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Coffee with a Journalist: Kerry Flynn, Digiday

                   Coffee with a Journalist - Kerry Flynn, Digiday
     

Welcome to our first podcast episode and newest blog series titled “Coffee with a Journalist” featuring some of the most popular and coveted journalists covering the tech industry. Our Co-Founder, Beck Bamberger, speaks 1:1 with editors, reporters, and journalists from newsrooms such as CNBC, Adweek, Digiday and more. Throughout the conversation she asks intimate questions about the journalist’s life and career, beat and newsroom, and how many emails they deal with on a regular basis. Each week a new guest is featured and a new set of questions and answers are revealed. Our very first guest features Kerry Flynn, from Digiday!

Kerry Flynn is a business reporter who started in newspapers, drifted to magazines, and now has spent the past few years in the online media industry. She recently moved from tech reporting to the advertising beat to analyze how digital platforms have altered brands’ strategies. Following the money in marketing.

Her Journey to Media

Beck Bamberger: First off, you do not have the traditional path, you were studying environmental science and public policy. How did you then end up in the media? You had some internships, but-

Kerry Flynn: Yeah.

Beck Bamberger: … how’d you get into that?

Kerry Flynn: I guess going back to age 12 is when I got into journalism. One of my friends, different friend, I guess we were like in middle school. She was interested in newspapers and was like, “We should start a publication,” because my middle school didn’t have one. And we both loved writing, reading. And I was like, “Oh, that’d be great.” We actually never ended up doing it, but when we both went into high school, we decided to work on the paper together. And so, she was kind of my inspiration. Also, my grandfather used to work in advertising, The Wall Street Journal. I kind of had these connections to the industry. Once I got in, I got hooked. I loved writing. I loved story-telling, but the thing about college, the reason why I studied environmental science is the school I went to didn’t have journalism, and I kind of went into college being like, “You don’t have to study journalism to be a good journalist.” I had all ready been a journalist essentially since age 13, you know, and editor in chief for my high school paper. See, that’s not everything, but it’s still something-

Beck Bamberger: Yeah.

Kerry Flynn: … that I learned. I took a class in high school, and I practiced. When I went to college, I was like, and I went to Harvard, I was like, “I only have four years at this school. I want to study something that I think is going to be super important and will give me a great education.” At the time, when I went to college, I actually, my thing was all about studying immigration because this was 2000, 2009, 2010, when DACA and a lot of stuff was kind of bubbling, and as a story teller and someone in the news, I was like, “I’m going to go to study that.” My first year, I had that thing, where freshman year you kind of discover who you are and what you’re interested in, and I ended up taking a class about climate change. I was always fascinated by animals and life in the sea and stuff like that, but I-

Beck Bamberger: The life in the sea …

Kerry Flynn: … the life in the sea, that was one of the classes that I took. I ended up completely changing and decided to study science. Because again, going back, I was like, “I only have four years at this school. I’m going to take these rigorous science classes.” I don’t need someone to teach me how to write or read. I’ve been doing that my whole life. The thing that’s a little bit harder, and the thing that I appreciate having the knowledge in, is climate policy. So anyway, that’s my background. I do nothing with that today.

Beck Bamberger: Okay. But then, you were working in the news executive, right? And it is related to Harvard, and you were doing some free-lancing stuff. So you were all ready touching it. You had a bunch of internships, I see.

Kerry Flynn: Yeah. That’s because that’s a way into media. I knew I wanted to study science, but I knew I wanted to be a reporter, so a way into that was to have a job in that. So I was a part of my college paper, The Crimson. That was kind of my life. But then in the summers, I worked at a bunch of different papers. Actually, my first summer internship between freshman year and sophomore year of college was a PR internship. On the other side of the equation, a little part of me was like, “All right. I’ve been doing journalism for awhile, but I know there’s whole other side to this industry, and I want to see what that’s all about.” It’d gotten to the point of I ended up, I said loved life in the sea. I love oceanography, so I ended up doing PR at an aquarium. It’ll give me the two-

Beck Bamberger: Wait, wait-

Kerry Flynn: … things I love: aquariums and experience in PR.

Her Work Inbox

Beck Bamberger: Mm-hmm. What do you think is the best … well, we’re gonna talk about your inbox in just a second, but in terms of what you cover now, which is in the niche of marketing and the brands and such that are in this sphere of all the things that do, what is the most compelling to you as an interest? So for example, the reason I’m asking this is you said, “Oh, so and so company has layoffs, but why?” That I would want to be totally … I would dig so deep to figure out really really why that happened. So is there anything that’s sparking you right now with what you cover?

Kerry Flynn: Yeah, well to my inbox, I guess one thing that I’m working on today is one of my favorite companies to cover is Snapchat. And obviously I can write about like, oh, there’s a brand that used Snapchat, but I love to talk about like okay, why are you using Snapchat, right? There’s this narrative that Snapchat is dead, all my friends joke that no one uses it, but I’m like, okay but there are these companies here and I really want to know why. What I cover and what I tell people I cover is like following the money, right? And people say like, “Oh, well the money’s in Facebook, the money’s in YouTube, the money is still in television.” I’m like, okay but clearly there’s money going to other places. Why are you still dedicating those dollars? What is happening there that maybe other people are ignoring?

Beck Bamberger: Why is it one of your favorite companies to write about? Because you never know.

Kerry Flynn: I think … you never know. Things are happening there. I think because it’s young so it’s interesting. It’s also … I have an affinity to it because it came out when I was … Snapchat the platform came out when I was in college, so I’m an active user of it, so I feel like I’ve … because it’s interesting. I think one thing when I joined IBT and even before IBT, I felt like I was competing against … I was, I am to this day competing against people who have 20 years of experience on me. And they go in and they write about Facebook. And Facebook came out maybe when they were in college, or when they were in the field. And I’m like oh gosh, I don’t know. I don’t have Zuckerberg’s cell phone number because I was on the ground when Facebook launched. So what is helpful as a young reporter is covering things that maybe older reporters are overlooking or don’t have as much context in because it’s a little-

Beck Bamberger: They weren’t in it early enough.

Kerry Flynn: They weren’t, exactly. So that’s a benefit there. Obviously now I cover Facebook to this day and I don’t feel as intimidated. But it’s a little harder when you’re first starting and you’re trying to make or break it and you’ve got competition from the big guys.

Her Thoughts on Pitching

Beck Bamberger: How bad is it? How many pitches are you getting a day?

Kerry Flynn: I don’t know, I feel like there’s this whole narrative. One of my colleagues, I won’t name names, but like everyone complains about how full their inbox is. My inbox is really full but I’ll just mark as read. If I don’t like it, I’ll just mark as read. There are some people who want to respond to everyone and I’m like, no. I get a lot of emails. I get a lot of emails. I’m on my phone all the time though, I’m always on my laptop so I see the subject lines. Do I respond to all of them? No. But some people are so intimidated and they’re like, “Oh, half my job is responding to emails,” and I’m like, “Maybe you’re not doing your job right. You don’t have to respond to every email. You don’t have to look at every email.”

Beck Bamberger: This is true.

Kerry Flynn: And that’s why people ask me, “Oh well how do I break in your inbox, should I not bother to email you?” And I’m like maybe, I don’t mind if you’ll send me a press release and maybe there’s the power of searching your inbox. So right now I’m writing about Pinterest and I don’t cover Pinterest as much as I do other companies. So just like this morning, I just searched in my inbox and I’m like “Pinterest” and I’m like, who has reached out to me with anything. That’s not to say I’m gonna immediately respond to anyone who ever said “Pinterest” in an email to me. I will see it, and be like oh, actually this company did X campaign last month, let’s see how it did.

Beck Bamberger: Mm-hmm.

Kerry Flynn: So my inbox is a powerful thing.

Beck Bamberger: Oh, so you’re really mining it for potential resources.

Kerry Flynn: Totally.

Beck Bamberger: Sources.

Kerry Flynn: Yeah, where I know some people the annoying thing that I think lots of people do is like, news happens. Like I said earlier, news happens and everyone writes about it, right? Maybe we don’t do that. And so people will email me and be like, “Resource for X thing,” and maybe right at the time I’m not gonna respond to it and then that’s probably sad for that person because they maybe hopefully wanted a response. But maybe two months later I search in my inbox being like, “All right, who’s capable of talking about Pinterest?” Again, that doesn’t mean I’m gonna immediately reach out to this person. I’m gonna do my own due diligence to be like, “is that person really qualified to talk about X? Can they really add to it?” And maybe I will though. So inbox, people hate on the inbox. I love my inbox.

Beck Bamberger: Yeah, yeah. Love your inbox.

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*Revision as of 8-12-19: Kerry currently works at CNN to cover media news.*