[0:07:11.7] BB: This is the first time I’ve heard someone using specifically, the sent box as a means. Because that implies –

 

Her Thoughts on Pitches 

[0:10:14.2] KN: Here’s the thing. I feel like, sometimes I hear from my colleagues, I’m like, “Ugh.” I get all these PR pitches. I’m like, [inaudible 0:10:19.4]. If you don’t want to write about it, don’t write about it. You’re under no obligation. That’s part of the deal.

[0:10:30.9] BB: That’s a good way to look at it. I agree.

[0:10:33.5] KN: It is typically not where I get my ideas for stories. That a little bit has to do with the nature of – the stories that I do at BuzzFeed. I would say, in general, the BuzzFeed tech team rarely writes about stories that are something that came in as a pitch. Partly, just because, we’re doing a little bit more – I would not say never. Typically, we cover a little bit less of here’s a cool new startup, here’s a cool new company, and a little bit more of accountability stories. We try to cover big companies, like Facebook, Amazon, that people already have heard of.

“I might not want to write about that company right then and there, but I might be reading a story about influencer marketing at some point in the future. I might need a quote from an expert source. In that case, I want to talk to the CEO and find out what they have to say about Kim Kardashian’s latest product launch or whatever.” 

We ended up having a lot of our interactions with PR people end up being a little bit more adversarial, unfortunately. It’s not to say that it never happens that we get a pitch. Although, we write a lot of stories that are like, “Facebook did a bad thing.” We are looking for delightful stories and fun things and weird and wacky new things. 

[0:11:43.0] BB: That’s how I think of BuzzFeed. It’s like, “Ooh, interesting weird things on the Internet and what’s bubbling around.”

[0:11:49.0] KN: Yeah, exactly. I will say, that some of the things that I do find useful that come in as pitches are, I do end up finding people – when people pitch a client as a subject matter expert, I may not be using them right then, but I may come back to them at some point in the future when I am writing something where I think they can be helpful. Sometimes, it’s as simple as, let’s say, you’re pitching a company that’s – it’s about influencer marketing. I might not want to write about that company right then and there, but I might be reading a story about influencer marketing at some point in the future. I might need a quote from an expert source. In that case, I want to talk to the CEO and find out what they have to say about Kim Kardashian’s latest product launch or whatever. 

That kind of stuff sometimes is helpful. Sometimes, I do literally go back and search my inbox for like, “Oh, I want to talk to someone who is at a company that does this.” There’s a little bit of, if I am looking for someone who’s a – I’m trying to quote as a subject matter expert, they actually better be an expert. Be better not be [inaudible 0:13:06.5] person. I do end up finding that helpful.

When I get a pitch about like, “Hey, if you ever need to talk to someone, I see you covered this topic. I work for the company and you might find the CEO really helpful to talk to for a story.” I might not talk to them then. I may not write about the company. Sometimes, it’s interesting to have a lead in that conversation, that might inform what I write about down the road.

 

How She Writes Stories

[0:07:57.4] BB: Wow. Interesting. Okay. When you’re thinking of a story that you do, and you did mention, “Oh, I really pick and choose and it’s pretty wide-ranging. I mean, I mentioned there’s stuff on Facebook, Venmo, weird things that are in your glasses, horse feed, or whatever, horse the warmer happening on Amazon.” I mean, this it’s wide-ranging, when you’re covering the Internet and what’s happening on there. How do you decipher a story you’re going to do?

[0:08:24.7] KN: I get ideas from all sorts of places. A lot of it has to do with, I’m looking around on the Internet, on social media, and I notice a thing. That is often the genesis of a story for me. It is honestly fairly rare that I have written anything in response to a story that was pitched to me over email. The exception would be, if it is literally coming from a Fang company about their latest product and it’s exclusive, or something like that. That’s the news that we would cover, probably no matter what. 

If Apple says, “We’re launching a space helmet. Do you want to review a unit?” I would probably write about that. I’m rarely writing about startups that I’ve heard about only through a pitch in my email.

[0:09:18.7] BB: Got it. That’s probably devastating for people to hear on this podcast, but okay. Got it. I think, that’s also in relation to, of course, the nature of what you’re covering. 

[0:09:28.7] KN: Yeah, exactly.

[0:09:29.2] BB: You got to be looking around the Internet, scooping things up, going like, “Ooh, people are talking.” That makes more sense.

[0:09:34.8] KN: Right. I’m typically writing more about the ways that normal people are using technology, or using social media and tools, as opposed to writing about a new company, or a new app, or a new thing. I’m sometimes writing when those things come together, but I usually try to approach it from here’s a thing that people are doing, as opposed to, here’s a new thing.

 

________

 

Believe it or not, Katie does actively work with PR professionals who can provide sources for stories she’s working on. Sometimes these opportunities can arise simply from an inbox search so if you’re trying to work with her consider sending an email to improve your chances.

For more great 1:1 conversations with journalists from top-tier outlets, subscribe to the Coffee with a Journalist podcast newsletter to get the latest episode drops and exclusive video content. Also, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for other updates on our newest PR tips, tools, and best practices.

Jered Martin

Jered is the co-founder, COO and support manager at OnePitch. He handles operations for OnePitch; along with strategy, support, business development and hiring. He studied Communications with an emphasis in marketing at Cal State University Long Beach. In his free time, he enjoys surfing, eating cheap street food, cooking, and exploring the outdoors.

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