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This week’s guest on Coffee with a Journalist is none other than Sal Rodriguez, CNBC tech reporter. Sal sits down 1:1 with host Beck Bamberger and goes into detail about his upbringing in Texas, his start in journalism at ASU, his big move from LA to San Francisco and more.
Salvador Rodriguez is a reporter for CNBC, covering Facebook and all things social. He’s no stranger to the tech industry and has written for Inc. Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, Reuters, and International Business Times. He has also contributed to Digital Trends, Vice, and identifies as a trilingual journalist.
His Advice for Getting Into Journalism
Beck: That’s incredible. So that’s your advice, I would say for anyone in journalism right now looking to have a career, look at tech.
Sal: Well I mean tech is like one great area for sure. I mean I would say that it’d be great if we had like one reporter minimum on pretty much any topic, company or organization that matters in this country and all others as well. I think that when you don’t have watchdogs, companies and organizations and individuals get complacent or they start to do things that they shouldn’t and so it’s just good when there is someone keeping watch and just making sure that things are going how they should be.
Beck: So you’re considering your job as the watchdog policing I would say even of what Facebook is up to and so forth.
Sal: Yeah. Well I mean it’s a big world, so you gotta have eyes on all these things that matter, and there’s gotta be accountability. And so I think fortunately in the topic areas would that drive a lot of clicks and therefore advertisements? We have good watchdogs, and this can be anything as unimportant as fantasy football. Like I think I get plenty of information there and I’m grateful for it, but it would be awesome to have just as many eyes on things like your local city council or other matters.
Sal: I know that, you know I’m a big sports fan and earlier this year I was reading a piece about what went wrong with the U.S. Soccer team, they didn’t qualify. And the article that I read, which is by The Ringer, I think they essentially made the point that there just wasn’t enough soccer journalists in the U.S. keeping watch over that soccer federation and that was part of why that organization failed to grow and do what it needed to do to qualify for the World Cup this past summer.
Sal: So I definitely think that journalist, that’s like a big role in what they gotta do, and so I know when I was in school a big phrase that I tried to apply to my journalism was, “Hold the powerful accountable and give voice to the voiceless.” Or I think another way to say it is, “Afflict the comforted and comfort the afflicted.” So yeah so that’s only like two phrases that I try to go by. And so yeah, with Facebook we’ll certainly be keeping watch. I think in the tech industry there’s lots of talk from these companies about making the world a better place and so if that’s what they want to include in their marketing materials then that’s the standard that they get held to.
Sal: And then just in general we’ve seen the implications of all these products and services and technology on our mental health, our democracy here and democracies abroad. And so there’s certainly lots of ramifications and so that’s why it’s good to keep watch and get a sense, a good sense of what exactly they’re doing.
Beck: So that’s interesting because from what I’ve, listening to others journalists say they get a lot of inbound, they get a lot of pitches of course, they gotta like filter through all of that and then figure out maybe something stands out and they can then write about it and stuff like that. You need to go out and dig, so you need to do a lot of this cold outreach, not that others don’t but I would say, even more particularly as you’re trying to tackle this behemoth, you gotta go out there and dig it yourself, because let’s talk about what pitches you get. Do you get anything that’s decent in you inbox at this point?
Sal: Right now my inbox is actually pretty bare still, which is nice and also kind of unfamiliar for me ’cause there’s been places like, the only times where I wake up and like there would be 60 emails in my inbox already, and then of course a good chunk of those are also internal email, but it felt like a lot of ’em were external. And I think that made more sense back then and probably also at Inc. where I was just more of a general tech reporter so it’s a bigger basket for the PR folks to try and shoot into.
Sal: But with such a specific beat over here I do think, I’m getting the sense that like the PR folks that are looking at me or I’ve worked with in the past are finding it a little more difficult to figure out exactly what’s the best way to gain my attention, and so I’m still trying to figure that out as well and also just adjusting to the types of stories that we’re able to tell at CNBC, obviously at Reuter’s it’s pretty much we want scoops and we want exclusives and that’s about it, otherwise we might not publish. At CNBC we certainly want scoops and exclusives and we want to break news and push the story forward but I think that CNBC also has the opportunity to tell other kinds of stories like news analysis, features, profiles, or just broader, longer video pieces.
Sal: So those are, for me opportunities to tell different stories that I haven’t been able to in a bit and certainly new ways to shine light on potential sources. I think the best way that for any of your PR listeners who are interested in potentially pitching me, I’d say that if you have any folks who have previously worked at Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or their competitors and would be willing to chat with me, those are certainly folks that I would be interested in meeting.
Sal: And fortunately at CNBC we are open to chatting with folks either on the record, on the background, off the record, maybe something will be written up about your client, maybe not but there are other reasons to talk with journalists and even if it doesn’t work out now it could still be for your client an investment in a relationship with a journalist that perhaps pays off down the road in eight months or a year from now, whatever it may be.
His View on Establishing Trust
Beck: Collaborative journalism. Okay. What about your mentioning their trust? How to develop it you can obviously use, okay a different language, where I’m from, something like that. But for when you’re really digging in deep and you’re doing the investigative stuff, how do you get trust? How do you establish that with your source who’s maybe going, “I really don’t want to expose myself, expose my family, etc.” I mean all the different things you would not want to talk to a journalist for.
Sal: Right, right. From the get-go if I know it’s a sensitive subject I let them know that, you know, “We’re happy to chat on background, meaning I’ll keep them anonymous and that can be something as helpful to the reader as a former company employee said or if the source is that worried we can keep it even more vague in certain situations such as like a source familiar with the matter and certainly I’d prefer an on the record source and there are some stories that you will not be able to tell unless you have an on the record source.
Sal: So I try to explain that to my sources as well because I’d say most people in this country don’t take journalism as a class, obviously like I went to journalism school, so I’m a huge exception. But a lot of folks don’t even know how to get their news, I think that’s obviously an issue that’s plaguing the country at the moment. So if they don’t even know how or who to get their news from, they certainly don’t know how to speak with a journalist or what exactly off the record you would mean. So I try to be helpful to my sources and explain that stuff to them, I try to tell them that we can also chat on other services like Signal if that would make them more comfortable, over the phone, in person, whatever … essentially just accommodating the source.
Sal: But the other thing that I do in my reporting, especially when I’m reaching out to someone who I haven’t spoken with in the past is there are times where I’ll send them just some recent stories so that they can get a sense of my work and leave it up to them to determine if they think that it’s credible and trustworthy and if they want to take the chance and chat with me. So it’s definitely a big ask, but that’s our job and I try to do right by my sources and tell a fair objective version of what they tell me and certainly reach out to all sides, we don’t like to do “gotcha journalism”, you want to reach out to, if there’s a company that is the subject of perhaps maybe not the most flattering story you want to let them have an opportunity to weigh in as well. So that’s kinda just my approach essentially.
Thanks for listening this week to Coffee with the Journalist featuring Sal Rodriguez, CNBC tech reporter. Subscribe to Coffee with a Journalist to catch our latest episodes every week! If you’re a journalist who loves coffee or a publicist who loves this podcast we’d love to hear from you. Head to OnePitch.co to drop us a line. Until then let’s end bad pitches and start great stories.