Recently, I joined Beck Bamberger, co-founder of OnePitch, on Coffee with a Journalist and we…
Our guest this week on Coffee with a Journalist is Rebecca Bellan, transportation reporter for TechCrunch. Rebecca covers all things transportation for TechCrunch including the tech and the people behind how people move throughout cities, and how companies bring sustainable mobility to the world. Previously, she has held positions at Forbes, CityLab, and The Atlantic.
During the episode today, Rebecca talks about pitch subject lines, the annoyance of follow ups, the uniqueness of writing about technology, and more.
Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
Her Work Inbox
[00:03:05] BB: Yeah. Wow! Just for reference, we’re tapping this like mid-July here. Okay. Wow! Good thing I’ve been to New Zealand. All right. Rebecca, what does your inbox look like? Is it crazy with pitches in there? What would you say?
[00:03:20] RB: It is a shit show. It the pain of my existence. Yeah. I mean it’s just a lot of pitches. A lot of spam recently, which is weird. I guess that comes from having your —
[00:03:31] BB: Random spam or like PR spam, where it’s like, clearly, it’s just a blast of a press release.
“Yeah, I’ll respond to the press release and say something like, “Yeah. I maybe don’t have time to cover this now. It would have been great to hear beforehand that this was on the menu for the week.”
[00:03:36] RB: No, I get that as well. But this is like definitely random spam. People saying that they can help me with my website. I’m just like, “Ugh!”:
[00:03:42] BB: Really?
[00:03:43] RB: I guess that comes from having your email public. I don’t know. Yeah, lots of companies, a lot of people that I’ve already connected with, letting me know something new in with their company. But yeah, just a lot of people letting me know that there is a new product. This company has new funding, introducing this advanced simulation system, stuff like that. Strategic collaborations, yeah.
[00:04:08] BB: Yes. Do you have a way in which you organize at all, like labeling? Are you a master leader or you just let it like let it ride type of person?
[00:04:18] RB: I do try to label. I set up labels when I first started at TechCrunch that I hate and I really just — it’s a project that I want to fix and label things based on the type of transportation that we’re talking about, like micro mobility versus electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, delivery, what have you. But right now, I have it based on like — I have labels for like if it’s a company reaching out, if it’s fundraising, if it’s a pitch. Let’s see. If it’s something I think will go well for Extra Crunch, which is our subscriber platform, if it’s something I think would go well in the newsletter, if its government related and if it’s just sources.
[00:04:53] BB: That’s a lot of labels.
[00:04:54] RB: Yeah, so I need the color coding. It’s important to me.
[00:04:57] BB: So you do color coding?
[00:04:59] RB: Of course, yes. Otherwise, my brain will not handle all this.
Her Thoughts on Pitches
[00:05:29] RB: Usually, I scan the subject line if it’s something that’s — like for example, I have one right now that says, “Forget EV range anxiety. Gas vehicles are up to 20 times more likely to run out of gas, blah, blah, blah.” That is not something I would immediately click on because that’s more of a feature, and that means, I have time to get to it. I might open it when I have time and then just like label it as a source for a potential story in the future. But then, if I have something from a company that I cover a lot, I’ll open that first.
“My most annoying sources. I know that they have a reason for this. No one’s ever really explained it to me, but when they say, ‘Will you agree to the embargo?’”
[00:05:59] BB: Your favorites, I’m sure.
[00:06:01] RB: Well, I don’t pick favorites. Actually, I do. If there’s like a good number, if you’re telling me you raised 250 million, I’m opening that.
“My favorite sources always give me good tips, text me the tips.”
[00:06:07] BB: Yep.
[00:06:09] RB: Get to the point.
How She Writes Stories
00:06:11] BB: Get to the point and get it to the point in the subject line even better hopefully. Okay. That is helpful. How do you then — when you’re looking at these sources find them? Do you just do a search in your inbox? If you’re like, “Oh! What was that company that was doing that one thing and they had a CTO that was that? Now I need him for a story four and a half months after I originally got the pitch.” Like some people magically find that one pitch or something, I’m like, “Wow!” But they use the inbox like a search box, like a Google.
“My favorite stories to write about are something that connects to real-world impact. Like when you’re writing about startups, and funding and new tech. A lot of it gets lost in just like the quick news, right? But one of the reasons I love tech writing or writing about tech is that, it will have an effect on our daily lives.”
[00:06:42] RB: Yeah, I do that sometimes. Often, I can just go into my labeled sources, my coded system. But I also will — I don’t know, it’s weird. I actually write a study about this that people remember. They don’t necessarily remember the facts, but they remember where they put the facts. If you’re like arranging your desktop, you don’t know exactly what’s inside each folder, but you know where you put things on your desktop. Often, I can kind of figure out — I can remember enough of a little slice of what it was to be able to use the search bar.
“I was like, “Oh! It’s over. Okay. Let me just kind of — I want to see which companies were the ones that were involved in this.”
[00:07:16] BB: No, no. We’re good. Well for stories, Rebecca, that you get that are those feature pieces, someone who’s clearly teeing you up for this piece and it’s clearly a pitch and they want to highlight their client, I’m sure. But for maybe broader range ones that aren’t news breaking. I know you do cover a lot of the stuff that is — it’s kind of news breaking, but you have one here for example about Columbus, Ohio being a smart city. How do you come about just story ideas?
[00:07:46] RB: I guess it’s just what I’m interested in, right? I have a lot on the back burner for Extra Crunch or just like more in depth features that obviously, I have to cover a lot of breaking news and funding announcements and things like that. When I have more time, I can go into them. My background, I covered — I’ve done a bit of writing for CityLab, which was part of The Atlantic when I was working there and now it’s part of Bloomberg. I’m just interested in how cities function. Like that for example, I was just curious about all the smart tech that went into Columbus. It seemed a little lackluster, personally when you compare it to something like any smart city in China or — look at Woven City that Toyota is creating in Japan, which is total prototype of the future. It’s incredible.
For Rebecca, it’s important to get to the point of your pitch — with facts — right away and make sure the subject line reflects what you’re going to say. She’s also more interested in timely, feature stories than something less newsworthy or evergreen so make sure your news hasn’t broken yet, or else she may overlook your pitch.
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