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 Shannen Balogh, a reporter for Insider. Shannen covers payments and fintech on the finance team at Insider. She is interested in the future of how we pay and get paid, and the role that startups and incumbents play in payments innovation. She started at Insider as an editorial fellow in September of 2019 before becoming a junior reporter in March of 2020.
On today’s episode, Shannen shares more about using labels in her inbox, where she gets inspiration for her stories, the percentage of relevant pitches she receives, 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: You were leading the pack. Wow. Yeah, that’s hardcore consumption there. Well, let’s talk about your inbox. We usually start off with that. How is your inbox? How do you keep it straight?
[00:03:17] SB: Yeah. It’s pretty good. I’m very type A. I keep a very clean inbox. Only thing that sits in my inbox are things I have to do. I basically go through everything.
[00:03:27] BB: Does that mean, every single email?
[00:03:30] SB: For the most part, unless the subject line is clearly ridiculous, or it’s a newsletter that I didn’t read in the morning and is no longer relevant.
“I would say, like 90% of the pitches I get are relevant to my beat, which I really appreciate.”
[00:03:39] BB: When you missed it, yep.
[00:03:41] SB: But yeah, I was getting everything. I label everything. I have like 200 labels.
[00:03:46] BB: Wait, stop. This is absurd. I’ve never heard that before. 200? How do you keep track? This is unprecedented from a journalist.
[00:03:59] SB: I can’t not. I have a label for every company I cover, for a couple of themes. It just means that like later, it’s all in the right place. I can find the emails. I find Gmail search like actually not that great, funnily. The labels are very helpful. Yeah. I’m not very discerning with it. If I get a pitch from a new company that I think would be worthwhile later, I create a new label.
Her Thoughts on Pitches
[00:04:45] BB: Wow, okay. How many of those would you say in your daily emails that you get, what percentage would be pitches.
[00:04:55] SB: Like 60% rather, maybe more.
[00:04:59] BB: That’s a lot. Yeah.
[00:04:59] SB: Yeah, that’s mostly what it is. It’s newsletters and pitches for the most part.
[00:05:02] BB: Got it, with your fabulous system, are you responding to a fraction of those pitches? Are you mostly filing, coding? How would you get a response?
“Honestly, if it’s someone I know, one sentence, “Hey, Shannen. Have a story. Are you cool with taking a look at this?” Will usually get a response from me.”
[00:05:16] SB: I’ll file everything. I used to respond to everyone when I was young and naive, I guess. It just got, I just can’t, but I’ll respond If it’s someone I know, if it’s a company that I cover a lot. I’ll usually get back to that person. If it’s not someone I know, or it’s like totally out of the blue, and it’s not going to come into coverage, I probably won’t respond. Yeah.
[00:05:39] BB: How critical would you say subject lines are then?
[00:05:41] SB: Pretty big, to be honest.
“I actually really appreciate when founders and sources like go into the nitty-gritty.”
[00:05:43] BB: Yeah.
[00:05:42] SB: For me, at least. Then, I really don’t like long pitches. I like when people bold the important stuff, all of that is helpful to me, but subject line is pretty big.
How She Writes Stories
[00:06:37] BB: Yeah, that kills me. Okay, Shannen when you are thinking of a story to do, so for example, I’m looking at one you did on pitch decks for Fintechs. Now, I know Insider likes to do the pitch decks and what it looks like and all that stuff, but you did seven, for example. Or you were looking at this banking piece, that’s about banks earning billions of dollars in charging overdraft fees, so this is like quite the burden for people who even shouldn’t be paying overdraft fees. How do you assess and come up with the story you want to do.
[00:07:11] SB: A lot of it comes just brainstorming with my editor and I. It’s because, I write three or four times a week. We plan things out on a monthly basis. It’s really like a 70% of it is just my ideas, seeing what’s out there in the world and what I want to contribute to, and then the other part comes from pitches, so like big news in the industry. If I get eight pitches on one particular theme in a week, that’s usually a nod to maybe do something about that theme.
“My favorite sources always bring me new information.”
[00:07:38] BB: Got it, yeah.
[00:07:39] SB: Yeah. It’s a lot of collaboration with editors at the end of the day.
[00:07:42] BB: How often are you, you said once a week you meet with them?
[00:07:46] SB: Yeah, yeah. I mean, we talk all the time.
[00:07:49] BB: Yeah, talk all the time.
[00:07:50] SB: It’s basically, yeah, once a week, we set the pace and the tone and I think that might be a little unique for us, because I write principally behind the pay wall, so I’m not writing multiple times a day. If I were, maybe it would be a daily meeting, but yeah.
“Especially with any announcement, an exclusive is usually something that we’ll ask for. Part of that is because at the end of the day, if a bunch of other papers are going to have the same story out, it doesn’t make much sense for us to have it, especially behind the paywall.”
[00:08:03] BB: Do you have some way, I know people do, so I like to ask them, a routine perhaps. Like, “Okay, let me do a stroll through Brooklyn and with my coffee.” One coffee or whatever that helps inspire stories for you?
[00:08:17] SB: Yeah, I would say a lot of it finally comes from like ads I see on the subway.
[00:08:21] BB: Really? There you go.
[00:08:23] SB: Things like that. FinTech has grown so much in the last year.
[00:08:27] BB: Absolutely.
[00:08:28] SB: A lot of my ideas are like, “Hey, I saw this weird thing advertised on my commute, like what is that?” It does come from there. Then otherwise, actually, I find Twitter to be a great resource. In the morning, I scroll Twitter. That’s always very inspiring, just seeing what people in the industry are talking about.
[00:08:44] BB: God, I would never think that that’s a perfect New York thing of what’s in the subway. Okay, readers tell me and then I go, ”Okay, something to investigate.”
[00:08:50] SB: Legitimate, like it’s happened so many times.
[00:09:39] BB: Okay, well Shannen, we have an audience ask. This is coming from Rachel Gattuso APR. She’s accredited PR person and she is from her own firm. It looks like the Gattuso Coalition. Her question is a very direct one here. “Do journalists need /care for press kits anymore?”
[00:09:59] SB: I love them. If you put your founder headshot on your website, would save me so much time. Logos, if we’re going to do a graphic, like companies that have their logos out there was great. Even if there were a fact sheet, if you’re a private if you’re a startup, total raise, investors, founders, CEO like all of that on a PDF, I would love that.
[00:10:22] BB: Do you really get them?
[00:10:23] SB: Yeah, I really got them. I get a lot of press releases, but it’s mostly, I need a lot of headshots for our stories. I’m always emailing for them. It’s always a back and forth.
[00:10:31] BB: If you just got those up front, here’s the link to our Google Drive with everything much easier.
[00:10:35] SB: Yeah, it would be super helpful.
For Shannen, story ideas come from all sorts of places including advertisements she sees throughout the day, pitches with specific points of interest in her inbox, or meetings with her editor to suss out the latest news in the fintech industry. BUT, make sure your pitch is short and has the most important information in bold for her to easily skim through it.
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