On season 2 episode 12 of Coffee with a Journalist, host Beck Bamberger sits down with Sara Jerde, publishing editor at Adweek! Sara sits down with us to talk about her love for hippos (her favorite mammal), the recent shift of news stories that Adweek surrounding coronavirus, her favorite bedtime reads, and lots more. Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
How She Writes Stories
Beck: What about making a story? So we always like to cover, how do you craft an actual from the idea to hit me hitting the publishing button?
Sara: Yeah because I cover media and I try to listen to as many podcasts and read as much as I possibly can, I do a lot of that on the subway on the way into work. It can be from Brooklyn and Manhattan. So I’ve got a good chunk of time to kind of just sit there and consume. In that downtime, I’m really thinking about how I am consuming media and what my consumption behaviors really look like. And if there’s interesting journalism that’s being done, or interesting journalism coming from the trade publication perspective, we want to cover those fascinating ad campaigns and really put a spotlight, especially to the innovative work that can be done in this industry.
Sara: And especially, I’m optimistic about where the industry’s going and even we’re in this crisis, that is COVID-19, but it’s going to create and enforce media companies to really think quickly and think innovatively about where the industry is moving. So I’m really fortunate and lucky to be kind of at the forefront of seeing what that looks like and hopefully it means some good things despite all of the sort of grim scenarios we’re in right now.
Beck: And so can you get a little bit further into where the kernel of an idea comes from? Do you get, for example, a pitch that you actually go, “Oh, that’s interesting. Let me go down that rabbit hole,” or at this point, are you kind of, you don’t need pitches? And this goes into our inbox conversation in just a second too, but where does those little kernels come from? Or is it just like, “Yeah I was riding on the subway, I like this idea and I was like, oh, I’ve got to do a story about that.”
Sara: Yeah, it really depends. So I actually used to be a local news reporter for The Star-Ledger, which is the paper in New Jersey. And a big part of that coverage was just constantly talking to as many people as I could at the beginning of the day and I would call police chiefs, and fire chiefs, and mayors, and just have normal conversations. And so I have sort of…
Beck: Just talking it up.
Sara: Yeah, just Chatty Cathys.
Sara: But when everyone’s comfortable with you, something that they may throw away at the end of the conversation led to some really good story ideas. And I’ve tried to kind of approach that my beat now in the same way. I have people that I talk to everyday just to check in and see how they’re doing. And sometimes what they’ll say at the end of the conversation turns into a full blown story idea. And then once that story idea kind of bubbles up, then I’ll pitch it to my editor who oversees a team of us and I’ll go from there.
Her Thoughts on Pitching
Beck: I can only imagine. Speaking of loosening up, does anything ever sneak into your inbox that’s compelling? And this also goes into how does your inbox look? Is it full of hundreds of pitches a week? How do you organize?
Sara: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting to compare before COVID-19 and in the midst of COVID-19. As our perspectives, I think on everything really changed, it’s been sort of sobering to be able to take a step back and say what actually matters right now to readers and what am I interested in as a reporter? A lot of pitches that PR folks who are sending my inbox just aren’t. I’m thinking just from a reader’s perspective, anything at this point in this stage of the news cycle. Again, we’re kind of week four, week five, but I’m still kind of very focused on stories related to the Coronavirus, but that’s not going to last forever.
Sara: And I think the appetite among readers, isn’t going to last forever. And as we kind of move beyond this, I think readers are going to want more positive stories. They’re going to want to hear about innovative products that publishers are doing or new experiences that they can have. And we’re forward-thinking too about where this is all going. So it’s been kind of a challenge, I guess, in working with those pitches and reading about those pitches because there’s kind of more seemingly important stuff out there to talk about then maybe something that I would have thought was interesting before. Just because the bar now is different.
Beck: Yeah. What are you seeing when you mentioned it’s not hitting the mark? Is it almost inappropriate? Is it just out of left field?
Sara: Yeah, I think that, without naming names, but I think that the PR folks who are conscious of the news cycle and are seeing what I’m writing and taking that kind of extra mile to go through what the by-lines look like right now in Adweek and what we are writing about and what’s on our mind. The ones that are more thoughtful, the ones that are geared toward things that we’re already kind of writing about, are going to land better than the one-off. We’re launching a new stuffed animal that has nothing to do with my beat or what we’re covering. And so, yeah, it’s def… and now that…
Her Work Inbox
Beck: Yeah. So the inbox is getting crazy again?
Sara: Yeah starting to fill back up with useless pitches.
Beck: Gotcha. Oh, there you go. So what do you do with all those pitches?
Sara: It depends. So the ones that I think are helpful… First off, I try to respond to everyone as much as I possibly can, but I will be the first to admit that I do have to sometimes just let things slide out of my inbox or further down my inbox because it gets just absurd.
Sara: But I also will say though, that I do really appreciate the emails, particularly from spokespersons within media companies telling me about things that are going on in the newsroom. Even if I can’t write a one-off story about it, when I’m taking a broader look at what’s going on in the industry, it’s great to have examples that I can point to from those emails to just name names and to say publisher X is doing something that’s innovative and this is what that is. But similarly, publisher Y is doing the same thing. And that’s why that’s interesting. So it’s always kind of good to keep a pulse on those things. PR folks are really helpful in that respect. So even if, I try to say all the time, even if I’m not responding to every single email you send, things are in my inbox and I can draw on them for what I’m doing. Those broader stories.
Sara: And I have different sections within my inbox or different folders. So if something is related to Ido. Yeah. I’m also the type of person who can not stand to have any notifications in my inbox on my phone. When I read it, if I don’t file it away or respond right away, I’ll forget about it. So I have to really stay on top of it.
Beck: Yes, yes. Okay. So you’re one of those diligent organizers.
Beck: Some people just let them roll and they tell me they got 20,000 emails on read. I go, “Oh my God.”
Sara: The thought gives me so much anxiety.
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