Recently, I joined Beck Bamberger, co-founder of OnePitch, on Coffee with a Journalist and we…
Today on Coffee with a Journalist we sit down with Sasha Lekach, a tech reporter at Mashable. Sasha covers everything transportation and tech for Mashable, out of their SF office. That means self-driving cars, electric vehicles, e-scooters, ride-hailing apps, and more. She’s been reporting out of her hometown over the years at Bay City News (news wire), SFGate (the San Francisco Chronicle website), and even made it out of California to write for the Chicago Tribune.
On the episode today, Sasha talks more about her inbox filtering system, the different ways her stories come to life, answers an audience question about pitching, and lots more.
Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
Her Work Inbox
[00:02:35] BB: Well, let’s chat about your inbox first. That’s usually where we start with things. How crazy is it in there and how do you keep it organized?
[00:02:47] SL: Oh, it’s a s jungle in there. Yeah, I’ve got 14,000 unread emails.
[00:02:52] BB: Oh! Oh! So clearly you’re not the Inbox zero type of lady. Okay.
[00:02:56] SL: I aspire to be, but that doesn’t mean I’m not organized. Like don’t let that number scare you.
[00:03:02] BB: Okay. I’ve heard worse. Don’t worry.
“Yeah, I’ve got 14,000 unread emails.”
[00:03:04] SL: I like keeping things unread. I know some people do the opposite method of everything read, but I prefer unread. I’m a big fan of label, which is Gmail folder essentially. And so that’s how I keep things pretty organized, because I can just use the search function really well.
[00:03:25] BB: Everyone seems to do that. Everyone’s been mentioning that lately. You just keep it all in there and then you search it when you need it.
[00:03:30] SL: Exactly. So that’s why I always think it’s really important. For sending an email, I have some good keywords in there. So when I’m doing a search, I’ll find it.
[00:03:54] BB: So with unread, so you even file an unread email? You label it?
[00:03:59] SL: Yeah. So I have a lot of automatic filters. So from certain senders, label certain things. I have an EV label for electric vehicles, or autonomous label for autonomous vehicles.
Her Thoughts on Pitches
[00:04:16] BB: Clearly, you don’t open every email, but are you saving every pitch? Or how do you funnel through the pitches?
[00:04:22] SL: Oh, yeah. At this point, I’ve been at Mashable almost five years. So I have a pretty good understanding of like the people who are pitching me things that normally work. So there’re some familiar names that come into rotation in my inbox. So I definitely keep my eyes out for that. I think it’s a little maybe too manual, or I should probably automate this somehow. But yeah, just kind of going through every morning and making sure I didn’t miss anything important. Obviously, I do. But yeah, but the labels really help especially for like keywords and stuff. There we go, the keywords again. Yeah. And also, there’re a lot of pitches. Many other journalists before me have said that are just not relevant to me at all. And I don’t have time to explain to –
[00:05:14] BB: Oh, no. You can’t. You can’t.
[00:05:16] SL: Yeah. But there’re a lot of pitches that you can just carry on and ignore. Yeah, which the human part of me is always, “I know somebody cares out there.”
“So I have a pretty good understanding of like the people who are pitching me things that normally work. So there’re some familiar names that come into rotation in my inbox. So I definitely keep my eyes out for that. I think it’s a little maybe too manual, or I should probably automate this somehow.”
[00:05:26] BB: Somebody cares. Oh, man. Okay. So for stories that you do, for example, I saw like this manicure, the robot manicure. You had –
[00:05:37] SL: Yeah, that was fun.
[00:09:08] BB: What percentage of pitches ever make it through to a story would you say? Is it like 1%?
[00:09:15] SL: Ooh! That’s a good question. Does that include all the like not relevant pitches?
[00:09:23] BB: Maybe not those, because then I’m sure it’s under 1%.
[00:09:26] SL: Yes. I say at this point I feel like people are getting – They’re getting a little more like focused and figuring out patterns of what works and doesn’t work. Maybe I’ll be generous and say like 25%.
[00:09:42] BB: 25? Oh, that’s huge. Wow!
How She Writes Stories
[00:05:39] BB: Yeah, I want to talk about that. You had something with – You even wrote about Jeff Bezos rolling up in Blue Origin from an SUV from Tesla competitor. Like, “Ooh, that was kind of –” Anyway, how do you come up with stories you wish to pursue? Obviously the ones that are like non-news breaking.
[00:05:57] SL: Right. Right. Right. Yeah, there’s I think, give and take, actually the robot manicure story is a good example of one of the managing editors seeing a TikTok that was blowing up about someone’s robot manicure. And she was like, “Oh, this isn’t San Francisco.” So she hit up the San Francisco office. And I was like, “Yeah. Yes, I want to go get my nails done by a robot. That sounds awesome.”
[00:06:21] BB: Was it actually good?
[00:06:23] SL: Yeah. It was a lot of fun. I mean, it was pretty good manicure. I promptly went surfing the next day, and my nails were destroyed. It was a one-day manicure.
[00:06:33] BB: But it was only 8 bucks.
[00:06:34] SL: Yeah, exactly. $7.99. And it was pretty fun. I don’t know. I enjoyed it. It was a lot more into some of the ethical qualms I may have had about it. But in the article, I wrote about that a lot. But in terms of just getting like a quick color change, did the drop. But yeah, so that’s something that’s kind of a more collaborative pitch, I guess you would say. And volunteering as tribute so to speak.
[00:07:00] BB: So that did originate from a pitch?
“I love to write about what funky and new in some of these cars coming out. It’s really fun to be – It’s obviously cool to drive a cool car. But it is really cool to drive a cool car. But I love when I’m able to find like a little feature or just like something that isn’t what everyone’s writing about.”
[00:07:02] SL: No, no, no. Like a pitch internally like [inaudible 00:07:05].
[00:07:05] BB: I see. Got it. Hey, you want to do this? Okay. Gotcha.
[00:07:09] SL: Yeah, I assume most newsrooms I’ve been, like it gets kind of confusing, because we have inbound pitches coming from publicity folks. We call those pitches. And then I also am – We call it like pitching my editor on story.
[00:07:26] BB: Exactly. There’s lots of pitching happening.
[00:07:28] SL: Yeah, Just like I feel like my job is all that, it’s like pitch, pitch, pitch.
[00:07:31] BB: Mm-hmm. So you don’t necessarily do like, “Oh, okay, I’m going to go surfing to like dream up my new story.” It’s just kind of –
[00:07:39] SL: I mean, so that’s an example of just one way a story comes the way. It can be the other way, where, yeah, I’m sort of zoning out waiting for a great wave and an epiphany hits me. That happens too. I have a feature coming out about Tesla versus the next generation of EVs, like the Mustang Mach-E, and some of the new Polestar cars coming out. And we have Lucid and Rivian, which I wrote about, Jeff Bezos pulling up in.
[00:08:11] BB: Yeah. There’s a lot happening. Yeah.
[00:08:13] SL: Yeah. And so I’ve been doing a lot of – They call it press rides, but basically I get a car for a couple days and get to try it out and see what it’s like to use –
[00:08:24] BB: How freaking great is that?
[00:08:25] SL: It’s really fun. My neighbor thinks I’m crazy, because they’re like, “You have a different car like every month.”
[00:10:09] BB: Mm-hmm. We do have an audience ask here. This one comes from Andrea Veloso Mayer, and she says, “How much information do you want provided in that first pitch?” Will you take it and write? Or do you prefer to follow up digging for more?”
[00:10:26] SL: Ah, well, that fits in with what I just said.
[00:10:28] BB: It does. Go ahead.
[00:10:30] SL: Follow up and dig in for more. It’s always going to be the little weird detail that you just mentioned offhand that I’m going to be like, “Oh, that’s the story.” You really pick the stories about a profile about an executive or somebody on the team. And I’m like, “No, it’s not about them. But it’s about the really cool whatever app they developed. We’ll focus on that.” It might be something related, but it’s going to be usually not exactly what pitch.
[00:11:00] BB: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. That’s good for PR people, because so often I hear this from my team. It’s not the leading thing. It’s the second third thing, that’s the one little off story, the one little detail where you’re like, “Oh, wait, there’s something I can use there. And then that becomes the actual meat of the story. So, yes. Now, for you to get those little kernels. Is it, “Okay, let’s hop on a call real quick.” Is it just filming with everything? How do you extract those little details that might spark the bigger piece?
[00:11:33] SL: Yeah, I guess you do have to initially have the interest for you to be like, “This is worth me doing like a background call on.” But yeah, usually a call, or if it’s something that it’s like, “Alright, let’s set up a phone call with the person you’re trying profile,” or whatever it is. Invented this next great invention –
Subject lines and visuals are highly crucial to the success of your pitch being read, for Sasha. Also, make sure you pay attention to her timezone and understand the types of stories she covers before you click send.
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