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Coffee with a Journalist: Rebecca Jennings, Vox

Coffee With A Journalist: Rebecca Jennings, Vox

Today, on Coffee with a Journalist, we’re joined by Rebecca Jennings, a senior reporter at Vox. More specifically, Rebecca covers internet culture for The Goods. Previously she was a video producer and host at Racked, and before that, she covered fashion, New York City retail, and local goings-on at Brooklyn Magazine, The L Magazine, and Time Out New York.

On the episode, Rebecca starts by telling us about her 70,000 unread emails, the types of stories that pique her interest, her favorite reality TV show, and more.

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

 

Her Work Inbox 

 [00:02:21] BB: Yes. let’s hop in your inbox. So how crazy is it? How do you keep it clean? Do you keep it clean? Some people don’t like it clean. So you tell me.

[00:02:30] RJ: Well, I am unfortunately one of those people that has, let me check, I think it’s around 70,000 unread emails. Yeah.

[00:02:38] BB: No! That’s the most I’ve ever heard. Wow! 

[00:02:42] RJ: It was more. It hit 100,000.

[00:02:45] BB: This is a moment. This is like record-breaking on this show of 70 plus interviews we’ve done now. Holy cow!

[00:02:52] RJ: I know. It’s not great. And I’ve been trying to like be better about this. I’ve organized the inbox that I can like see on the screen. That’s a lot more organized now. But like, yeah, I am full chaos mode. Like it’s not great.

[00:03:06] BB: But that seems to work for you.

“Well, I am unfortunately one of those people that has, let me check, I think it’s around 70,000 unread emails. Yeah.” 

[00:03:07] RJ: I think the problem is that just like through – My email used to be hooked up to a certain tip line from an old like website I used to work at. And so it would just be garbage, garbage, garbage. And I never had the energy or the willpower to like go through and unsubscribe to all like the brand emails I get. So it’s just a combination of things where it’s like why would I want to spend a bajillion years cleaning up this inbox when I’m just going to have to do it every day to keep it clean, because I’m lazy?

[00:03:35] BB: Yeah. It’s okay. It’s so interesting. There’s absolutely two schools of thought and a few others, I’ll say, on the inbox maintenance as it is for journalists. And some are the let it ride people. You’re definitely – You’re queen of that. I’m going to give you the crown. And then there’s the absolute get it to zero unread every day, 24 hours, mass delete. I mean, it’s fascinating to hear.

[00:04:03] RJ: Seems so stressful.

 

Her Thoughts on Pitches

[00:04:05] BB: It does, but we’re all trying to figure it out. Do you respond to some pitches, no pitches? What would you say?

[00:04:15] RJ: The rate of response is probably like 5%. And I know that’s like evil, but it’s just like I think I’m on all these really long lists where there’s just mass press releases going out. And it’s like, yes, I could take the choosing. Like please take me off this list. But I always feel rude about that.

So what I end up doing is like I’ll get a couple pitches that I’m like, “Okay, maybe. Like maybe there’s like a new like tech thing that like could somehow become part of my beat.” But it’s like I think the problem is that I don’t really cover news that much. It’s I mostly do commentary on things. I’m offered an interview with like a founder or something, like that maybe will affect the beat, like sure. But I mostly think in terms of long features or analysis not like PR. Like press releases about something new is like not necessarily what I’m interested in, which I think is weird. So it’s like I understand why I get all those pitches, but yeah I just can’t respond to all of them.

[00:07:34] BB: No. It’s fine. This is why we’re here. What is your top pet peeve then with pitches? Even the couple that you read.

[00:07:44] RJ: Oh my god! I hate this, because like there’s so much journalists like dunking on publicists. Like I really, really hate that, because like I know, like I get it. I know that like you’re doing your jobs and anything like that, like I really try not to do that.

“You’ll get a response from me if…’if you have a really great expert or source that I would like to be connected with.’”

[00:07:58] BB: That’s why we like to have this podcast, to like bring the human of the journalist to us, chat about it. Let’s talk about it instead of just jumping onto it. Yeah, totally. 

[00:08:06] RJ: I think the one thing that actually like really kind of is upsetting and weird is like when you feel a little bit like guilt-tripped and like, “Hey, I saw you posted on Instagram.” Like I would just really responding. It’s like, “Oh my god! It’s like the third time that they’re emailing me and they’re like, “Hey.” It’s just very guilt trippy, and I like get really angry when I see that. It’s like, “What? There’s a reason I didn’t respond to the first three emails.” It’s like what would you have me do? Are you my boss? No. 

It’s only people that I’ve never met before. Like people that I’ve met have always been very lovely and great. It’s just random people that I’m just like, “What? What makes you think we’re besties from that?”

 

How She Writes Stories 

[00:05:18] BB: Yes. Why don’t you chat about what your beat entails, because it is Internet culture, but that is wide and deep? Do tell us.

[00:05:30] RJ: I think what I’m most interested in is like how normal people are using the technology that’s available to them and what effect that like influencers and famous people and subcultures are having on those decisions. So these are very like mushy kind of concepts. 

So as you can imagine, it’s like a press release isn’t going to help me much with that, because normally what I’m looking for is like interesting ways that like regular people, like people that can’t afford to hire publicists. And to be honest, like I cover like kids who get really famous really fast. That’s a big part of my beat. And the thing that I always think about is like if I’m getting pitched them by a publicist, then I don’t really have any interest in talking to them, because it’s like clearly this is like what’s more interesting to me is someone who just like randomly stumbled upon viral fame and now like has to deal with that. It’s not the people that are like, “Okay, I’m savvy in this business. I get a publicist,” whatever. That’s nothing against publicists. It’s just the stuff that I report on. 

[00:06:35] BB: I’d almost imagine if they have a publicist, it’s too late to the game. They’re too big. They’re too out there. They’re too formal.

[00:06:42] RJ: It’s part of that. And there’s just so many famous creators or like micro-famous creators. And so the ones that are kind of doing something that’s already been done, like they’re a musician, that’s great. That’s really cool. And like a music publication will probably cover them or like a fashion or lifestyle. But like I’m not as interested in covering something that’s sort of like, “Okay, they’re this artist.” Is there controversy around them? It’s just really hard to like see this vast pool of people. I don’t know. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I only profiled the people that I get pitched from publicists, because that’s just sort of propping up this system of like, “Okay, the people that can afford publicists, I’m just doing puff pieces on them.”

[00:07:27] BB: Interesting take. Ooh! I like this combo so far, because publicists are probably like shaking in their boots a little bit. But that’s all good.

“So it’s like the people that break the news, those are people that are like grinding and doing that kind of stuff. Then there’s people who like aggregate that day one stories. Then there’re people who kind of have a take. And that’s sort of like what I do plus a long-form feature that like takes months and months to do and then drops.” 

[00:07:34] RJ: Oh my god. Sorry.

[00:09:35] BB: I want to chat about from the stories you do. And my god, are they varied. Like I’m going to pick this one from hot girl culture, whatever you want to pay, $5000 for the perfect butt. How to get a perfect butt? You’re about Bama Rush. Oh my gosh! Where do you get the inspiration for these stories? 

[00:09:57] RJ: Yeah. So that is actually the easy part to be quite honest, because like I sort of am more of like a day three reporter. And like I don’t know if that’s like a term you guys use. But it’s like day one reporters. So it’s like the people that break the news, those are people that are like grinding and doing that kind of stuff. Then there’s people who like aggregate that day one stories. Then there’re people who kind of have a take. And that’s sort of like what I do plus a long-form feature that like takes months and months to do and then drops.

So to be honest, because finding stories to me is pretty easy because it’s only really worth doing like a third day take if it’s like bubbling up in the public consciousness. So what I do is sort of like bring my knowledge of TikTok and my knowledge of young people, I guess, and the Internet to sort of put all these things in context. Like, “Hey this thing that people keep talking about this,” it’s very like well actually in a kind of cringy way. But I try not to do that.

[00:11:01] BB: Got it. Yeah, that puts you in sitting in an interesting piece of time because, really, you’re in a mode of listening not necessarily. And it’s different of course for the breaking news people. They don’t have inspiration. They’re just like, “What’s going on in the world? That’s my job. I just need to be prepared. I just need to be there and sucking in the information as quickly as possible and getting it out.” Yours is more listening, listening. And then of course those longer-term, more – Yeah, it takes three and a half months to produce a piece. That’s where a lot of kind of brainstorming can come into play. Ooh! Interesting. Do you spend hours a day on TikTok, Twitter, et cetera?

[00:11:36] RJ: I definitely spend hours a day on Twitter. On TikTok, I’ve had to set up limits, because otherwise like I’ll ruin my sleep schedule. So what I do, what I love to do is I walk uphill on the treadmill and I scroll TikTok.

 

________

 

Rebecca is no average reporter nor is she covering a company or product, but rather people, and she uses TikTok religiously to find interesting stories that are surrounding news that broke only days before. Keep this in mind if you decide to pitch her your story.

For more great 1:1 conversations with journalists from top-tier outlets, subscribe to the Coffee with a Journalist podcast newsletter to get the latest episode drops and new, exclusive video content including pitch tips directly from the journalists on the show!

Jered Martin

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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