On the latest episode of Coffee with a Journalist, Dave Lee of BBC sits down 1:1 with our host, Beck Bamberger. On this episode you’ll learn just how many emails are sitting in Dave’s inbox, how he experienced his first taste of journalism and the types of stories he looks for when writing at BBC.
He runs the BBC team in San Francisco, covering mostly technology stories on the TV, radio, and online as well. Furthermore, he specializes in social media, start-ups, the UK technology scene, security, piracy, and government policy. He has a passion in writing about how technology changes lives, whether that be for the better or for the worse. His work appears across all BBC News outlets, including massively popular shows such as Click, the Today programme, and BBC Breakfast.
Beck: No, not at all. Not at all. But I’m just thinking, you know, when you look at your stuff and you’re going, oh, you know, you’re talking about Youtube and Twitter and Apple and such, but I know you’re probably the only person they can pitch things to. So, what happens in those pitches? How’s your inbox looking?
Dave: My inbox is, um, what I, I am actually not exaggerating here. My inbox is something over 200,000 emails.
Dave: Yeah. Yeah. Um hmm.
Beck: But right now, like if you pulled up your phone?
Dave: Yeah, but here’s the thing, my phone can’t even go up that high. So right now it says, hang on, let me find it, wait.
Beck: I’m going to look at his screen. Let me, let me see what it really says.
Dave: So here, you guys. All right. It says 96 thousand.
Beck: Oh wow. There was not another space for over a hundred thousand.
Dave: I don’t, I’ve never seen it go much higher than that. My inbox is going crazy. But I mean, look, there’s, since I’ve been talking to you, we’ve got press releases.
Beck: Press releases. Oh, the mayor.
Dave: Something about Fortnight and money laundering. I’m on so many Facebook groups, well a few Facebook groups where PR people and journalists are kind of interacting, there’s one in the UK that is actually pretty good. I quite like it.
Beck: Can you tell us which one?
Dave: Yeah, it’s called TechJPR or something. It’s run by an agency and, you know, they, they, it’s, it’s one of the most sort of friendly and useful places. And I’ve popped in there a couple of times and said, I’ll just, anyone know who’s doing press for this, whatever. And often the discussion on that is things like, “Oh, don’t call me, email me” or “Don’t email me, uh, send me a text message” or DM me on Twitter whenever, whatever, whatever. And it drives me insane when I hear journalists talk like that because who in their right mind has got the time to know whether someone prefers an email, a phone call, a carrier pigeon, or whatever. And my view is, on the flip side, when I hear PR people often say, “Well, what’s the best way to pitch you?” I couldn’t give a damn how it’s pitched because eventually the good stuff gets through. All Google does when they want to launch something is send me an email the same way that the email I just showed you as an email. So, it’s not so much how the pitch is, it’s just what’s in it. And I think it’s, it’s one of those weird things where we kind of get bogged down in like, do you put this in the subject header? Do you have an email? Do you have an attachment? No, probably not. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. At least not to me. And people, you know, have a very simple business. But I find that kind of stuff that there is I feel, like I’m, I’m letting the team down now. But I do think that there is an arrogance on, on journalists the thing, well I am so important because I’m this guy and therefore you need to bounce to my wish on how you send me a pitch. Well, you know, maybe if you want Mossberg or you can say that, but you know, everyone else isn’t Mossberg. Right. So, so that’s, that’s something some deal with say. Yeah, I, I’ve, I’ve gone on a bit of a tangent here that rant.
Beck: But that’s good. We’re here to rant.
His Thoughts on Pitching
Dave: There are lots of, there are lots of pitches, but the fraction of a second it takes me to skim over it. I don’t think it was worth getting too worked up about generally.
Beck: Now than then. Let’s ask about that. So do you, those 96,000 emails I just saw, do you go, how do you go through all do, how do you filter the sheer volume?
Dave: I scroll through, well here’s the thing, ironically despite my, my thoughts there. I mean actually, you know, after doing this job for quite some time, you know when something’s going to be generally in your, in your corner. And it’s not necessarily that something’s a bad pitch. It would just be, that’s not what I cover or that’s not what I want to cover right now. So if I see a pitch that mentions Fortnight in it, I’m probably not going to because fair enough. Fair enough, Fortnight, um, it’s not something I’m looking to write about right now. I also, and this is a big, big thing, you know, I, I do, if I recognize the person’s name, I will give that more time. And that’s good news for PR people with expense accounts because it shows that it’s worth it. Um, but equally, you know, I, I, I do, I do like that as, as, as, as a system that, you know, people that I know don’t waste my time with stuff is, is really, really useful. I’ve had great interactions with PR people at big companies that really amount to say, we’re putting this out, I don’t think it’s for you, but just so you know. And I’m thinking, you’re not pitching, they’re not pitching me at all that, they’re anti-pitching. But it means that when the next picture it comes in, they say, “Oh, we see this is really interesting. Do you want to come in?” Then it, then it has more weight. So I filter. The filter is kind of all those, all those different things. Um, I also make sure that all the ones from my bosses go to a folder, so.
His Thoughts on Media
Beck: Gotcha. So you don’t miss those. Gotcha. What now getting into the space of transitioned into media and the current state of media, you’ve been in this game 10 plus years, you’ve been with the biggest organization that there is arguably in news. What do you say to people who think or even say, “Hey, I’m thinking of maybe journalism, I might want to be a writer. What do you think about media? What do you think?” What do you say to them?
Dave: I’d say, yeah, sure. You can look at something that the newspaper, newspaper industry, right? And think, “Well that’s not going anywhere.” Uh, and you can look at particular local newspapers, um, and say, “Well, we’ve local newspapers closing down in some cities without a newspaper, then that’s a terrible industry to be involved in.” And that’s true to a point. I think it’s changing to the, to the extent of, if someone said to me, “I want to be, I want to have the career of someone I admired who works 20 years ago”, I’d say well, it doesn’t exist anymore. And um one of the things that is fun is if I do talks at my old university, which I do from time to time. I always like to make the point that if you’re in the first year of the course, chances are any job you’re thinking about won’t exist in that form by the third year and so you’ve got to make sure that your nimble enough to, to deal with that. And I think that’s the thing. If you, if you are willing to say, right, I want to be a journalist but not be too prescriptive about what that is, then I think you’re going to be okay. If you say, I want to work in a local newspaper doing this, then I want to go work at the New York Times, and do this and that, that’s going to be my job. You might find yourself disappointed. I, yeah. So I, so I said, so I would, I would recommend people to go into the industry ‘cause it’s great. It’s not a real job as it, it’s, you know, we, we, we spend the whole time either talking to people, thinking about talking to people, winding people up, finding stuff out, visiting fun places. And one of the great joys of my job is that because it’s television, you had to go places. You can’t just ring someone up and, and do it that way. You have to go somewhere and, and that’s just the, the greatest thing. So although the industry’s changing massively and it’s perhaps you have to kind of maybe work harder and longer and for less money than before then. Then well, that’s just the reality of it, but it’s still brilliant.
Journalists and PR Pros are both storytellers, however, they don’t always see eye to eye. Dave gave some great insight into the relationship between journalists and publicist that you could use in your next pitch. To get started constructing your next pitch, login to your account and submit a great pitch on the next big tech topic! We can’t wait to read it and give you feedback!