Today, on Coffee with a Journalist, we sit down with Erika Wheless of Digiday. At…
On this episode of Coffee with a Journalist, host, Beck Bamberger, is joined by Lydia Dishman of Fast Company. In her role, Lydia serves as a contributing editor and reporter covering technology and its intersection with commerce, innovation, and leadership. During their conversation, Lydia discusses her exceptional email management, what makes a succinct pitch, and the stories she loves to read.
Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
Her Work Inbox
Beck Bamberger: Yes. That is the goal. I appreciate it. Well, let’s start with your inbox. How crazy is it in there? Do you get bunches of pitches and what actually makes you open a pitch?
Lydia Dishman: I get about an average of a hundred a day. Not kidding.
BB: That’s pretty bad. That’s pretty bad.
LD: I can tell you that in a half-hour last week I had 44 land between both inboxes and –
BB: That’s bad.
LD: I tend to look for the subject line which may catch my interest. That said, I’m not a fan of somebody writing time-sensitive in all caps, although I do understand that that is often a thing. I am often not a breaking news reporter, so that is really not much of a thing for me. I tend to do longer pieces. What I do pay attention to on the time-sensitive front though is in my role as contributing editor at Fast Company, I do a lot of work with outside contributors. So if someone has a hot take on a news item, then that may be time-sensitive, so there’s the caveat there.
BB: Got it.
But a good subject line is always catchy, and then I am always looking for the concise pitch. If you’re writing four paragraphs and telling me what the story is, it’s way too much. “
Her Thoughts on Pitches
BB: Got you. Do you even like bullet points? Do you even like three sentences max? How succinct is succinct where you love it?
Well, I have in my LinkedIn profile that it should be distilled to five sentences. I feel like if you have to go longer than that, then you really haven’t clearly thought out what the angle is that you’re pitching, and that makes me have to do a lot more work to wade through your pitch. That said, I do read everything and I try to respond to everyone within 24 to 48 hours.”
BB: Oh, my gosh. Of the 100 pitches you get, you’ll respond to all of those?
LD: I do and –
BB: Lydia, you are like a unicorn. I’ve never heard this before. Do you have like a bot that responds? How do you do this?
LD: Well, I’ve been at this for a very long time, so I can vet things pretty quickly and with the help of Gmail’s templated responses.
BB: Yeah. That stuff helps.
LD: I have anywhere between five to eight of those that are generally one size fits most. So oftentimes if it’s really something that I’m completely not interested in, then they will get a templated response.
BB: That is awesome though that you actually get those responses out, my god. Out of the 60 of these that we’ve done so far I’d say, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that.
BB: Yeah. That is remarkable, remarkable. Now, what if –
LD: I do think that it helps, especially when people don’t necessarily have a history of working with me, so they’re not entirely sure about what I cover. I think that especially in my Fast Company bio, it’s pretty vague where the lines are. Someone will send something that’s not quite related to my beat and rather than have them, A, follow up 100 times or, B, keep sending me things that are irrelevant, it’s just better to kind of get it out of the way. I’ll take the hit of the pain part right at the outset.
How She Writes Stories
BB: Your bio on Fast Company specifically talks about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. That is widely broad, and some of the last stories you’ve just done are about Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill and a report. One-third of tech workers admit to working very low hours, which I really want to talk more about that. I’m like, “Who are these people?” A survey with employees the best places to work, all this stuff, job openings. I mean, there are just so many that you cover. As you think of a story, what spurs you to do one? Are you, for example, like taking a shower, doing a walk and you’re like, “You know what? I want to talk about the $20 bill.”?
LD: Well, I think a lot of what you see, especially in the recent lineup, is more a product of me taking a new shift once a week. Those little items that I do really short, not terribly deeply reported are a product of me on the news desk for the afternoon. That tends to come up. Now, that said, the report on how many hours some tech workers put in, that was pitched to me, and I was on news duty.
If it’s a slow news day, I tend to pull from the pitches that I get if I can do like a quick turn on an interesting report. I’m a journalist. I love data. I love reports. That said, there are certain parameters that we follow for surveys, not the least of which is it can’t be conducted by a company that has a stake in the results.”
BB: Yeah. You mean you don’t want to have the ones a hundred customers surveyed out of a hundred love our products for technology. That doesn’t work.
LD: Yeah, no.
BB: I love those. I love those though.
LD: No, no, no. Also, thanks to Pew Research Center. We figured out that the sample size needs to be a thousand or more but generally around a thousand to be completely representative sample of whatever it is that you’re doing. Those that come in 250 to 500, I don’t necessarily want to cover those because I don’t feel like that’s a standard representative sample.
BB: I agree. It’s, yeah, weak potatoes. If anyone then, hopefully you’re listening to this, has a survey, you better have more than a thousand. You better have a third-party research company that’s conducting it.
BB: There you . That is very good guidance because I feel like that survey question comes up incessantly with a bunch of people. Okay. So you mentioned right there, just when you’re on the news beat, you will take something from a pitch. How many stories would you say come from a pitch you receive? What’s the percentage if you had to guess?
LD: I would say it’s a majority but not in –
LD: Yes. But it’s massaged.
BB: Got you.
LD: Something will come through, and there’ll be some sort of thread in there that sparks a different idea. For example, the last reported piece that I did, one of the longer ones, was the one about the best places to work from home in your house because we do tend to do productivity coverage. That kind of grew out of a lot of pitches, a lot of different ones from a lot of different people saying that what are the productivity hacks now that we’re almost a year into this pandemic experiment of remote work.
Then Fast Company did a partnership with Harris Poll, and so they actually did a poll to see where people are working from home. Then I just did a handful of interviews about different types of executives, different industries just to see how they were faring and where they found the best places in their house to work.
BB: I love that too. What a good way to change because, yeah, I guess you’re not in that shared communal kitchen eating your free snacks anymore.
LD: Yeah. I’m sure that’s hurting a lot of people.
BB: Okay. We do have an audience ask. This comes from Rosemary who works over at Clearlink. She said, “What’s the most memorable pitch you received in the last year?” I’m sure you got some interesting ones pandemic-wise and all.
LD: Yes, although you’ll have to forgive me. I can’t say that anything really stands out because there were so many very similar ones. I’ll confess that if we’re going to go along the Catholic route, forgive me, Father, for I have sinned, that there was I would say at least two to three months where I was working 10 to 12 hours a day, and it just felt like I could barely keep my head above water. It was just really focused but not focused, so just kind of swimming as hard as I could.
BB: Head above water, yeah.
LD: This has been a year.
BB: Was that April, May-ish time when everything came crashing down in the summer and then the unrest and all?
BB: I’m sure you guys have been –
That second wave of – I’m calling the second wave the civil rights movement. Of course, there have been many, but that was so horrific and so nerve-wracking. Just being not a person of color but I just was so deeply, deeply affected by this and was trying so hard to do whatever I could to amplify the voices of the people who were living it. It was a lot. It was a lot.”
BB: Well, and I have to say kudos to Fast Company. That’s an area they really focus on. What is the impact from a mental health perspective? Where is diversity? Who’s making claims about it? What is the impact? All this stuff, that’s one of your hallmarks, which is great. In fact, I’m just looking up right now. It’s talking about fast food workers striking for $15 an hour in 15 different cities, so there’s always good coverage on Fast Company.
Lydia is one of many journalists who believe pitches should be brief, concise, and to the point. To ensure you are including all of the necessary information needed for a pitch to land, learn more in our blog, 5 Elements Every Media Pitch Should Include. To listen to more great conversations each week with awesome guests like Lydia, subscribe to our podcast. Lastly, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter to stay updated on our latest articles, pitch template, and more.