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Coffee with a Journalist: Marlize van Romburgh, Crunchbase News

Coffee With A Journalist: Marlize Van Romburgh, Crunchbase News

Our guest this week on Coffee with a Journalist is Marlize van Romburgh, the editor-in-chief for Crunchbase News. Marlize leads a team of journalists doing data-driven reporting on venture capital and private companies.

During the episode, Marlize tells us about her start in business journalism, how the Crunchbase team sources data for their stories, the pitches that succeed with her and her team, and more. 

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

 

What does Crunchbase News cover?

[00:05:26] BB: That leads us to Crunchbase. For those who maybe are not as familiar, and frankly I ask this now of every single reporter we have on here, even if it’s from the New York Times, what does this publication all entail for our listeners, to be clear?

[00:05:40] MVR: Sure. So Crunchbase News is sort of an interesting publication in the sense that we’re an editorially independent newsroom, but we’re part of Crunchbase, which, for those who aren’t familiar, is basically a software database product with information about companies. It started way back when it was actually part of TechCrunch originally.

[00:06:02] BB: It was, yup.

“On the news side, we still write mostly about startups and other private companies and venture capital. Our readers are mostly startup founders, entrepreneurs, and investors.”

[00:06:02] MVR: It was really a way for startup investors to find companies to invest in, for startup founders to find investors. It’s grown way beyond that, and it actually spun out and is an independent company now. But it’s used by millions of people for all kinds of research.

On the news side, we still write mostly about startups and other private companies and venture capital. Our readers are mostly startup founders, entrepreneurs, and investors. So I think what’s somewhat unique about our coverage is we’re journalists. We spend a lot of time talking to people, but we sort of anchor and base most of our reporting around Crunchbase data. It’s sort of our secret sauce, if you will. 

[00:06:43] BB: Yes. It gives you all those magical details and data points that you can leverage for stories and stuff, which is such the brilliance, I have to say, of Crunchbase News because you’re able to report on the data that’s being collected of your own system, which is kind of fantastic.

[00:06:57] MVR: Exactly, yeah. It’s really kind of fun. We tend to find story ideas in the data, which, obviously, is interesting. But also just to sort of validate what’s going on in the market as well. So we’ll talk to people and think, “Oh, that’s kind of interesting.” Like do we actually see that in the data? Is this a sector that’s suddenly hot and getting a lot of funding? So we were sort of able to marry that traditional reporting with our own data analysis.

 

What She Wants to See in Pitches

[00:09:24] BB: This is a new segment that we just added in, Marlize, but curious to hear how you would approach this. We want to know the big three. Like what are the three things that you want to see in every single pitch that you’re like, “Hell, yes. I’m going to respond to that pitch.”? 

[00:09:41] MVR: I think that the first, as I mentioned, is, obviously, it should actually be individualized as a pitch, something that speaks to the fact that the sender knows what we cover, knows who I am, and has spent some time doing research. So that’s the first. The second is really all bring something unique, and that doesn’t just mean an exclusive. We’re actually not that big on exclusives, but it’s –

“I think that the first, as I mentioned, is, obviously, it should actually be individualized as a pitch, something that speaks to the fact that the sender knows what we cover, knows who I am, and has spent some time doing research.”

[00:10:06] BB: We’re going to talk about that in a second. Yes.

[00:10:08] MVR: Yeah, yeah. I’m happy to talk about that. But in general, just some kind of unique story idea. Maybe it’s not just something about a particular company. But I think some of the more successful PR pitches that we’ve actually taken some of the up on are, “Hey, I noticed you guys cover larger trends. This is something I’ve noticed that I think is kind of interesting. Yes, one of my clients happens to be in that space, and I’d be happy to connect you.” 

But I think there’s more to it beyond that because that’s really how we’re covering the startup sector. These days, it’s really focused on those big picture trends, really helping readers sort of understand where the economy and the market overall is going, especially this year with a very strange startup and tech market. Continuing to understand sort of what the underlying trends are is really important. Those pitches tend to succeed. 

Then the third is just being helpful, which kind of ties in with the second point. But often somebody will reach out, and I’ll say, “Okay, we’re not working on something on this in particular, but I do think it’s interesting, and I’ll keep this in mind.” Very often, I do end up following up with that person saying, “Hey, we actually are going to start working on something around this. Can I still speak to that person? Or do you still sort of have some ideas of a few clients who would be willing to speak for this story?”

It’s not always immediate. But if the pitch is not necessarily looking for something from me right then but it’s just sort of there as a helpful resource, I’m going to remember that person.

 

Her Thoughts on Exclusives & Embargoes

[00:11:41] BB: Okay. That’s how maybe you can get a relationship starting with you. But, okay, so longer trends, data. You touched on exclusive just for a second. So exclusives versus embargoes, do you have preferences? Do tell us.

[00:11:55] MVR: Yes. We get a lot of embargoed news. We tend to not really write about, for example, individual funding rounds these days. That’s mostly what we’re offered under embargo as a publication that covers tech and VC. Again, we sort of note them might keep it in mind, but we very rarely write about those, just because we really are focused on those larger trends. 

[00:12:19] BB: Plus, it’s a very busy space, as you know. Like there’s a lot of coverage that funding rounds all over the place.

“We get a lot of embargoed news. We tend to not really write about, for example, individual funding rounds these days.”

[00:12:25] MVR: Exactly. We could never be comprehensive, even if we wanted to be. Also, something to keep in mind, sometimes I kind of point this out to people, we are a part of Crunchbase, and Crunchbase definitely wants to be comprehensive. So it sort of doesn’t make sense for us as a newsroom to write about every funding round because it will ultimately be captured in Crunchbase and sort of live there in the database.

But in terms of exclusives, we will always consider them. It definitely helps to raise the likelihood that we’ll cover that story. But again, even then, the story really needs to be one that speaks to a larger trend or offers something bigger that we can sort of pull some analysis or context around, rather than just XYZ company raise this much money. That’s really not what we focus on.

[00:13:18] BB: That’s not a story anymore. Yeah. 

[00:13:21] MVR: Yeah. It’s just not.

 

How to Build a Relationship with Her

[00:13:53] BB: Okay. So, Marlize, you also touched on it saying, “Hey, if you’re just there, it’s being like helpful, just there. I can loop back to you at some point.” How does one develop a relationship with you, especially in these times? 

[00:14:09] MVR: Yeah. I think, and again a big part of it is understanding what we cover, I’m always happy to connect people to – As the editor in chief, I’m not necessarily the person that they should be chatting with. It might be the beat reporter, but I also like to have those relationships, and often I’ll kind of keep somebody in mind and maybe down the line say, “Hey, Chris,” or Sophia, two of our reporters. “There’s this person and I’ve kind of chatted with them about this. I can connect you when you’re looking for a source for that story.”

But I think, mostly, it’s, again, being sort of genuine, not overly intrusive, but just letting me know that either they have a story idea. They have some clients who could speak to a particular area that we’ve been covering and just sort of offering that up as a resource. Then, obviously, being somebody who is responsive when the time comes, I definitely had some of those where they say, “Oh, I can definitely connect you with this person.” Then when you actually are writing the story and you’re on deadline, it’s like, well, actually –

“But I think, mostly, it’s, again, being sort of genuine, not overly intrusive, but just letting me know that either they have a story idea. They have some clients who could speak to a particular area that we’ve been covering and just sort of offering that up as a resource.” 

[00:15:14] BB: I don’t feel like that’s talked about as often from like the journalist side. So I’d love to get into that more of just like publicists. You got to be at the drop of the hat ready to go, right? 

[00:15:25] MVR: Right, right. Then that’s – I know that’s unfortunate. Maybe you haven’t heard from us for two months, and suddenly we need something like now. 

[00:15:30] BB: Yeah. Suddenly. Yeah, exactly.

[00:15:33] MVR: That’s just the nature of the news business, where deadline-oriented people and sometimes we just need something now.

 

________

 

Learn more pitch tips and insights from previous guests on Coffee with a Journalist in our journalist spotlight videos available for free on YouTube.

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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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