Each month we reach out to journalists and media professionals to chat with them about their experiences in the industry. For our latest ‘Questions for Journalists’ we had the opportunity to interview Josh McConnell, the digital editor/producer for FP Tech Desk and a digital producer for Financial Post. He has more than 15 years of experience cover tech, business, music, gaming, and culture.
Technology & business journalist
If you could only write about one thing for the rest of your career, what would it be?
I feel like the answer to this question will change depending on the year I’m asked it. As a journalist, you’re often crossing over into different beats a little as needed, and you get to try telling different stories you might not normally tell. Even now I’m seeing different things I like to write about outside of my current beat. So it’s hard to decide definitively that there is one thing I would want to write about for the rest of my career, as things are always changing.
That said, the easy answer is technology and personal tech. Since I was a child, I’ve always had an interest in all things technology and being able to explain it to people in simpler terms. During high school and university I even worked at a Best Buy for nearly a decade, where I enjoyed breaking down technology for people. It’s satisfying.
Technology also spills over pretty easily into other areas. Of course, there is the business side and being able to tell the context of why a company might be introducing a particular product or feature, but really technology affects everything. I’ve told stories about technology in sports, music, municipal politics and many other industries.
So, really, by saying I’d like to write about technology for the rest of my life, it’s a bit of a cheat because it touches many areas and beats (and that will only continue to increase).
What are some common myths or misconceptions about journalists?
Sometimes I think people assume journalists always have some kind of hidden agenda, whether it be digging up conflict to make a story more interesting or that we’re trying some kind of sneak attack when people aren’t looking. Really, journalists just want know the story and pass along the information to readers, viewers and/or listeners. We don’t claim to be the experts, we’re just the messengers. Sometimes readers forget that. Or, if they are involved in the industry you cover, they always have their defences up around you in case they “slip” and say something they shouldn’t. Relax a little, we’re all just people doing our jobs.
Even good friends of mine that I’ve known for years who happen to work in an industry I cover or at a major company that isn’t necessarily in my beat frequently toss around “off the record” when we are out socially. Sure, if I hear something that could be a really interesting story, I might make a comment and say we should find a way to do something. But journalists are people, too. We aren’t out to get everyone and sometimes just want to take off the journalist hat and have a casual discussion where we ask questions out of personal interest, not digging for a story. My logic is unless we agree we are doing a formal interview for a story, casual conversations are off the record until we say otherwise. We all need downtime. If journalists have crossed that line with you before, then those journalists might want to reconsider how they carry themselves outside of work.
Finally, sometimes I think people — especially PR professionals — believe journalists have more time than we actually do. I do believe they know our time is limited, but I don’t think they realize just how little time in a day we have for surprises. The way journalism has gone in the past number of years, the industry needs to do more with less. All of us are wearing more hats at work than what you see on our business card and social media profiles. We’re often stretched very thin, working well beyond an average work day. So don’t be offended or take it personally if we don’t respond to you right away. Not only are our inboxes a disaster to begin with, but we’re often juggling and prioritizing many things at once and things simply fall through the cracks. Most of us are good people. Honest!
What advice do you have for PR professionals about working with journalists?
Again, a key thing is to realize how little time we have as journalists, just as a nature of the business. We aren’t being short or unresponsive out of rudeness or lack of interest, it usually is just a lack of time.
That said, how do you get noticed? For one thing, don’t copy and paste pitches. Even if you think it doesn’t look like you copy and pasted a pitch, and you found a trick to get around it, you probably didn’t. We can tell because we get them all the time. Those are often the first ones to get skipped and deleted.
Instead, take the time to do research on the reporter you want to reach out to. Quickly mention articles that he or she have written — and not just the headlines, prove you read it — and say why in that context you feel that journalist is the best one to tell the story. Because, again, we have very little time and when we agree to look at or write a story, that means many others fall to the wayside. So we need a compelling case presented to us, not just a copy and pasted message.
But, ultimately, just be conversational and have fun with us. We’re all just people doing our jobs. Personally, I like to joke around and have fun with PR professionals – but we know when to be serious and get work done. Be human with us. Show us some of your personality. It’s all about the balance, and it goes a long way with journalists. We’re often a fun bunch. Just look at us on Twitter. We can get pretty ridiculous (then again, maybe that’s just me).
Thank you for your great answers, Josh!
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