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Coffee with a Journalist: Natasha Mascarenhas, TechCrunch

This week on season two of Coffee with a Journalist, host Beck Bamberger sits down with Natasha Mascarenhas of TechCrunch. Natasha is a San Francisco-based reporter covering venture trends and early-stage startups. Beck and Natasha sit down to talk about Natasha’s journalistic journey that brought her to TechCrunch, her writing process, and her predictions for where journalism is heading. 

Click above to listen to the episode or read below for a full transcription.

Jered: Welcome to Coffee with a Journalist, a podcast featuring the tech industry’s most well known tech journalists. We uncover the real person behind the stories you love to read. We discuss their beat and news coverage, what their inbox looks like, and a whole lot more.

Jered: I’m Jered Martin, the co-founder and chief operations officer at OnePitch. Our host for the show is Beck Bamberger, the co-founder of OnePitch, CEO of BAM Communications and a current journalist. Today, Beck sits with Natasha Mascarenhas, reporter at TechCrunch. Natasha tells us about her goal of talking to one to three founders per week, the types of stories typically written at TechCrunch, her favorite newsletters to read each morning and a whole lot more. Here’s Beck and Natasha on today’s episode of Coffee with the Journalist.

Beck: Everybody today on Coffee with the Journalist, we have the wonderful, the incredible Natasha, let me make sure I get your last name right, Mascarenhas.

Natasha: Mascarenhas is perfect.

Beck: Currently a reporter at TechCrunch newly, previously from Crunchbase News. We’ve chatted before, Natasha. I’m so happy you’re here and especially in this unique time of reporting and journalism overall, thank you for being here.

Natasha: Of course. Yes. I’m glad we’re able to find a way to record remotely.

Beck: It’s great.

Natasha: Yeah, to catch up again.

Beck: Yeah. Are you drinking any coffee right now?

Natasha: I’m not, I am drinking water. I am trying to use the work from home as a force to make me drink more water, so I’m on my fourth cup of the day of water. Really proud about that.

Beck: Oh dang, good, good. Do you track it or have one of those apps or anything or are you just like, “I’m drinking water?”

Natasha: It’s definitely just becoming a competition between roommates at this point.

Beck: Oh, nice. Well, you cover, as folks probably know, overall venture capital startups, all things related to Silicon Valley and the wild world that it is. We like to talk about a certain number of topics here on this podcast. One that starts with really, how do you come up with, how do you make an incredible story? So can you tell us just where do you start from the idea all the way to the article being published, how that comes about?

Natasha: Totally. So I feel like most of my favorite story ideas have come from basically walking around and having a conversation. And the conversation is probably not going to be what the story idea ends up being, but something about a turn of phrase or a billboard inspires me to pick up a story. So-

Beck: A billboard?

Natasha: Yeah. So-

Beck: Incredible.

Natasha: One example was I went on a walk with a VC and we were just talking about the state of life and we passed on one of the many billboards in San Francisco. We ended up talking for 20 minutes about how Facebook and Google ads has become an overcrowded market and how billboards are a way to do untraditional advertising these days. That ended up being a story for Crunchbase News. And I feel like many journalists, I feel like the best stories are the ones that we’re not hitched directly, but the ones we stumble across serendipitously.

Beck: So is it when you’re on walks, when you’re in the shower, when you’re feeding your pet, is there when that moment of those stories happening happen for you in a set way?

Natasha: I think coffee meetings have helped a ton to just take a second and remind myself that even if we’re talking for an upcoming funding around or a new job move, but then putting the notebook away and being like, “Okay, candidly, what do you feel is being under reported on? Or what’s one thing you think is missing from the conversation right now?” I think that’s when the gems always came up. I did the series for a while where I would talk to people in tech about everything other than tech. And that ended up, weirdly enough, leading itself into stories about loneliness and culture and stuff like that.

Beck: Nice. So next question. Of course people want to know, do you do coffees ever with journalists? Oh, excuse me, obviously with journalists, but with PR people, publicists, who would you actually meet with I guess is a good question?

Natasha: Yeah. So it’s something that obviously can get tiring and overwhelming. So I try to do one to three a week. Minimum of one but I do try and talk to PR people, founders and venture capitalists. I love talking to founders because I think that they’re the craziest one of the bunch, they’re giving up a lot of work life balance. So it is really great to touch base with them before they announce their first funding round, which is often when I get to write about them. And then I do like working with PR people. I’m not one of those journalists. So I do like working with PR people.

Beck: Oh, how refreshing. That’s good. So speaking of that ties into then next thing we like to talk about, which is just your inbox. I mean, what does it actually look like? Do you have hundreds of stories hanging out in there? Do you read every pitch? What would you say?

Natasha: Yeah. So, recently I feel like I get roughly 700 to 900 emails a week. It’s been a lot. Maybe it’s because everyone’s remote at the moment and they have more time to send emails. And-

Beck: Are those just the pitches or is that your aggregate number?

Natasha: That is my aggregate number.

Beck: Okay.

Natasha: Sometimes it’s follow ups for… I think, let’s say 65, 70% are pitches. So I don’t click through every single email. I scan through every page. And if it’s one by someone I know, I’ll click on it. Or if it has a headline slash first sentence that feels like it wasn’t written by a robot, then I definitely click into it.

Beck: Good. Good. Yep.

Natasha: Yeah, I mean I think that I try and get myself to refresh my email before I sleep and then once in the morning as and then during lunch. But during the day I don’t get to be on my email as much. So the best way to contact me has ended up being my Twitter DMs.

Beck: Oh. Okay. So I’ve not heard this before. So you, sounds like you have set hours and parameters around in which you check that inbox. You’re not on it all the time.

Natasha: Not all the time. I think that’s because… I stole this from a previous colleague of mine, Jason Rally. He was like, “I just don’t check my email period.” And I was like, “Well I would love to do that.” But I mean I do if I have a follow-up that I’m waiting to hear, if I need to set up a meeting with someone for a breaking news story, I’ll have it open. But once I get lost in a story or lost in breaking news, it can be at least three or four hours before I check my email.

Beck: Wow. Okay. So that’s probably how you keep the sanity.

Natasha: Definitely. Definitely. I mean-

Beck: Because some people I know are just refreshing, refreshing, and they’re just getting all the pings and go, “Oh my God.”

Natasha: Yeah. No, it’s been overwhelming. It’s been overwhelming, especially due to just so much happening in our world right now. I mean, obviously it’s pervasive in every aspect of our life. So I get why people are sharing at this point. But it is hard to figure out what is something that’s worth a story and what’s not.

Beck: So then with those, when you go into that block, okay great, it’s lunch time, you look into it, you’re like, “Oh look at this, 100 new pitches, okay.” What do you do with those? You archive? You click on the ones you think that are not from the robot, but what?

Natasha: Yeah. Totally. So I mark a start if it’s a story that I am working on currently and we’ll circle back so I don’t forget to include this in a story. So then when I write that story I can be like… I mean this just happened where I had gotten a comment from an EdTech startup. I saw the email at a time that I wasn’t working on the story. So I just started so I could go back to it eventually because sometimes I can’t remember every single name of every single startup.

Beck: Yeah. Yeah, of course.

Natasha: Yeah. And then the other thing I do is I’ll respond if I know that this is something that interests me pretty broadly. So then once I have a time to brainstorm or find a way to fit that pitch in some way into a bigger story I’m working on, I can just go to my sent folder, type in the keyword and find the pitches that I was excited about at one point.

Beck: Gotcha. So it doesn’t sound like there’s a secret folder.

Natasha: No, no secret folder. I wish I was that organized. I did ask my coworker Danny, how he handles his sourcing and he mentioned Airtable. So I’m working on setting that up right now. I-

Beck: That’s pretty advanced though. I never heard someone having an Airtable thing, but I guess for your sources if you really want to keep that on track.

Natasha: Exactly. So I was like, “That’s not a bad idea.” I will keep you updated on how that goes. I want to be that organized. So let’s see.

Beck: You got to have some chops for Airtable too, but I’m sure it can be done. Interesting. Okay.

Natasha: Yeah, totally.

Beck: I like that. So moving on from just then the pitches and what you’re seeing. Since you’ve been recently new, I’d say, at TechCrunch and you’re figuring out your beat, your focus and so forth. And I think this happens for a lot of folks when they get into a new role at a new media outlet and it’s still up in the air. What’s your advice for folks who want to pitch you, giving you something that actually would be relevant as you navigate and hone in on your actual beat or maybe more what you’ll be focused on?

Natasha: Totally. So the good thing for journalists but probably be the hard thing for people pitching is that, I think at TechCrunch there is no one that’s super tied to one beat. There are people that specialize and you see that with automotives or cybersecurity, but a lot of people are generalists. So that does make pitching a little bit more difficult. So that’s number one.

Natasha: But number two, the best way to pitch me, I think right now is something that’s not going to change about my job, is that I’ll be reporting on seed and early stage startups and how they work, how they grow, fail and tracking the next big companies before they get bigger.

Beck: Explore them.

Natasha: Yeah.

Beck: Gotcha.

Natasha: Before they land that first partnership. And so I think that, one I really enjoy talking to founders.

Beck: As you said.

Natasha: At that stage especially, because I think that they are raw and able to share the playbook at that point more than someone who’s the CEO of Slack Can.

Beck: Yes, yes.

Natasha: Yeah. I think that that’s something that’s not going to go away as hearing the trials and tribulations of growing your seed startup.

Beck: And you probably get more of that when you’re sitting down with them for a coffee, as you said, you’re going to loosen up perhaps.

Natasha: Yeah, definitely.

Beck: Telling you more or go on a walk with you, look at billboards.

Natasha: Yeah, exactly.

Beck: Yeah. I like that. Well, let’s play a word association game Natasha. This is very simple. This is very simple. Just first word that comes out. You just tell us what it is. Are you ready?

Natasha: Yes.

Beck: Okay. Food.

Natasha: Pie.

Beck: Oh, that sounds good right now, doesn’t it?

Natasha: That sounds ideal right now. It’s funny when we were recording this and it just sounds right on a Friday.

Beck: Okay. Drink.

Natasha: Water.

Beck: Oh yes. Hobby.

Natasha: Sleep.

Beck: Oh yeah. I’m liking these Natasha, keep going. EdTech.

Natasha: SMART.

Beck: Funding rounds.

Natasha: Tiring.

Beck: VCs.

Natasha: Different.

Beck: Bay area.

Natasha: Diverse.

Beck: Remote work.

Natasha: Extra.

Beck: Slack.

Natasha: Helpful.

Beck: 2020.

Natasha: Hard.

Beck: Yeah. Seriously. Journalism.

Natasha: Honorable.

Beck: Oh, that’s… Pitch.

Natasha: Crazy.

Beck: Inbox.

Natasha: Unmanageable.

Beck: Although you have a system somewhat in place Natasha, I got to hand it to you. This is working perhaps. Okay. What are you reading right now? And even watching, let’s just get into all the content.

Natasha: Okay. Well, I guess from a personal side or professional side?

Beck: Yeah. Any side. We’d like to know everything.

Natasha: So I’m part of a book club with a couple of my friends here and in different states, and we recently use Twitch to do our book club so we’re not giving up on it. I’m reading Homegoing and it’s about… It’s historical fiction and it’s, I don’t know, I thought it’s really beautiful. It’s really sad. So I’m trying to accept happier, optimistic stories after this one. But it shows how the slave trade… How inequality existed then, exists now in so many different ways. And yeah, just reminds me a lot of the different privileges I have. So that book is really humbling.

Beck: Tell us again what it is. Homebound?

Natasha: It’s called Homegoing.

Beck: Oh, Homegoing.

Natasha: Yes. I can’t pronounce the author’s name, so I’m not going to butcher it, but it is the most Homegoing that’s ever.

Beck: Yes. It is. Y-A-A G-Y-A-S-I. Yeah, I’m on the same page with you on that. Oh, The New Yorker reviewed it a couple of years ago too.

Natasha: Yeah. And the author’s from Berkeley.

Beck: A sprawling tale of a family’s split between Africa and America. I’ll put that on my list. Okay. What else? And even on the daily, what do you read to consume on the daily?

Natasha: Yeah. To consume on the daily, I read a couple of newsletters every single day.

Beck: Yes. Tell us.

Natasha: I read the Axios newsletters. They have the Pro Rata and then AM and PM and I think those are really helpful. I think Fortune has a really great newsletter as well. I believe Paulina has moved on from Fortune.

Beck: She has.

Natasha: Yeah. So I’m making myself read her new gig, The Profile.

Beck: Oh, I love it. Every Sunday. It’s my first thing I read.

Natasha: Amazing, yeah. I mean that’s definitely something that I want to get great at. Ever since I started journalism, profiles were this really exciting and honestly I think it’s a big… It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s really great thing to be able to do, like write a great profile that’s well-rounded. So I’m going to read it selfishly and I’m excited to see how much she grows there. It’s awesome.

Natasha: I live on Substack. I have a Substack newsletter I read, my colleague Alex letter a lot as well. He doesn’t post regularly, but when he does post… I always like reading people that have their really professional writing and then get a chance at reading their close to home words as well.

Beck: And for those who just don’t know what Substack… I’m just looking up to verbatim give you what it says. “Substack makes it simple for a writer to start an email newsletter that makes money from subscriptions.” So you can easily publish it, do a blog, all that good stuff.

Natasha: Yes.

Beck: Yes. Nice. Okay. And then do you typically read just everything happening on TechCrunch too, just to see what your colleagues are doing and all that?

Natasha: Yeah. So I read TechCrunch a lot. I also, obviously Techmeme, I’m subscribed to the notifications. So whenever a story is Techmemed, I get a Twitter notification. So I make sure I read those stories as well. And I mean thankfully, I’m working with people that are all obsessed with their jobs as well. So there’s a lot of story and link sharing that happens in Slack and convo.

Beck: How crazy is it in Slack for TechCrunch? Are you guys just blowing each other up all day?

Natasha: I had to be removed from the coronavirus channel because I was just getting distracted. But I had one week in between leaving Crunchbase News and joining TechCrunch and during that one week I missed… I felt so uninformed just from not being part of Slacker. So I’m very much welcoming it.

Beck: Good. What do you think the future of journalism looks like?

Natasha:Oh, I think the future of journalism, and this isn’t a new idea or something that I can trademark, but I do see that these ideas of individual writers will be the big trend we see that attract subscribers.

Beck:Kind of like the chef. The chef was nobody 10 years ago. And then all these shows came out. Now chefs are icons and celebrities.

Natasha: Exactly. And while journalism has never in my head been something that I’m going to turn into being a celebrity or a single force in an showish or in a garish way, I do think that that’s a really great thing to see happening because it shows publications wherever they are 20 years from now, if you’re a good journalist now and keep doing great work, your loyal audience isn’t going anywhere.

Natasha: And I think just from having a Substack, which is this independent platform, you rank and these subscribers who aren’t getting you from TechCrunch, aren’t getting you from Crunchbase and aren’t getting you from Twitter, but it’s just you and them, and that’s the only barrier between them. And I see that being a lot more common as time goes on.

Beck: So you’re bullish I’d say.

Natasha: Yeah, sure. We’ll.

Beck: Yeah. Good. I’m hearing a lot more positive remarks on this one by the way.

Natasha: Oh really? What are you hearing?

Beck: In the past I’ve heard, “All things are shutting down and I don’t know if I do go into it again, but it’s so rewarding and we’re going to have to figure out how local pubs make it, is it going to be a hybrid nonprofit model…” Various things from that like how will they survive? It’s only recently and actually a couple conversations I’ve had this week where it’s like yeah, the new celebrity journalists and what this can mean and how important it is for democracy and this type of stuff. So it seems like the mood overall is bullish.

Natasha: I think it’s really a privilege to be able to write for tech because I think tech also… If your coverage leans towards tech, you have a natural scrappiness in your day to day. It’s not something that I ever experienced before. Before I was reporting on tech, I was at the Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle and those were great institutions and loved them. But it wasn’t until I joined a tech blog where I was like, “Oh, this is how to really get in the trenches with this market.” And I guess it gave me a lot of hope for journalism, not just being dead, but growing in different ways.

Beck: Oh, that’s good. Okay, Natasha. Now, the moment you may be waiting for, is a little Mad Lib game. So I’m going to give you the phrase or the word or whatever, and then I’ll fill it out and then we’re going to read it back. Now interestingly, sometimes they’re very accurate.

Natasha: Amazing. Okay, let’s see what happens.

Beck: Okay, let’s try it. Okay, so first off, a catch phrase, just any catch phrase.

Natasha: Never say never.

Beck: Okay. A journalism scare phrase.

Natasha: Don’t use Oxford commas.

Beck: Oh yeah. Oh God. How about an empowering journalism buzzword?

Natasha: Scoop.

Beck: There you go. What about an adjective?

Natasha: Tireless.

Beck: Tireless. And then what about a part of a pitch.

Natasha: Action statement.

Beck: Action statement. Then another adjective.

Natasha: Grumpy.

Beck: You are on it today. Some people are like, “Oh, I don’t know.” I’m like, “It’s just an adjective.” Okay. Another part of a pitch.

Natasha: I guess I don’t know if this is the right specification, but the intro or the hook that gets you.

Beck: Okay. Hook. Amount of time.

Natasha: Three months.

Beck: What about another adjective?

Natasha: Hardworking.

Beck: Singular noun.

Natasha: School.

Beck: School. And then what about a topic?

Natasha: The future of work.

Beck: A verb ending in I-N-G.

Natasha: Flipping.

Beck: And then another verb.

Natasha: Running.

Beck: Okay. Running. All right. Are you ready? I’m going to read it back.

Natasha: I’m ready for it.

Beck: Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Okay. Here we go. To me, tech journalism is never say never. It consists of not using the Oxford comma and scoops on the daily. If a pitch has a tireless action statement, I will absolutely respond to it. However, if the pitch has a grumpy hook, you can expect no reply from me. If three months goes by and you don’t hear or see an email back from me, you can just assume I am not hard working about that topic. The best stories always have schools and are usually about the future of work. The best way to reach me is of course by sleeping to me, but you could also run over to me.

Natasha: I love it. I love it.

Beck: It was great. It was great. A little cloggy sometimes, but it’s good.

Natasha: It worked weirdly well, the only edit I have is maybe not three months then I’ll take it back. Give me one month and then you can totally bother me for remembering and then I’ll just say yes or no.

Beck: Love it. Well, Natasha, thank you so much for being on today. This has been fun on a long Friday. Oh my gosh.

Natasha: Yes. We did it though and-

Beck: And now people know where to find you. They know they can find you on Twitter. They know you’ll be reading the profile on Sunday. Shout out to Paulina. And also get on Substack.

Natasha: Yeah. These are the perfect takeaways.

Beck: I love it. Well, have a good weekend and thanks for being on again.

Natasha: Yeah, you too. Thanks for having me.

Beck: Yeah, thanks Natasha.

Jered: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Coffee with a Journalist featuring Natasha from TechCrunch. The goal of our show is to give you an in depth look into the tech industry’s most well known and coveted journalists, and we hope you found today’s episode insightful. If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to our show on iTunes, Spotify, and everywhere else you enjoy listening to podcasts. We’ll see you next week with an all new guest and even more insights. Until then, let’s quit bitching about pitching and start great stories.

Make sure your next pitch to Natasha, or other journalists like her, has the most important included and outlined in a clear way. Need a place to start? Download the free eBook on the 5 Essentials to Pitching. It guides you through crafting pitches based on subject lines, subject matter, timeliness, and more!

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