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    Coffee with a Journalist: Bree Fowler, CNET

    Bree Fowler is a Senior Writer at CNET where she specializes in digital security and privacy. Bree also covers smartphones, wearable technology, and other emerging tech.

    During the episode, Bree talks about building relationships through face-to-face meetings, filing pitches that she can reference later on, timelines it can take to read through reports and briefs and write up a story, and more. 

    Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

    Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:

    CWJ View Transcription CTA


    What She Covers

    [00:01:28] BB: Yes. Okay, Bree. First, I always like to ask, for people maybe not as familiar, what would you say encompasses the coverage of CNET because it's quite broad?

    [00:01:40] BF: Right. CNET primarily is a consumer-focused tech publication, everything that your average everyday person or people who are obsessed with technology even want to read about when it comes to all kinds of technology. 

    [00:01:56] BB: Excellent. Specifically more for you, cybersecurity and digital privacy. I see, though, that you've got quite an array of articles like an AI helped you find your running shoes for the New York City Marathon. 

    [00:02:11] BF: That is true. Kind of like CNET has given me the ability to kind of branch out and do what I want to do, as long as it falls within their purview, writing about artificial intelligence. Basically, this was so I could get the office to buy me a new pair of trainers. 

    [00:02:29] BB: Hey, we'll take it. 

    [00:02:30] BF: Yes. I mean, I love trying out new kinds of tech. I have a background in testing and consumer tech in general. I go to CES frequently. I previously worked at Consumer Reports, where we were all about the science of devices. So I still like to dabble in other kinds of tech coverage as well. 

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    Email Organization

    [00:05:16] BF: I took a four-day weekend. When I logged on this morning, I had 190 emails. 

    [00:05:23] BB: Okay. That's actually not that crazy to me but – well, what's the percentage of pitches, I guess?

    [00:05:30] BF: I would say about half of them were pitches. I tried to do an audit of this this morning when I was going through things. I mean, a lot of it is newsletters, and I get a lot of sales emails from cybersecurity companies who think that I'm in the business. So that's an automatic delete, send to junk folder kind of thing. I get a lot of phishing emails. I don't know if that has to do with what I do or just the fact that as a reporter, our email addresses are out there. So they're very easy. 

    [00:06:02] BB: They're just all over the place. 

    [00:06:03] BF: Yes. So I'd say about half of it turns into PR pitches, and then a smaller fraction of that are ones that actually fall into remotely something that I would cover. I get a lot of weird bizarre things that I just do not cover. Clearly, some PR person just spammed every email address. 

    [00:06:28] BB: Oh, yes. Spray and pray. 

    [00:06:30] BF: Yes. 

    [00:06:31] BB: What do you do with those? Just quick delete just even from the subject line or –

    [00:06:35] BF: Yes. I mean, I open everything. 

    [00:06:37] BB: Oh, you're an open-everything person. 

    [00:06:39] BF: Yes. I mean, you never know. You don't ever know. You never know. I mean, sometimes, if it's a badly written subject line, even the first couple paragraphs of a pitch I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, which is why I spent probably the first three or four hours of my day today just deleting stuff. 

    [00:06:57] BB: Wait, wait. Three to four hours. 

    [00:07:00] BF: Well, you know. As I'm going through those 190 emails, more is coming in because you have that dump in the morning too. Usually, I walk into a ton of email early because I get a lot of email from Israel and from Europe, and that’s already there. So, yes, it's a lot. 

    [00:07:19] BB: That is a question I should be asking now on here, which we haven't really unpacked, which is just your estimate of time a day that is just the sifting through pitches, which is why we’ve built OnePitch to begin with. So you don't get bad pitches. You get the actual precise pitches. But anyway, oh. 

    [00:07:37] BF: Yes. It's at least a couple hours. I don't respond to the vast majority of it because, well, it's either spam or it's – when I'm talking about emails in general, like it's a tiny like single digit that I respond to. I mean a lot of the pitches. If a pitch isn't something that I'm remotely interested in or what I cover, I mean, it might be something super interesting. But if it's not something that I cover, then it's getting chucked anyway. 

    I also tend to sort things into – I have a huge filing system of folders in Outlook where I will save stuff for later. Like if somebody's pitching me about ransomware in schools. I'm not writing about that right now, but it doesn't mean it's a bad pitch and that I wouldn't want to talk to that person in a few weeks when a monster-size school district gets ransom. So I am a hoarder when it comes to email, but I'm a very organized hoarder. 

    [00:08:31] BB: Wow. I would say you are. So then do you use your inbox as your own personal Google search file?

    [00:08:37] BF: It's certainly helpful. I mean, I can search through all these subfolders and find what I'm looking for. Then I have different folders for – like I just got back from the Black Hat and Defcon conferences in Vegas. I had hundreds of pitches to meet with people there. I love meeting with people. In theory, all of these people should be potentially someone that I would be interested in talking to. But time is limited, so you have to [inaudible 00:09:05] them and like put them in a folder. 


    Rapid Fire Pitching Preferences

    [00:18:52] BB: Okay. Bree, I have a little rapid-fire section that I'd love to go through, and let's see what we get. First, video or phone interviews.

    [00:19:03] BF: I feel like COVID ruined a lot of things, and phone interviews was one of them. Like what used to be a phone call now has to be a video call. Until recently, I was living in a tiny apartment where there are children running around. I have not cleaned up. In the morning, I may not have like taken a shower and put on makeup and whenever. It turns when you have a Zoom interview, I feel like I'm a horrible person for turning my camera off. 

    [00:19:28] BB: No. We embrace that. 

    [00:19:30] BF: I have to blow my hair out for what used to be a phone call. Men don't realize that, so I – 

    [00:19:38] BB: I don’t need to blow my hair out for –

    [00:19:41] BF: You know, it's not fair. 

    [00:19:43] BB: Exactly. 

    [00:19:44] BF: I do a ton of media myself. Like I do a lot of talking head stuff for TV and radio, and I –

    [00:19:50] BB: Yes. You know when you got to do it. That's a blowout. 

    [00:19:53] BF: Yes. I have to blow my hair out for some little tiny TV station in the middle of nowhere. But if I don't look good, someone is going to see it online and make fun of me. 

    [00:20:03] BB: Oh, Go. 

    [00:20:04] BF: So, yes. 

    [00:20:06] BB: That's good. Okay, next question. Although we could be here for hours I'm sure, Bree. But the inbox you'll need to get to. So anyway, bullet points or paragraphs in pitches?

    [00:20:15] BF: Use your best judgment. If it works, go with it. Just keep it short, and nothing should be longer than a page. I feel like that's in PR school 101. Apart with email because – and journalists do this too. They go on forever because it's not like they have to put it into a physical newspaper anymore. But, yes, the shorter, the better. 

    [00:20:36] BB: Okay. The shorter, the better. Okay. Images attached or Dropbox zip file?

    [00:20:41] BF: That's another best judgment thing. If it's like one or two images, that's fine. Most people's Outlook or Gmail or whatever can handle that. If it's like courtesy photos to go with the story and video and whatever, you're probably going to want to put it in a Dropbox or something like that, just for your own sanity. 

    [00:21:02] BB: Yes. Okay. Email or XDM or Twitter DM or whatever the hell we're calling it now?

    [00:21:08] BF: Email unless you personally know me kind of thing. I mean, I feel – also, Twitter. Like I still look at it, but I don't look at it like I used to look at it. 

    [00:21:19] BB: Yes, exactly. 

    [00:21:22] BF: Like looking at it objectively, I don't know how efficient that is for PR people. Unless you don't have an email contact, then that might be a way to go. 

    [00:21:30] BB: Yes, maybe. Okay. One follow-up or multiple?

    [00:21:33] BF: If you know me and you think that this actually is something that I would be interested in. I mean, if you don't – I've gotten spammers, like these PR people that are pitching things that I have never written about like a lot of weed stuff and like what – you know, like just – well, I mean, marijuana is legal. 

    [00:21:56] BB: Yes, I know. Okay. But how is this tied to cyber?

    [00:21:59] BF: It isn't. That's the thing. I mean, it's like accessories or like snacks or like holistic remedies. Like these are just that – they'll send me like eight, nine emails like, “Bringing this up to the top of your inbox.” I hate those words, “Gently bringing this up to the top of your inbox.” Rarely are there because I flag things in the morning when I go through like the 80 emails that are there. I go through and I mark things for follow-up. It's like people – even if it's cybersecurity-related, do not email me a half dozen times for – 

    That's another pet peeve. I'll write a story about something. Then the next day, like they'll see it and be like, “Hey, my client should write about – would be great for a story about this too.” It’s like, “Okay. Well, that's nice. But I wrote about this, and I'm done.” Maybe there's a follow-up, but don't email me multiple times about old news. 



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