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    Coffee with a Journalist: Thomas Germain, Gizmodo

    Thomas Germain, senior technology reporter at Gizmodo, covers issues related to privacy, AI, misinformation, digital rights, and life on the Internet. 


    During the episode, Thomas talks about his desire to write about sandwiched technology, the kinds of pitches he is and is not looking for, why he prefers to speak with sources over the phone and more.


    Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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



    CWJ View Transcription CTA


    Sorting Through the Subject Lines


    [00:04:32] TG: Sure. I mean, I really try to at least read the subject line of every single email
    that I get, which I know like some reporters, they really don't want to get pitches. I'm okay with it.
    I’m not necessarily I don't want to hear a pitch from everyone. It's got to be about the stuff I write
    about. But I'm always looking. I occasionally will write something based on a pitch that I get, so
    always looking for stories. I'm opening the emails, if nothing else.

    [00:05:00] BB: Okay. Oh, so wait a second. You're opening every email?

    [00:05:03] TG: Not every email, but I try to. If I've got a day that where not a lot is going on, I
    will actually go in and try and look at every single email because you never know. Some of
    them, I can tell from the subject line that it's not going to be for me, and I just send to the trash,
    but I try.

    [00:05:18] BB: This is good. All right. In a subject line that you like, how is it formatted? Or what
    are the contents?

    [00:05:26] TG: Sure. It could be a couple different things. The main thing is I really want to
    understand what you're telling me about without opening the email. I wrote a story that was
    about how – which sounds obvious. Apparently, it's not based on the emails I'm getting every
    day. I wrote a story that was about a study that looked at the companies that were selling data,
    personal information about members of the military, data brokers. The subject line was,
    “Embargoed: data broker, plus military data.”

    Now, that's a little specific. I know what a data broker is. I write about that. But that's like dead
    simple. I know exactly what's going to be in there. Open that one, for sure. A lot of the emails
    that I open have the word embargo at the beginning of them, which I don't want people to abuse
    because if it turns out it's not something I'm interested in, if it's an unuseful embargo, that's not
    going to help. I think it often – that can be a sign that this is something new, so that's nice.

    [00:06:27] BB: Often-ish.

    [00:06:29] TG: The one thing I'd say about it is if I'm going to cover a story in general, it has to
    be something that you can sum the whole thing up in a single sentence, right? The kind of
    reporting that I'm doing is really headline-focused. It’s digital media. This isn't The New Yorker.
    People aren't just going to read it because it's on the website. If you can't summarize your idea
    in an email subject line, that's going to be a huge problem. It's not a hard and fast rule. Some
    stories are worth it, but you got to know that it's worth it.

    [00:07:00] BB: Good to know. Looking at some of your past stuff, Thomas, it is a wide array, as
    we've covered. You're talking about deepfakes on one thing. You're talking about TikTok on the
    auto scroll. You have a Chrome feature and so forth. How do you discern what you're going to
    write about? Or is it somewhat governed by what your editor is maybe saying or a pitch that
    sparks your interest?

    [00:07:24] TG: In general, it's really up to me. Obviously, my editors are approving everything,
    but I generally get a lot of leeway. There's a couple thing. It's all going to be so vague, but I want
    people to be affected by it. I'm not a business reporter. If you're sending me something about
    your series B funding, you're going straight to the trash. I might block you altogether. I want
    human beings out on the Internet to feel something happening.

    In general, I like to write about big platforms because everyone interacts with them, and it's
    something that's relatable. I'm really going for a popular audience. Sometimes, I can get really
    wonky. I'll write about something in adtech, advertising technology. In general, I want everyone
    to care about it, so it's got to be widely applicable. A lot of people have to be affected.


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    Be Sincere When Reaching Out


    [00:10:56] BB: What about the opposite like, “Oh, my gosh. I just can't – I just love when,” dot,
    dot, dot from a publicist? If you have one, let's be frank.

    [00:11:04] TG: Yes. I'll be honest. I respect what publicists do. I think it's a thankless job. Most
    of the emails I get are kind of annoying and just wasting my time. That's the job. You're trying to
    get my attention. I really like it when you've clearly been reading my work, and you understand
    why this is a good story for me. I get emails where I think people hear that, and they go, “Okay, I
    need to put in – I need to mention that I read one of your stories recently, and then I'm going to
    tell you about something completely different that doesn't.” I don't care about that.

    I got an email. The subject line of the email was the headline of one of my recent stories. I was
    like, “Oh, well. Maybe this is someone emailing me a correction. Maybe I got something wrong.
    Maybe it's a company that was involved.” It ended up being someone like, “I saw this story you
    wrote the other day. Loved it. Are you interested in talking to this AI company about something
    totally unrelated?”

    [00:11:55] BB: I know exactly what you're talking about. They're like, “Oh, my gosh, Thomas.
    Hey, I read your article on the deepfakes with Biden. But, hey, I have this new AI launch that's
    happening this and doesn't have anything to do with it.”

    [00:12:04] TG: Yes. I don't care that you read my articles. It's not flattering. It's nice that people
    are reading it. I hope they do, but that's not going to make me like you more. I just don't care. If
    it has to do with my beat and I can tell from the email that you know that this is actually a good
    fit for me, I do really like that because I can tell that you put in the time and that maybe it's worth
    the effort.

    Data brokers, plus military data, that's something that most reporters aren't going to care about
    but caught my eye immediately. They know that was for me. That was a really tailored pitch,
    worth the time, as opposed to just blasting 800 people from RocketReach.

    [00:12:39] BB: It's not good. From RocketReach, no, people. No. Good God. God, God, God.
    Okay. Thomas, is there any chance of people making a good relationship with you?

    [00:12:51] TG: Yes, absolutely.

    [00:12:52] BB: Tell us more.

    [00:12:53] TG: I have people reach out, and it's not for a particular story. It's not like, “I really
    want you to meet this great company that I'm working with.” It's just like, “I would love to have a
    10-minute phone call with you and just get to know what you're interested in. So I know if in the
    future something comes up, I can send it your way.” I'm happy to have those conversations, and
    I've actually built relationships with publicists that I reach out to them like, “Do you have any
    clients that covered this topic?” Because I know that they get what I'm doing, and we can have a
    collaborative relationship.

    I'm totally open to building those relationships. If you bring me a really good pitch, I'm going to
    read every email you send me going forward, unless you really blow it from there. But there's
    definitely publicists I know that I like that I'm even relying on.


    Rapid Fire Pitching Preferences


    [00:14:38] BB: I would love to go through a quick list of rapid-fire questions, if you're willing to play.

    Here we go. Video or phone interview?

    [00:14:50] TG: I prefer the phone. I think video doesn't add much, and it's just annoying. We got
    to make Zoom work. I'd much rather just get on the phone. Also, I'm sure publicists don't like. I
    would much rather just talk one-on-one with the source than have another person sitting there
    spying on us. I get that you kind of want to – you're a little protective but better for me. It's more

    [00:15:10] BB: Yes. I'm telling you, the phone is clicking up on this question. We're coming back
    to the basics. I swear.

    [00:15:16] TG: Always phone for me every time.

    [00:15:17] BB: Always phone for you. Okay, good. Bullet points or paragraphs?

    [00:15:21] TG: I think it depends on the subject. Sometimes, if you just got to tell me a bunch of
    really quick facts and like that's what's going to sell your pitch, bullet points. If there's nuance, I'll
    read paragraphs, write a sentence. Yes. I'm not afraid.

    [00:15:33] BB: Short or long pitches?

    [00:15:35] TG: That’s a tough one. I think, in general, you want to be really short because –

    [00:15:39] BB: Three sentences, five sentences?

    [00:15:41] TG: Ideally, yes. If you can get it that short, that's great. Yes. If it's three really short
    paragraphs, that's great. There have been some that I've picked up where they sent me like 5 or
    800 words in the email, and it was worth it because it was a really good story. They knew what
    they were doing, but I think trust your judgment. If you think it's going to be worth it, maybe I'll
    read it.

    [00:16:01] BB: Okay. That's an 800-word pitch. You better damn know what you're doing. Okay.

    [00:16:06] TG: That was a little crazy.

    [00:16:08] BB: How about images attached or Dropbox zip file?

    [00:16:11] TG: Generally, no. If you're writing about –

    [00:16:14] BB: No. All no.

    [00:16:16] TG: Yes. I'm trying to think of an example where images help sell a pitch, and I don't
    think there's ever been one. Sometimes, if it's like, “We've got a new report. It's very interesting.
    I think you might like to see it,” you send me the attachment. Then I'll open it up. But, also, I
    don't think that necessarily helped their chances because if I had asked for the report and then I
    opened it, it wasn't like I would have just said no later. But, yes, I mean, if it's truly relevant, then,
    yes, why not drop it in?

    [00:16:44] BB: Okay. Email or XDM or whatever DM?

    [00:16:48] TG: Email, for sure. Occasionally, I'll tell you, my phone number is not hard to find. I
    put it out there because I want real human beings who aren't professionals to reach out with
    stories about things that happen to them. My DMs are open everywhere. I've had people take a
    risk and reach out to me directly that way, instead of over email. I'm definitely going to see it if
    you send me a DM. But my first response is like, “Who do you think you are? This is my
    personal space that you're invading here.” Usually, you're burning a bridge with me if you send
    me a really personal message. Email's the way to go.

    [00:17:25] BB: The match is lit. The match is lit.

    [00:17:29] TG: If you want to shoot your shot, go for it and see what happens.

    [00:17:32] BB: I got to use that somewhere. It’s like, “The match is lit.”

    [00:17:36] TG: Yes. Don't text me if you don't know me. That feels invasive.

    [00:17:40] BB: God. Yes. That's horrible. Okay. How about direct or creative subject lines? We
    talked on this a bit.

    [00:17:48] TG: I think, in general, I'd recommend direct. Sometimes, if it's really funny and you
    are a creative person, every once in a while, that'll work. Usually, I want to know whether I'm
    going to be interested in it from the jump. Sometimes, you can get me to open it if you say
    something really funny.

    [00:18:05] BB: Maybe.

    [00:18:05] TG: It's a gamble.

    [00:18:07] BB: The match is lit.

    [00:18:08] TG: The match is lit. The match is lit. That is pretty good. I like that.

    [00:18:12] BB: Oh, I do like this. Okay. Press release or media kit?

    [00:18:16] TG: I think a press release, just because it's usually more succinct. Sometimes, if
    there's like GIFs that are interesting about a new feature that I might want to include in the story,
    that can be kind of cool. That, in general, that's not going to help sell the initial pitch. Maybe on
    the follow-up, the media kit might be more useful. When we're starting out, yes, press release.

    [00:18:35] BB: Then is there a time you usually read pitches? Or is it just all the time?

    [00:18:40] TG: It’s kind of all the time. I always check my email in the morning, so that's
    probably your best shot. Sometimes, I'll see an email. I'll get a notification on the weekend, and
    I'll happen to catch that because I'm not getting a lot of emails then. I think, usually, I'm missing
    the ones that come during off hours, so I'd say first thing in the morning.



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