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    Coffee with a Journalist: Terry Collins, USA Today

    This week on the podcast we’re joined by Terry Collins, a money & tech reporter for USA Today. In his role, Terry explores how technology influences our digital lives and habits, as well as the impact of social media culture.

    During the episode, Terry starts by telling his process for vetting pitches, goes through a real example of a pitch in his inbox, his optimistic thoughts on the future of journalism, and more. 

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

    CWJ View Transcription CTA


    His Work Inbox & Pitches



    [00:02:15] BB: Terry, thank you for being here. Why don't we start with your inbox? How crazy is it?

    [00:02:22] TC: Oh, God. Oh, geez. It's all over the place. It's all over the place right now, ranging from –Of course, I get a lot of pitches from tech-related, related to prom, ranging from NFTs, metaverse. Let's see. What else? New apps to try. What else? More stuff about the latest with Apple, with the new hardware coming out soon. Pitches about central IPOs.

    [00:02:47] BB: Let me ask you this. How many pitches do you get a day?

    “​​But I delete some fair share as well. But for the most part, if it's something that's relative to me or could be, I'll give it a read. More than a glance, I'll say that. More than a glance.” 

    [00:02:50] TC: A day, I probably get maybe upwards to maybe 100 a day. Some may be repitches, but it can be up to about 100 a day. Honestly, I do try to go through as many of them as I can. It may take a few days or so. So I'm always like responding back like, “Sorry for the delay. I got tied up,” or something like that, which is all true because you can't go through so many in one day.

    [00:03:12] BB: That's true.

    [00:03:13] TC: I get a lot. For the most part, that's good because that means people are reading or going through to see my stuff in whatever places beyond USA Today. Also, I think they may have a story that our readers might be interested in, and they think that I possibly can do it. So it's always unique and nice to be in somewhat, I guess, demand because if those pitches stopped, and then I'm like, “Uh-oh.”

    [00:03:35] BB: Then you must be like, “Oh, God. What's going on in the PR world?” With so many pitches though, how do you organize them? It sounds like you read every one of them though. 

    [00:03:45] TC: Yeah, I do. I do for the most part. I think it's just a matter of courtesy. So I think that companies take the time to want to send you something. At least give them the courtesy of reading it. Sometimes, you can know right away if it's not related to you or anything like that, or it's something they want to pour to a colleague or something that just may not be in our realm and some that maybe just need a little bit more depth to them, put out a little bit more.

    If there's a pitch I get that I have to ask more than about five questions, I usually get a handful, then it's something that isn't probably going to work out. I just say, “Come back to me maybe in about a month or so, a couple months. Or let me know what's happening,” because you might get pitches that kind of like something that's coming or just in a very infancy stage and –




    His Thoughts on Subject Lines

    [00:07:44] BB: Terry, it sounds like you're on the rare side of looking at every pitch that comes through, I have to say, rare from the show. Do you at all look at the subject lines as something? When you scan your 100 pitches a day, you’re like, “Oh, wait. Let me open that one real quick because that’s a juicy subject line.”

    “​​I think I said within a five to seven-word limit. That kind of gets me because that means they’ve probably taken the time to write it.”

    [00:08:03] TC: I'll look and see if it's interesting. I mean, of course, that should be the most attractive thing.

    “...​​but it [subject line] had me interested enough to open it and just take a look to see because they had some keywords in there, the enterprise cloud because the cloud is so ambiguous.”

    [00:08:07] BB: That should be the hook.

    [00:08:08] TC: Yeah. Some subject lines may just kind of involve like must tell story, or you'll see like too many exclusives.


    His Thoughts on Exclusives & Embargoes

    [00:09:17] BB: Excellent. Okay. Now, the big question. Exclusives, embargoes, do you take either?

    [00:09:24] TC: I look at them, I open them, and then I do ask. Maybe if it's interesting enough, I do ask, “Is this exclusively to us? In my case, USA Today, is it?” Then wait to hear back. The ratio, just kind of weird. I think sometimes you see in bold or an all caps exclusive. You wonder. 

    [00:09:43] BB: You wonder, yeah, because the thing that's happening, and we've talked about this extensively on this show and the other AMAs we do with BAM but – Okay, Terry. I've heard from many times on this show and other areas that an exclusive needs to be just the story just for that outlet. Now, you're trying to make it 9:00 AM on that one, and you try to make it noon on this one. You are the only outlet that has this. Is that your understanding too? 

    [00:10:10] TC: Yes. Yes, exactly. That you're the only outlet, the only publication that's going to run this story. That’s it. You're the one. Yes, that's the deal.

    [00:10:22] BB: Okay. Then embargoes, is that of interest to you? 

    [00:10:26] TC: Yes, depending on what it is. I mean, of course, if there's a product or something that is, I guess, of common interest to readers and alike. I normally like honor the embargo, but I see what it is before I agree to it. Or pitch somebody to make sure that we are going to run it. So I take a look. It depends. You get a lot from some of the big tech companies and or something that you are interested in. It could be a product or something that I guess would appeal to our readers. So you give that a lot of consideration into it. But like I said, I’ll agree to them. But sometimes, it doesn't mean we cover them or write them all.


    How He Writes Stories

    [00:11:34] BB: Yeah, let's take one as an example. 

    [00:11:35] TC: Yeah. Let's take, I guess, the story, I guess, with the startups with the all cash offers. 

    [00:11:40] BB: Yeah, that's your latest one. 

    [00:11:42] TC: Yeah. So that was a story I was interested in because I just start seeing some things. I’m doing a lot more, I guess, real estate — cottage-type of stories because our readers like love them. They’re fascinated. I think it's one of the things that has emerged from the pandemic. We’re all probably working kind of like mostly from home, more and more space. So with this is there's been this huge demand in housing. So it's kind of like much demand, little supply. 

    [00:12:07] BB: Competitive.

    “Then I did get a pitch which was kind of like, okay, it had keywords power buyers and why they’re helping others. But I was already kind of into it because I already talked to a realtor who was like in the game like, “Yeah, I recommend this to my clients.” So okay, and she had mentioned the company she used, and ironically I don't know if it's AI or whatever. I happen to get a pitch from someone who is talking about said company.”

    [00:12:07] TC: So like competitive, yes. Of course, sellers are looking to make a good sale on their house they’re selling, and why not take all cash offer? It makes it easier for all parties involved. With this, some people get left out because how many people have that kind of access to cash?

    [00:12:26] BB: Well, then you got to do cash beyond. You got to do 30k over asking. It’s just insane. Yeah.

    [00:12:32] TC: Yes, exactly. So that's what I wanted to kind of explore. With this, I started seeing that. I started asking some of my, I guess, lending friends who work in a business or in real estate and things like that as well about this kind of like phenomena, and come to find out that some agents use this to help their clients because it is very, very competitive. There are these vehicles. Yes. 

    [00:12:58] BB: Okay, I have it now. I'm reading the whole article now. So they'll say, “Okay, I'm an agent, and I have my clients, and I know they don't have the cash I’ll offer. But via these startups, these apps, I know they could get the cash on hand, which means then they can get the house, and then I get my commission because I want to sell houses.” 

    [00:13:14] TC: Yes, if they qualify. Yes. So it's like another tool that they use, and it’s competitive. But the would be buyer, of course, has to qualify, pre-qualify for a loan and things like that. So this is kind of like a bridge to help them kind of like get to the head of line in this super competitive bidding process. Buyers are also dealing with – They may have a cash offer, but they're also dealing with others who may have all cash offers. So these companies help.




    Believe it or not, Terry does read a lot of email pitches he receives and many of them provide actionable story ideas. While he may not write them ASAP, he does file them away and pursues them later to tie into a story he’s working on.

    Learn more about previous guests on Coffee with a Journalist, their pitching preferences, relationship-building tips, and more in our journalist spotlight videos available for free on YouTube.

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