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    Coffee with a Journalist: Carlo Versano & Jill Wagner, Cheddar

    Today’s special episode of Coffee with a Journalist features Carlo Versano and Jill Wagner from Cheddar. Carlo is a senior writer and producer, and Jill is an anchor for Cheddar’s daily news. Together, they also co-host the daily podcast, Need2Know, which features, “all the news, analysis and (un)necessary commentary you need to start the day.”

    During the show, Carlo and Jill give us the inside scoop about their pitching preferences, what it’s like to work for a digital and broadcast outlet, and more.

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

    CWJ View Transcription CTA


    Their Work Inbox 

    [00:02:02] BB: You guys do your own podcast, so you've also got that. I mean, man, the show level here just keeps going up and up. I do love it. Well, let's get first into, we heard your backgrounds, we got the bios and what you guys cover, but may we start at inboxes? They might be quite different, because Jill, you're on the talent side. I wonder if you get pitches. How are your inboxes? Carlo, how about you start? 

    [00:02:27] CV: Well, my inbox is a disaster as it often is. I have not been good about inbox zero, or anything approaching that. 

    [00:02:34] BB: No one is.

    [00:02:36] CV: Yeah. Exactly. 

    [00:02:36] BB: Don’t worry. 

    [00:02:37] CV: I mean, I would say, I was thinking about this a little bit ago. I would say, I'm probably getting about a 100 emails a day right now, which isn't that much, I think in the news business, at least. I think a lot of that is – Slack has displaced that as at least, at Cheddar, the main place where we do our communication. I would ballpark that I get about a 100 emails a day. I would say 85 to 90 of them are some version of either PR pitches, or I got signed up for some list that I just never have figured out how to get off.

    [00:03:07] BB: Oh, dang.

    “Well, I understand the embargo thing. I was going to say, a lot of people say, “Would you agree to the embargo first?” I understand that's where you have to do that. It all goes back to Jill’s point, whatever makes anything easiest on me as possible.” - Carlo Versano

    [00:03:08] CV: I would say, seven, eight, maybe up to 10-some days are listener feedback from the podcast that Jill and I do, which we respond – 

    [00:03:14] BB: Oh. Need to now, which we heard.

    [00:03:16] CV: Yes. We respond to those, all of them. At least, we attempt to. Then I would say, a handful. Only a couple of them are work-related matters that actually need responses. Because again, Slack is really where that's taking place these days. That's probably why my inbox, I don't even pay as close attention to it as I may have in previous jobs.

    [00:03:37] BB: Jill, what about you? Are you getting pitches in there?

    [00:03:40] JW: Yeah, I get a ton of pitches, but I tend to either – I make very instinctual decisions about the pitches. I either usually erase them, or read them and reply, or forward them. My inbox is not horrible. It actually is clear at the moment, dare I say.

    “You can always follow up with me, actually….Oh, yeah. Twice, three times.” - Jill Wagner

    [00:04:00] BB: It's so interesting. I've done maybe 70 of these recordings to hear about inboxes, and some people have 200,000 unread, some people are down to two open, some are filing with the color system, that's all elaborate and stuff. It's quite all over the place. Now question, though, are the pitches for the podcast? Are they in general for Cheddar and getting on a segment?

    [00:04:23] JW: Everything.

    [00:04:26] BB: Everything. All of the above.

    [00:04:27] CV: Yeah. There's definitely a range. I mean, Jill and I will get specific podcast pitches. I try and respond to those, because I appreciate that wasn't just a mass email that I was on, but that person specifically thought of us. Even though our podcast isn't really – we don't really do many guest interviews. It's really a news of the day podcast. Still, there have been some good pitches that way.

    The majority of them are, I think, for Cheddar segments. Some of them, a large segment of the ones I get at least, are just – they just feel they must have gone out to 10,000 people. They're just very much like, “Dear journalist.” 

    [00:05:01] BB: Dear blank. 

    [00:05:01] CV: Yes. This person is in town to do this thing. Would you like to talk to them?


    Their Thoughts on Pitches

     [00:05:07] BB: What will get you to respond to a pitch, specifically to be on a segment? Because a lot of times, we have more reporters and editors of text-based outlets here. We rarely are having more the TV outlets. What would you guys say?

    [00:05:25] JW: It's funny, because I actually – I was trying to think about what are the pitches I tend to respond to. I hate to even admit this, but I tend to respond when somebody I feel like, has taken a little bit of extra time to say, “Oh, I went to Michigan for my undergrad and I grew up on Long Island.” Occasionally, someone will do a little research, or try to do personal connection. Or like “Oh, I am a Jericho alum. Not your year, but I just wanted to reach out. I think, I have a great guest for you.” I will respond to all of those, even if I don't want to walk the person. I actually just appreciate the little bit of effort that it's not just somebody who as Carlo was saying, hit send to a 1,000 people. That usually gets my attention, if not a great subject line. Usually, that's what will do it for me.

    “If Jill or I [Carlo] forward a pitch to our bookers, or to a producer or something, they will read that pitch, and they will investigate it more than we have. They're the ones who are really going to want to see like, “Oh, who is the CEO? Have they been on before? Oh, they're really telegenic. They're really good on TV.” Yes.” - Carlo Versano

    [00:06:15] CV: Yeah. I would agree with Jill on that. I probably have missed some of those, because I frankly – we're getting so many of them. I mean, it would be a full-time job to even go through all the pitches we get, I think at this point, which I'm sure is how it is for most media organizations. It's just a barrage.

    Yes, I will definitely respond to anybody who's like, “Hey, I heard you on the podcast talk about this. This could be a good guest.” As Jill was saying, any personal thing. Also, like Jill was also saying, really good subject lines. Because at least for me, I'm not really getting to these probably, until the end of the day, when I'm trying to really just plow through my inbox, so I can get to a place of feeling good about logging off for the night. I say, you're looking at three, maybe five seconds to get me interested, I would say. It's so weird to talk like this, because it makes me feel I'm some – I'm the Sultan of Brunei up here, deciding what gets determined.

    [00:07:17] BB: That you are in a way like media. I know. 

    [00:07:19] CV: I always feel bad. I have friends in this industry. I know how hard it is. I know how discouraging it must be to send out pitches that may be really good and may be perfect for something and you just don't hear back. I do think that spending the time on a really good subject line straight. I mean, people talk about how nobody reads a newspaper article past the lead with the second paragraph, that's especially true, I think, with any pitch. It's like, if I'm looking at it, and it's a full page, I'm only going to get to that first paragraph, unless it's so captivating, that it stops me in my tracks. 

    [00:07:55] BB: We just did our AMA, which is our ask me anything last week. We had four panelists, four journalists on. Man, they were four sentences, max. That needs to be the pitch. Four, tops. I don’t want any more. I don’t want any more. If it's exclusive, that's where I need to say, “Exclusive” in the headline, subject. That's it. I mean, it was like, “Okay, wow. Yup.”

    [00:08:16] CV: One of the things you look for as a Booker, as a producer, especially for television, and especially for a business news operation like Cheddar, is who's available to talk about this pitch? Is it the CEO? It's the CEO, who these networks want to hear from, regardless of whether you're talking about Google, or whether you're talking about some tiny little – some startup. If you can offer the CEO, that is always going to get you leaps and bounds ahead of someone who's just like, “Hey, I can offer you this press person to give you more info.” 

    [00:08:48] BB: Oh. Wah, wah. Uh.

    [00:08:50] CV: Even though, in a lot of ways, the press person is probably much more competent in terms of understanding what the stories, or whatever, but it’s the CEO or bust in a lot of –

    “A great interview with somebody who is genuine, authentic, and is themselves and is emotional in some capacity.” - Jill Wagner

    [00:09:00] BB: CEO or bust. Jill, same for you?

    [00:09:03] JW: Yeah. I mean, I tend to think, if I'm giving someone advice on how to write a pitch, because I've had through the years have a lot of people say, “Oh, I want to book this person. I've worked at News 12, which is local to CBS.” My mom will always say, “Oh, my friend thinks that she has this great story.” I always do want to help. By the way, sometimes they are great stories.

    My biggest piece of advice is that, I don't want to work to read your pitch. Give it to me on a silver platter. Tell me everything that I need to know. A lot of times, I wind up just forwarding the pitch. I'm the middleman, so I have figure out which producer is getting it. If I have to work to understand the story, or understand the relevance, or figure out why it's timely, it's not going anywhere. 

    I think, the biggest piece of advice is just present it in a way that's just so over the top, easy to understand. It's not like, I'm so great. I'm so busy, and so many people are so busy. We just need that information in a way that we can digest it really quickly.

    [00:10:14] CV: I mean, I think really, it's like when you apply for a job, right? You want to make that email that you're sending, that application you're sending is going into some cyber black hole somewhere. Maybe there's a human that one day is going to see it. Probably not, but maybe there is. You want to make that human’s job, as Jill said, as absolutely easy as possible. I remember, I've heard from people in HR who are like, when we get covered letters, or resumes that are two or three pages long.


    How They Write Stories

    00:11:55] BB: Okay. Do well. All that good stuff. Got it. That's helpful. Okay, what does it take, and I'd love to hear from both of you on your perspectives, to make a great segment, that you go, “Wow, that two and a half minutes just was an ace. So glad we got that. It was amazing.” Jill, what would you say?

    [00:12:15] JW: I think, personal stories are always just more interesting than facts and figures. As an anchor, and as a reporter, I can report a fact or figure, but I can't tell somebody’s personal story as good as they can, as well as they can. A great interview with somebody who is genuine, authentic, and is themselves and is emotional in some capacity. Because I think that that is what connects with viewers. However you connect with somebody on a real level, that's what's going to stand out in an interview.

    [00:12:52] BB: What about you? 

    [00:12:54] CV: Yeah, no. I mean, I completely agree. Then, the only other thing I would add to that is, if the guests can break news, then you've got – the network is then it's going to love you forever, right? If your CEO can come on Cheddar and say, “I'm ready to announce right now that we're going out of stealth, or we're about to launch this new product. Here it is. I'm holding it in my hand.” That is such a more dynamic thing than just telling the story. Obviously, that's hard to do, because you have to – maybe the investors want to have a different way of wanting a product launch to happen, or the marketing team has a whole strategy lined up. Anything that just makes the interview feel dynamic, to Jill’s point.

    “I think, personal stories are always just more interesting than facts and figures. As an anchor, and as a reporter, I can report a fact or figure, but I can't tell somebody’s personal story as good as they can, as well as they can.” - Jill Wagner

    That can even go down to visuals, right? I mean, I think that especially in these days where everyone's on Zoom. I don't actually know the answer to this, but if you just present the visual in a way that makes you want to stop and watch, as if maybe you're sitting outside in – I think, we have a set outside of the New York Stock Exchange that I think is really dynamic, because there's people walking by back and forth. It feels really energetic, and it feels really present. As opposed to an anchor sitting in front of a green screen or something. That's harder to do, if it's a guest segment, and they're coming from their office or whatever.

    Anything you can do to gussy it up, and make it look a little different. Because I think, what a lot of people forget, especially with television news is that, a lot of people are watching TV news, like you watch a show on HBO. It's either on in the background, it's on your desk TV, especially with business news, right? It's on a TV in the lobby. It's on TV in your office. You want to be able to actually – Trump knew this better than anybody else. You want to be able to have that presence that people who are just seeing it out of the corner of their eye are like, “I want to watch and see what this is all about.”

    [00:14:47] BB: There's so many juicy little insight here. Now, one other question though, for you, Carlo, but maybe also Jill. Do you want to know ahead of time that there is something that they want to break? Do you want the CEO to be like, “Hey, by the way, Carlo, we want to drop this piece in it.” You want to have a heads up. Jill, you too, I imagine?

    [00:15:03] JW: Yes.

    [00:15:04] BB: Okay. Okay. Perfect. Yeah. You're not just going to be like, “Oh, surprise.” 

    [00:15:08] CV: I mean, that could be cool too. I mean, it's always good, that way we can prep elements. We can have the banners on the TV ready to go, something like that.

    “If your CEO can come on Cheddar and say, “I'm ready to announce right now that we're going out of stealth, or we're about to launch this new product. Here it is. I'm holding it in my hand.” That is such a more dynamic thing than just telling the story.” - Carlo Versano

    [00:15:16] BB: Yeah, you’re good. You're lower thirds ready. No one’s typing furiously back there. Yup. I hear you.

    [00:15:20] JW: Also, sometimes you don't know if it is news, because there's so many new outlets. Unless, you Google it and you've read every article. Before a guest comes on, I usually – the last thing I do is actually go on Twitter and just check out their last few tweets, and make sure there's nothing I'm missing. Yeah, I think a heads up is always good.

    [00:15:44] CV: I think, making it really putting it out there, like Jill was saying about making it over the top obviously, like saying, “Jill, I am Carlo Versano, CEO of XYZ company and I am here to tell you this. I haven't told anybody else. This is happening. We're about to launch this product, and I'm telling you, Cheddar, first.”

    [00:16:05] BB: Yes, make it clear. Make it strong. Yeah. Then you get on the edge of your seat, you’re like, “Oh, God. What is it?”

    [00:16:10] CV: Yeah. What is this thing. Now I'm watching something.

    [00:16:13] BB: Yeah. I love it.




    Jill and Carlo have very specific preferences when it comes to being pitched for their podcast and TV segments. The story must be clear and have an unusual news component that is compelling for viewers which means it's even more important to have great visuals and a media-trained spokesperson available. 

    For more great 1:1 conversations with journalists from top-tier outlets, subscribe to the Coffee with a Journalist podcast to get the latest episode drops. Also, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for other updates on our newest PR tips, tools, and best practices.

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