Our guest today on Coffee with a Journalist is Lisa Martine Jenkins from Protocol. Lisa is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Click below to follow Lisa Martine Jenkins on Twitter and LinkedIn.
During the episode, Lisa breaks down her beat at Protocol, talks about the change in climate news coverage over the last 10 years, her process for reviewing & saving pitches, and more.
Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
Her Beat at Protocol
[00:02:02] BB: And what’s going on inside that industry, definitely important, and specifically climate. So you are, Lisa, probably, I want to say, like the 70th reporter, not that we’ve had on here, but like that I’ve seen on the interwebs, that is now fully dedicated to climate sustainability. I saw someone today that was like, I don’t know, I think oil? Someone has a job that it’s just like just covering oil. So anyway, it’s quite the new and expanding realm. Can you tell us a bit more on what all is encompassing your beat within climate?
[00:02:36] LMJ: Yeah. So my beat is essentially the intersection of climate and technology. So that essentially has two main parts. The first is climate tech and the technologies that will be needed to mitigate climate change. So that’s renewables. That’s transmission lines. That’s EVs. But that’s, also, very, very niche new technologies, things like tracking methane emissions.
Then the second part of my job is covering how the tech industry is responding to climate change. So kind of parsing these climate plans that Google and Amazon and Apple puts out. Essentially, looking into how this industry, which is increasingly one of the major industries, globally, is thinking about how to confront one of the biggest crises that we faced in human history.
[00:03:39] BB: Yeah, seriously. How do you – Okay. Now, this is not usually what I ask on here, but how do you deal with the beat you write about like emotionally?
[00:03:52] LMJ: I think it requires a certain level of both realism and optimism at the same time. Like I think if you’re too optimistic, you’re not going to be able to kind of get to the meat of what’s really happening in climate because it’s really dark. There’s a lot of really, really disappointing news all the time.
But I think it would be a pretty impossible job to do if I didn’t fundamentally believe that this is something that we can mitigate, at the very least. It is, honestly, looking at where we are now versus where we were a decade ago, pretty hopeful.
[00:04:39] BD: Oh, you think? Yeah?
[00:04:41] LMJ: Yeah. Well, it’s definitely worse in terms of the emissions and it’s definitely worse in terms of the lack of climate action, especially on the international front. But I saw something, and you’ll have to fact-check me on this. But I saw something that –
Her Inbox & Pitches
[00:07:18] BB: I like where it’s going, Lisa. We got that. – On a totally different topic, but maybe, maybe we’ll see. How is your inbox, specifically with pitches?
[00:07:28] LMJ: It’s fairly organized, I must say.
“Now, I have like a folder for press releases, a folder for pitches, a folder for newsletters that I read, in case I need to go back and check up on them.”
[00:07:31] BB: Lisa, your tokens of insight because every journalist should be listening to this now. I should actually start doing that. Have journalists listen to this to hear of other journalists. Go ahead.
[00:07:42] LMJ: Well, it didn’t used to be. I think, at my very first full-time job, it was kind of chaos because I didn’t go in with a plan. I mean, once you’re even two weeks in, it’s a disaster. Then my second journalism job, I was almost too organized, like I would have folders for pitches on various topics, and I just spent like half of my life categorizing things.
Now, I have like a folder for press releases, a folder for pitches, a folder for newsletters that I read, in case I need to go back and check up on them. But it doesn’t require a huge amount of organization, and some of them I have just sort of they can automatically be tagged. Like the newsletters are kind of automatically tagged as newsletters.
I think I initially had the impulse to just kind of delete pitches that I wasn’t interested in. But I had an editor a couple of years ago tell me that she intentionally saves her pitches because you never know when six months from now, you’ll be –
[00:08:44] BB: You never know.
[00:08:45] LMJ: Yeah. You’ll be writing about something, and you’ll remember, “Oh, God. I think I read a pitch about that.” Now, I can like actually go into my pitch inbox or my pitch folder and look up, I don’t know, critical minerals Southeast Asia. Odds are it’ll remind you, “Oh.”
[00:09:05] BB: You’ll see it. Yeah. You’ll see it.
[00:09:06] LMJ: Yeah. Somebody did email me. Often, it’s no longer relevant. Or often, they’re not the right source. But it does make me feel like I have kind of a Rolodex that just sort of lives in my email.
An Example of a Pitch That Converted Into a Story
BB: Anyway, you were mentioning, Lisa, that you have some pitches, something that you like and something that you didn’t like. Why don’t you share?
[00:11:14] LMJ: Yeah. So one that I think was kind of counter intuitively good was from probably like four or five months ago. That was extremely straightforward that the pitches or the subject line is 30 years of climate research funding has overlooked the potential of experimental transformative technologies, new study warns, which is quite long. Like it’s not pithy, but it was kind of a niche enough topic and also general enough that I thought it could actually be relevant to Protocol’s readers.
So the entire thing is on climate technology and the funding for research into climate technology. The pitch itself is, I’m looking now, four sentences, saying, “I hope you would be interested in a new University of Sussex Business School Research,” and outlines just very, very simply what the research says. Then below the fold, they had more detail and a link to the full study, and I think, A, it was very targeted to me. Like I think I do get a lot of pitches about academic research that is on grassland development and that is just not what I cover because as interesting as –
“The first like five sentences of the email are framing it as I’m a reader. This is something that I care about.”
[00:12:48] BB: Grassland development. Like what, grown grass?
[00:12:52] LMJ: Yeah, like agriculture.
[00:12:55] BB: So ag, okay. Okay. This is great. Wow.
[00:12:56] LMJ: Yeah, which I do personally find interesting, but it’s just not what Protocol covers. I do think, I mean, there are so many publications, and there are so many people with climate in their title, and I’m sure some of them really do cover developments in agriculture, but I’m not one of them. But this felt like, A, they know what I cover. It’s not a high-profile enough study that I feel like it’s already going to have been written about. Many outlets will have already written about it, and it was like pretty straightforward.
I wrote a very short piece. It got a pretty good response. It definitely didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it did provide some very interesting context for the kinds of things that I do cover more generally. Yeah. I mean, even though the subject line was long, it also is essentially the title of the story. I mean, as a person who actually reads all my emails, I read the subject line and said, “Oh, that actually sounds relevant.” Let’s see. In the second pitch I brought, the subject line is “Idea for you.”
Her Thoughts on Subject Lines
[00:16:34] BB: Okay. Now, clearly, we didn’t like the idea for you of a subject line. Do you have any like best subject lines or what a best subject line has?
[00:16:44] LMJ: I think a name is good if they are pitching an interview with a person. I must say I rarely respond to those, unless it’s somebody who is really, I don’t know, big in either tech or in the climate world. But I think highlighting who the person is. Like one that I responded to, and I can’t remember the subject line precisely, but I interviewed Tony Fadell, who is the inventor of the iPod and also Nest thermostats. He has now been working kind of in the climate sphere.
So I think that pitch said something like an interview with iPod inventor, Tony Fadell, and I said, “Oh, actually, that might actually be quite relevant to our readers.” I think a name is a really good way of jogging the interest pretty quickly because I can – If I know who the person is like, I will be able to tell if they are relevant. But I would say often, they’re not, and it’s not the fault of the PR person. It’s just kind of the nature of –
“I think a name is good if they are pitching an interview with a person.”
[00:17:56] BB: That’s how it is.
[00:17:58] LMJ: Yeah, the nature of the beast. I think the other thing is, perhaps, when someone is able to reference an overall trend that is not just happening today. Like I’ve gotten a lot of pitches in the last day or two about California’s grid in light of the heat wave, which is relevant, is something that I’m following. But I’m just not going to be able to turn on a dime and call up somebody or write a story on something that is happening today because there are other things on my plate today.
But when I get a pitch that’s something more like, I don’t know, the supply chains for critical minerals are tangled, like here is some research about – Here is some researcher. Here’s a person who has a unique take on it. I think the odds are better that I will at least have some use for that at some point. That is a topic that I am following on a two-week, month-to-month basis. It’s not just kind of a flash in the pan. Obviously, the resilience of California is great. It’s also not a flash in the pan. But I’m not going to be writing about it.
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