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    Coffee with a Journalist: Sarah Burke, Them

    Sarah Burke is the Editor-in-Chief of Them. Burke joined Them in 2021 from VICE where she served as an editor since 2017.

    There, as special projects editor, Burke helped develop multimedia collaboration across departments and lead multi-format projects including: The Gender Spectrum Collection, an award-winning stock photo library featuring trans and nonbinary models; Queerly Beloved, an Ellie-nominated podcast telling remarkable stories of chosen family; and Transnational, a Peabody and GLAAD award-winning docuseries about transgender rights around the world.

    She is a queer, mixed Pilipinx and was born and raised on O’ahu.

    During the episode, Sarah talks about the target audience and focus of stories for Them readers, who to pitch from the publication (hint: section editors), how to craft compelling subject lines for her and her team, 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

    [00:01:38] BB: What does Them encompass? And specifically, how does your coverage or reporting fit into that? 

    [00:01:51] SB: Sure. Them is a platform for LGBTQ+ people from Condé Nest. And our coverage spans a really pretty wide range of topics. We cover news, politics, culture, entertainment. We also have a section called answer and advice, which is all lifestyle guides centered towards LGBTQ+ people. 

    [00:02:13] BB: Would you say, Sarah, if you are not in the LGBTQIA community, would it still be relevant or maybe is not as much? Or how would you advise on that? 

    [00:02:24] SB: Yeah. Absolutely. We have a lot of allies who read the site. And I do think, increasingly, queer culture is mainstream culture. It's really indistinguishable at this point. What distinguishes us is that, when we report the news, we are thinking of LGBTQ+ readers first and foremost. That is our kind of target audience in terms of assuming what people know, that kind of thing. But really, everyone I think could find the content useful, for sure. 


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    How to Build a Relationship with Her

    [00:05:52] BB: Yes. Okay. So pitch in bulk if you got the right relationships. Oh, speaking of relationships, so I always like to ask, for people who don't know you or maybe haven't met you at an event or something like that, how do they go about building a relationship with you? If at all? Some people are like, "I don't want a relationship. It's cool." 

    [00:06:12] SB: I do sometimes get Coffee with publicists. I tend to not have a huge amount of time to do that kind of thing. But it does feel like a genuine kind of nice request when asked, you know? I do like when people take the time to actually understand what our topic areas of coverage are as opposed to just kind of pitching blindly. 

    And so, to me, like sitting down and actually understanding our different columns, our different needs as far as pitches, feels genuinely helpful. So I try to do that. Although, again, my schedule is a little bit packed. 

    But other than that, a nice introductory email, I do try to always meet people at events. That kind of thing. I haven't so far done just like an introductory call with a publicist or an agency. Virtual coffee? Yeah. I mean, depending on how much we would likely actually work together, I could potentially be open to something like that if I had time. 

    [00:07:13] BB: Okay. So sounds like you're open to a coffee but limited bandwidth, which is everyone. Would you say, Sarah, too in that, let's say, intro email, someone's like, "Oh, I'm going to be rolling through Brooklyn. I'm going to be in New York," or whatever. "Hey, Sarah, would love to meet you to talk about bullet point, bullet point. Like to give you a little primer on things that could be of interest." 

    [00:07:35] SB: Yes. Absolutely. That's a huge help. And especially, if already that primer shows, "Hey, I've really looked at the site and said I'm really interested in the answers and advice section and wondering how we can work together with our medical experts on your healthcare resource guides." That kind of thing. I'm much more likely to respond to something specific like that. 


    Rapid Fire Pitching Preferences

    [00:11:43] BB: Phone, video or in-person interview? 

    [00:11:47] SB: Oh, in-person. 

    [00:11:49] BB: In-person. And why is that? 

    [00:11:52] SB: I just love meeting people in-person. I used to work at an Alt Weekly and I did almost all of my interviews in-person. Again, it's not always possible particularly because of scheduling. But I prefer face-to-face.

    [00:12:05] BB: Okay. Face-to-face. That's good. With the limited time. So make it good. Okay. Bullet points or paragraphs? 

    [00:12:12] SB: Bullet points. 

    [00:12:13] BB: And why is that? 

    [00:12:14] SB: Easier to digest quickly. 

    [00:12:16] BB: Yes. Exactly. What types of sources do you look for? And how do you want them pitched to you if you had to say? 

    [00:12:24] SB: In terms of via PR, mainly we're pitched kind of medical experts, researchers, experts in the field, that kind of thing. I like them pitched to me mainly in terms of what they can offer as far as a story. 

    [00:12:42] BB: Or a point of view maybe that's compelling? 

    [00:12:45] SB: Of course. Exactly. I care about credentials and I care about who they are. Of course, I care about them as a person. But in terms of the subject line, what I'm most interested in is what is the data or what is the story or the op-ed that we're going to create with this person? 

    [00:13:03] BB: Images attached or Dropbox zip file? 

    [00:13:05] SB: Images attached. 

    [00:13:06] BB: Oh, and why is that? 

    [00:13:07] SB: The less that I have to click through or download in order to see, it's helpful. 

    [00:13:13] BB: Yes. I cannot stand – I do a little contributing dorky stuff. But like, "Oh, here's the link to the thing." But you have to sign up. And what's your – let me get the text message code to like get – and I'm like, "I am done with this. There's too many barriers to get a damn photo." 

    [00:13:30] SB: Yes. And my downloads folder is actually more wild, I would say, than my inbox. 



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