Today, on Coffee with a Journalist, we sit down with Erika Wheless of Digiday. At…
On this week’s episode of Coffee with a Journalist, our host, Beck Bamberger, speaks with Steven Aquino, Forbes staff writer, and contributor. Steven’s coverage is focused on technology, accessibility, special education, and Apple. Steven talks about his shift in coverage between outlets, how crazy his inbox looks, and more.
Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
His Work Inbox
BB: Tell us then about your inbox, Steven. So do you get a lot of pitches? How do you suss through your pitches?
SA: I actually do get about 10. Since I started at Forbes last April, my inbox has gotten fuller at an exponential clip because I’m on a huge outlet and people see me now. So how do I suss out my work? It’s hard. I mean, I know a lot of journalists think that, like, it’s hard to like sifting through the junk. But it’s hard because I get a lot of stuff that is just like copy-pasted and it’s really not easy to come across somebody who not only says hi, but says that they’ve seen an article I wrote and talked about kind of who I am and stuff and then kind of went into their idea, right? And I’m always on the lookout for that stuff. And certain people do it better than others, but it’s hard.
You can follow-up with me if I haven’t responded after like 2 or 3 days.
His Thoughts on Pitches
BB: What’s your favorite type of pitch if you are to ever get one look like?
SA: Well, from the PR person, I really want them to be human. Like I want them to say like, “Hey, Steven, I saw you on Forbes. I saw you on iMore,” wherever, and I thought of an idea, “Here’s a company or someone you should talk to.” Like I don’t want to see like just a generic like here’s a hearing aid. For some reason –
SA: I don’t know why. Like don’t just tell me that that there’s a hearing aid out there and it’s super great. I’m not a hearing aid reviewer. My hearing is actually not that great. But, yeah. No. I want to see a story where it like connects like technology with the human element.
You will never get a response from me if – You copy and paste [a pitch].
BB: Is there a pitch recently that you were like, “Wow! Yes, that is the one,” that you can think of?
SA: Well, actually it’s funny, because I’m working on an article now about mental health, and it’s a personal thing for me. I mean, I’m not going to go too deep into it, but –
BB: Not out yet. Yes.
SA: Certainly had my struggles with mental health, and even right now I still do.
BB: Don’t we all?
SA: Well, I mean, I have a lot of thoughts on that, but that’s not for now. But I got this pitch from someone who talked about mental health in the context of what we’re all going through. And I started to think about it in an accessibility wins. And when I talk to her more about what she was trying to do, the person who contacted me, I thought, “This is going to be a great story because I can tie in all these ends. I can even throw in my own sort of slant on it.” So I’m excited to have that out there soon. It’s been a slow story to write because I’m kind of struggling with some stuff. So it kind of fits.
How He Writes Stories
BB: Actually let’s even start back to you. I know we just had our little overview about you. You’re fluent of course in English, but also American sign language. So your focus is on accessibility and the technology that is provided to those that need accessible products. What though would you like to further add to that so we can better understand your beating coverage, because it’s quite particular?
SA: How you said it is actually good. What I write about is accessibility and how technology helps us and does not help us.
BB: That’s pretty wide in a way, because more and more technology is addressing now probably for the first time, really, people who need accessibility like never before, and I think it’s important work.
Steven goes on to share more about a recent accessibility story he wrote:
SA: So I had a story done recently about Hiki, which is a dating/social app for people who are on the autism spectrum. And I talk to the founder and the CEO and it’s an app, right? And it’s also like connecting people. And so I got to really connect the tech to the human, and it turned out to be an awesome story and I got lots of people enjoyed it. And those are the kinds of stories that I want. Like I don’t want – I mean, I can do like a straight story about news, like stuff happens. There’s an app update, yadi-yada. Like I’m happy to do those too, but I really want a human sort of tie in to the whole thing.
Steven also shares about how he comes up with story angles:
BB: Steven, when we’re thinking about just how you come up with your story angles and just the inspiration of it, some people get it from pitches, although rarely I have to say after doing this show for so long it’s like that really does seem to come from pitches. Where do you get your inspiration for a story? Ever from pitches?
SA: So that’s a good question, because the time I’ve been at Forbes I’ve seen it shift in how I get story. So like I said, like I get email all the time, right? So that’s the outlet for article ideas. But at the same time I really find that where on in my career I was more trying to think of ideas, like how to use certain features? How certain software helps me, that sort of thing. But now that I have this outlet at Forbes, I’ve really started to kind of shift into like a more I don’t want to say like straight news, but I tend to take a look at the cycle of stuff that’s happening. So like Apple has a feature in the iOS beta now where if you wear a face mask and an Apple Watch, your Apple Watch can unlock your phone. And there are accessibility stuff to that. So I’m thinking about an article somewhere down the line about that.
I really want a human sort of tie in to the whole thing.
BB: It sounds like you’re sometimes inspired by what the tech giants, I know you’ve covered Apple for ages, for example, are doing and like what is their traction as it relates to thinking of accessibility if at all.
SA: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I do write a ton about Apple because I’m established there and I talk to them all the time, but I do write about Amazon and Google and Facebook. And I do cover know smaller startups and such too, but I really do kind of keep by ear to the big tech companies because there’s no – They will always be doing something that has hooks that I can hang on to.
BB: Yes. Yes. Makes sense. We have an audience ask coming from Nikolett from Market Impact, and she wrote in. This is a specific question for you, Steven. What are you working on right now and what’s the best way to interest you in a story? So is there a way that her pitch could perhaps stand out to you in the many that you get besides, okay, human connection?
SA: Well, as I said, the human part. But at the same time if it’s around technology in some way, like if it’s an app, if it’s a social network, if it’s a service, if it’s, I don’t know, a hotline. I mean, something to do with technology and you can help me with understanding how the tech is helping people in terms of accessibility and stuff, that would be something that I would definitely be up for looking into.
With my call a little bit at Forbes, I can pretty much write anything I want so long as I stay in my swim lane as it’s called over there. So after I’m done with this article, I’m open to whatever else comes down.
As for what I’m doing now, I just got through talking about my article on mental health. I don’t have anything else in the hopper at the moment.
Steven is not a fan of copying and pasting pitches but that doesn’t mean you have to always start from scratch. Read more about the importance of pitch templates when it comes to pitching specific stories to journalists.
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