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Coffee with a Journalist: Mark Matousek, The Information

Coffee With A Journalist: Mark Matousek, The Information

Today’s guest on Coffee with a Journalist is Mark Matousek, a reporter at The Information. Mark covers HR and corporate culture in the tech industry.

During the episode, Mark shares his thought on a real pitch he received, how you can make your pitch relevant to The Information’s coverage, his thoughts & timelines for embargoes, and more.

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

His Thoughts on Subject Lines

[00:05:21] BB: I don’t think I’ve ever had 1,000-plus in a day person on here, not that they’ve admitted, at least. But there’s definitely the spectrum of the let it ride people who have 279,000 unopened emails and then the absolute down to zero, ruthlessly every single day by 3:00 PM. It’s really interesting. There’s no consistency in this journalism field, so it’s really quite the preference that people have.

Okay. So Mark, in those 50-plus, maybe 100 emails that you do get, what is one of the best subject lines that you’ve recently received, where you’re like, “Hell, yeah, I’m opening that email, and I know it’s a pitch.”?

[00:05:58] MM: Yes. The best one I’ve seen recently is why late stage layoffs mean hiring opportunities for early stage startups.

“It’s concise. It gets straight to the point. If I happen to have been working on a story about that right now, that’s definitely something that I would have immediately identified as something that might be helpful to me.” 

[00:06:06] BB: Oh, that was the whole line. 

[00:06:08] MM: Yeah, that was the whole thing. It’s right to the point. Yes. Now, I had recently, not too long ago, wrote a story generally along those lines. So it was not relevant to what I’m working on now, but I really liked that it’s short. It’s concise. It gets straight to the point. If I happen to have been working on a story about that right now, that’s definitely something that I would have immediately identified as something that might be helpful to me. 

[00:06:32] BB: Got it. So for that situation, which is a common pitch, “Hey, reporter. Yes. I saw you did a story, and I have something that’s really similar to that.” You’re like, “Yeah, cool. I already did that.” Did you save it? Did you like put it in your little like let me come back to it? Because you said like, “Okay, cool. Yeah, that was a good pitch.” But what are you going to do about it? Come back to it maybe at some point? 

[00:06:54] MM: Probably not. I think in this case, it had been so – I appreciate the technique. I’ll say that. It had been – I’d probably write about one story every week or two. Given out recently, I’d written about that. It seems unlikely that I’ll be reading that story for a very long time again, and so that point is…but I like the technique.

 

His Pitching Requests

[00:07:17] BB: All right. Okay. We like the technique. So timing is everything, as usual with a lot of these things. Okay. Mark, do you have, if you had to have, three elements of a great pitch? So you got past the subject line. What’s a great pitch for you?

[00:07:32] MM: Concision is definitely key. Purposefulness, so getting to the point immediately. I think that the pitches I like most are the ones that don’t do any of the like, “Hey, how’s it going?” 

[00:07:44] BB: “Did you have a good Fourth? I hope it was great. How are you doing? Yeah, maybe someday. Yeah.”

“I very rarely open pitch emails because I think part of it is because, as I mentioned, I usually won’t open them, unless I’m working on something directly related to them.”

[00:07:50] MM: It doesn’t bother me that much. I understand the spirit behind it. But the dream pitch email for me is something that’s first sentence immediately explains to me what is happening and why I should be interested in it. It has few words as possible. Concision, purposefulness, and then the third will be relevance, which, honestly, is hard because I think at The Information, we’re obviously trying to write about the major themes in the tech world.

But we also try to go a little bit more off the beaten path and try to kind of find the stories that other people are telling. So the relevance point, I realized that I think it’s probably rather difficult when consuming information relative to other publications because it’s very difficult for someone to guess what I’m working at any given moment. 

[00:08:31] BB: Very true. Okay. These are the elements. By the way, is that like three sentence max do you want this in? I know some people have like, “I better see that in like three sentences, and I don’t read anymore.”? Or are you particular about your sentence count? 

[00:08:44] MM: I don’t know if I have a particular sentence count. I’ll be frank. I might be the wrong person for this podcast. I very rarely open pitch emails because I think part of it is because, as I mentioned, I usually won’t open them, unless I’m working on something directly related to them. Given that I’m probably not working on the thing that they’re sending all the emails about, I generally have enough to do in the day that I –It would probably be better of me to be more responsive. But usually in the morning, I’m like, “All right, I’ve got like seven things I want to read, 40 things I want to respond to. I’ve got to sort of figure it all out.”

 

His Thoughts on Exclusives & Embargoes

[00:10:26] BB: I see. Okay. Mark, this is where you can be deadpanned honest. So this is the point and this is the place, so I love this. Okay. Then exclusives or embargoes, do you care? Do you ever use them?

[00:10:39] MM: Not really. I mean, I don’t really mind if something is embargoed. It’s very rare that information that is embargoed from a PR person is something I’d want to get up in the next 24 hours. I would imagine, usually, if I’m using something from an embargo, I probably have at least a couple of days or a week before I will need to publish whatever I’m publishing. So I don’t particularly care too much either way when it comes to embargoes.

“It’s very rare that information that is embargoed from a PR person is something I’d want to get up in the next 24 hours.”

[00:11:31] BB: Given what you’ve recently covered, I’m sure no one’s saying, “Hey, Mark. I got an exclusive on how we laid off 27% of our staff.” So are exclusives just not even like on your radar? 

[00:11:41] MM: Not really. If someone were – I guess the kind of publishing bar for The Information is really high. So if someone were to offer an exclusive that was compelling to me and my editors and met that bar, great. But I think that’s probably kind of hard to do.

 

How to Build a Relationship with Him

[00:12:09] BB: Cool. Okay. We talked about subject lines, Mark. We talked about the exclusive stuff. What about just building a relationship with you? Let’s say I am a chief people officer. You are a great reporter in my tech industry. How would you approach making a relationship with you, especially in this day and age?

[00:12:26] MM: I generally am the one driving reach outs. This is probably something I can get better about. But there’s so many people I actually want to talk to that I – Basically, all of my sort of source building time, whether it’s on the record experts or people who are talking to me through back channels, I kind of devote all of my time on that to talking to people I’ve reached out and recommended to be my sources. 

But one source or expert that’s very valuable is I do like having sort of on the record experts that know what they’re talking about and that I can turn to when I need a certain kind of voice to the story. So I guess I would say being available. Also, this something I don’t run into a lot. But also, honest when you’re not – Don’t feel like you’re kind of qualified or the right person to comment on a particular story.

“But one source or expert that’s very valuable is I do like having sort of on the record experts that know what they’re talking about and that I can turn to when I need a certain kind of voice to the story.” 

People are almost always good about this, but there have been a couple of times in the past where I’ve reached out to someone who looks like based on what they were doing or what their business did that they might be a good person to comment on something I’m writing about. Then it’s immediately clear once I get the phone that they have no idea what I’m talking about. 

I totally get that. Like I don’t begrudge that at all. But just from my perspective, it makes me a little less likely to reach out in the future because I’m thinking I don’t know if I’m reaching out about something. I don’t know if they’re going to be frank about whether they’re the right person to talk about this.

“​​I would say quality of insight is number one. I don’t particularly care about quotes, per se. They’re nice to have, but I would much rather paraphrase something thing that is I think very thoughtful and precise and sheds light on something.” 

[00:13:47] BB: Oh. Now, this is a good insight because if you have that person who’s like, “I’m just trying to get my damn quote in, so I’ll say whatever the hell I want to try to finagle some fluff piece into the piece,” that actually basically gets you a demerit on your list. 

[00:14:01] MM: Yeah, yeah. A little bit. Thankfully it happens very rarely. But, I mean –

[00:14:04] BB: Oh, that’s good. 

[00:14:05] MM: If someone doesn’t think they’re the right person, I’m always fine with it. Hey, I don’t think I’m the right person for this, but here are things I would like to talk about or keep in mind and, obviously, people in mind.

 

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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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