During this episode of Coffee with a Journalist, Emily Canal of Insider joins host, Beck Bamberger, to talk about her career, thoughts on pitches, and more. At Insider, Emily serves as a senior reporter covering entrepreneurship. During the conversation, Emily and Beck dive into Emily's relationships with PR professionals, the key elements of a stand-out-pitch, and her eclectic reading list.
Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
Her Work Inbox
Beck Bamberger: Well, let's start first, Emily, with your inbox. How crazy is it in there? How do you keep it under control?
Emily Canal: It can get pretty crazy. I like to – Well, my current job, our email’s in a Gmail now, so I can really organize emails I get based on the topics I’m working on or stories I’m writing. Generally speaking, there's been some themes with my reporting recently like PPP and success stories, pandemic-related stuff, so I try to organize it as best I can. I typically try to tackle my inbox in the morning and making sure I’m sending all the messages I need to that day. Then again at night to make sure I’m set up for the next day but –
EC: Stuff rolls in.
My inbox can get pretty, pretty intense, hundreds of messages in a day, but I try to read through most of them if the subject lines seem really applicable to what I do. Then I leave them unread until I’ve responded or figured maybe this isn't the best pitch for me."
BB: So are you one who responds to every email pitch?
EC: I am not. I want to be. I really strive to be but –
BB: Very few people do, I will tell you.
EC: Yeah. It's hard with time management.
BB: It has, yeah. It's impossible. I’ve heard like one person. Speaking of, I just – Leah, who I was just telling you for Fast Company. I don't know. She's like crazy.
EC: Good for her.
BB: I think she has a robot or something. Also, she's been doing this for 20 plus years, so there's probably that.
EC: Yeah. So she got a good handle on what she’s doing.
BB: She does. Yeah. Gotcha. Now, you said, okay, you get hundreds of emails. How many of those are pitches?
EC: I would say most of them.
BB: Like 80%?
EC: Yeah. I would say about 80% are pitches, and I feel very fortunate for that because there's a lot of stuff coming in my inbox and entrepreneurs or small business owners that I may not have found. Then sometimes, it's really inundating. You walk away, maybe you have lunch, and you come back, and there's 50 emails in your once previously cleared inbox.
Her Thoughts on Pitches
BB: Yes. I know like goddamn. Yes. Okay. From those, you mentioned like a subject line. Is that the best way for someone to get your attention let's say if they don't know you?
If they don't know me, a subject line that will tell me enough of the story or at least be in the same vein of stuff that I cover. I like specificity when it comes to the subject lines."
So if someone – If the subject line says "interesting business story for you," I’m probably not going to click on it.
BB: Have you honestly gotten that?
BB: Wow, interesting story for you.
EC: Interesting business story for you. I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to pass.” But there are subject lines that say like, “This entrepreneur did this and this.” That's going to get me to click because I’m curious. I’m a curious person, probably in the nature of being a journalist but why I want to read more. The more detail, the better. Especially if it has entrepreneur in that subject line or small business owner, I’m definitely going to click on it. If the pitch is really catered to me, like this person did their homework and they see what I cover, generally speaking, I’m going to respond and say like, “This isn't right for me at the moment, but I’ll keep you in mind or this person in mind.” I like to save those emails because I find that this inbox can just kind of be a catalog for story ideas, for sources.
BB: For everything.
EC: Yeah, down the line.
Her Thoughts on the Future of Journalism
BB: Well, speaking of journalists, what do you think the future of journalism is?
EC: I think it's going to be more pay walls, which is good. I think it's going to be more creative. I think we're going to see people interacting with journalists, almost like social media. But I think with apps like Clubhouse, you can get texts from journalists now about their stories.
I think it's going to be more personal and delivered to the reader, rather than – I think there was a time where you really had to hunt out a lot of news. But now, it seems that as the reader, you can really just have whatever you want delivered to you and your interests."
So newsletters, tweets, texts from journalists, things like that, I think that's going to be the future and then just pay walls to support the people working at those publications.
BB: A lot of people just keep their inbox totally unfiltered, totally unorganized in a sense because they just search, especially when they're using Gmail, so yeah. Speaking of, here's an audience ask that we have. It comes from Larissa Malcolm who's from Flourishing Focus, which is a – She's a therapist with a private practice creating training around COVID-19 and mental health, and she was asking us how many words of background information is enough to submit with a pitch?
EC: Yeah. That's a really good question.
BB: That is a good question.
EC: I think a paragraph would usually suffice and I think every reporter is different in what they want to see in that paragraph. But I have certain things that I am looking for, so there are some awesome PR people that I work with that I’ve known for several years, and they all know that I’m going to ask if the entrepreneur is willing to share revenue.
I think if you can build that relationship with the reporter and get to know the things that they're looking for specifically in a pitch, then you can really cater yours. But I generally think one paragraph, unless it's an amazing story and you really need the space, then I would try to keep it short and digestible."
BB: Like that one paragraph you mentioned.
EC: Exactly. Just get right to the point. Here's the story.
BB: Keep it short.
EC: Yeah. What that person's willing to talk about.
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