Joining us this week on Coffee with a Journalist is Manasa Gogineni of VentureBeat. As…
This week’s guest on Coffee with a Journalist is Sandra Gutierrez, an assistant DIY editor Popular Science. Sandra began her career at Rolling Stone Chile as a reporter/writer and, prior to Popular Science, Sandra was an in-house PR executive at Google.
During today’s episode, Sandra shares more about her obsession with keeping her inbox organized, her past experience as a PR professional and how that ties into her current role, the concept of the DIY team and how they craft stories, and more.
Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
Her Work Inbox
BB: Excellent. Add that to my list. We’ll Sandra, first tell us about your inbox. How crazy is it in there? Do you get a lot of pitches, etc.
SG: I do get a lot of pitches, but it’s not as crazy as it should be. Do with this information what you want. I am a person who’s Moon and Sun is in Virgo. I don’t know – if I should tell this to you. I am a controlling. I need to have my space very neat and tidy. My inbox is no exception. I am a zero inbox person. I do not deal well with those red dots on the screen of my smartphone. I just have to get rid of those out it will drive me crazy.
Yeah, I do every morning. I do a very big filter of things that I don’t need to read. Most of those are not pitches, mostly they’re newsletters and press releases that I absolutely know that have nothing to do with whatever I do. Then I go into “Okay,” opening some email saying this. Okay, I’ll snooze this. I’ll keep this and then I just go over and over it until I take it back to zero. That’s how I am.
BB: Okay, I get it now, are we talking unread zero? Inbox? Are we talking? Okay.
“…if I have to pass, I mean, the time it takes me to say, “Thank you for reaching out. It’s not for me. Bye.” It’s not that much.”
SG: Yeah. I’m red zero. I feel it visually, just the very empty inbox is just now for me, but I need to have it all unread right now if I’m going to check. Right now, I just have three emails unread with. Yeah. I’m proud of that.
Her Thoughts on Pitches
BB: Clearly. Okay, so then pitches that you receive? Are you responding to each one? Are you filing them away? Are you just mass deleting? How are we doing all that?
SG: You may not know this about me, but I actually spent three years working as a PR person.
BB: Yeah, you’re on the other side.
“My favorite stories to write about are the ones that are surprisingly complicated, but at the same time have this element of wonder.”
SG: I was on the other side. Yes, I wasn’t behind enemy lines. I do have a very deep knowledge of what it entails to send a pitch, to be following up with lots of journalists and basically all the effort that takes to build those relationships with a journalists. I am very appreciative of the work of PR people. I try as much as I can to respond to every email, even if it’s just with a “Thank you for reaching out.” It’s not for me best of luck by but I try to do it as much as I can. Some of them I will definitely not even skim because, I’m this is just not for me.
This is just a press release copied into the body of an email. This person didn’t even bother writing my name in the first line. I’m Okay, bye. Most of the time, I do get another say specialized email. They basically email that was sent to me, particularly, specifically. That’s the thing, I most of the times I do read it. I’m mostly good at responding.
BB: That is fantastic to know. We definitely don’t see that across the board here. Glad to hear it.
SG: Yeah. When you get the taste of working in PR, I guess that you’re more appreciative of that. Because I’ve had this conversation with other workmates of mine. They’re “Oh, no.” I’m just mass delete emails. I get that.
Sandra shares more about pitches that covert to stories:
BB: Okay, but here’s a question. Do you ever get pitches that convert to stories?
SG: Yes, I do. Both from writers and also from PR people most of the time, though, I feel I’ve had this experience. I hope I’m not. I hope this doesn’t happen to a lot of people. I feel most of the time, people who pitch me especially from PR agencies, don’t fully understand what we do at DIY. I’m not even talking about what I do as a journalist, because DIY is very – especially how we treat it at PopSci. DIY is a very tricky concept.
DIY in Popular Science is this very magical, weird place in which service journalism, meets science, meets projects, meets School and sometimes just weird stuff. I feel that is a concept that is not that easy to grasp. In my experience, most of the times whenever a pitch doesn’t work for me, it’s mostly because people just haven’t spent enough time reading our stories and going through our sections and trying to figure out what we do. Which is why whenever I do get a pitch from someone who has done their due diligence, and done all that work, I’m “Oh, my God, I love you. I don’t even care about your idea. Let’s just work together.”
“DIY in Popular Science is this very magical, weird place in which service journalism, meets science, meets projects, meets School and sometimes just weird stuff.”
BB: Well, and also I have to say Sandra, your stuff is so broad. Here’s a complete guide on how to safely take send and store nudes. Okay.
SG: I am so proud of that one. You can’t even know. You don’t even know.
How She Writes Stories
BB: I know, it’s like a white – it is so – on that feature I’m “Oh, Google go.” I’m going greater. Okay, so for the stories you do, this recent one you did on How to make oat milk with Science. By the way, you’re a pill away from the perfect oat milk is the subtitle, which I’m “Oh, I haven’t read the whole thing I need to.” Okay. How do you think of the stories you want to do?
SG: Well, first of all, I think I’m just coming up with the ideas of what to write about. I feel that is, if not the biggest part of writing a story. It’s the most difficult part, at least for me, I struggle with that on the daily. Sometimes I will have, post it’s full with ideas that I haven’t gotten around to do. Sometimes my editor would be so, “What are you writing this week?” I were “Can you just give me a couple of hours to figure it out.”
“I don’t expect everyone to know exactly what we do. Because to be totally honest with you, sometimes I even have a hard time with some stories with some ideas to see, is this story of Popular Science DIY story.”
It comes and goes, but most of the time, it’s just being very aware of your inner babbling of whatever it is that you’re thinking. Sometimes you’re writing in the subway and you’re just wondering things you see and add, you see some ways, “Oh, I wonder about blah, blah, blah. It’s really weird, because those are the kinds of ideas that sometimes can be turned into stories. I had to learn the skill of being very aware of that inner train of thought.
“Whenever I don’t have a backlog of ideas to fall back on. I tried to look just browse through the internet. I feel surfing the internet and surfing, Twitter and just I don’t know, sometimes that that works even sometimes I even go to Tumblr just scrolling away trying to see something flex.”
It’s really also very interesting, because John Kennedy, who is the DIY editor of PopSci, we have this really cool relationship. Both of us are really versed in internet lingo. We communicate a lot through GIFs and memes.
BB: I love it. How fun is your slide.
SG: I know. I don’t know if you ever intend this meme of this anime a guy with a butterfly. It’s this you can fill in the blanks, but we have a version of data. Is this content? I would come up with an idea and run it by John. I’d be “John, is this content? Sometimes I would even make the meme for him or we would just laugh. I have meme generator in my bookmarks.
For Sandra, writing stories for the DIY section come from all sorts of ideas including pitches. It also helps that she has experience as a PR professional and knows the different types of feelings we all experience when pitching reporters.
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