Tech Reporter Biz Carson Shares Her Thoughts on Working with PR Teams, Intro Briefings and End-of-Year Predictions

[Editor’s note: This interview is part of Mission North’s Inside the Newsroom series, which presents highlights of our regular AMA sessions with today’s top tech journalists.]

Working as a journalist was the career goal for Biz Carson ever since high school. Over the past decade, she has written for Wired, GigaOm, Business Insider, Forbes and Protocol. Throughout her career, Biz has covered fast-growing software vendors and venture capital firms, establishing herself as a leading voice in the tech community. 

Most recently, Biz headed up Protocol Pipeline, a lively weekly newsletter that dissected the ins and outs of the VC and startups ecosystem, while she also wrote articles on those topics as a senior reporter. Biz was one of the founding team members at Protocol throughout its rollercoaster nearly three-year history before the publication sadly shuttered last month.

After graduating with a degree in journalism from Indiana University Bloomington, Biz was first a newspaper designer before joining Wired Magazine as an editorial fellow in 2013. “That job put me on a trajectory of covering tech,” she said.

‍During our recent AMA, Biz shared how she likes to work with PR teams, her own favorite stories and why end-of-the-year predictions often end up sounding the same. What follows is an edited version of that conversation:

‍What are your favorite stories that you’ve written, and why? 

I have some non-tech stories that are still near and dear to my heart. When I was in college, I traveled to Hiroshima, Japan to interview atomic bomb survivors. As they age, we are unfortunately losing the voices of that generation. To be a journalist capturing those stories remains one of the most impactful and powerful articles that I’ve ever written. 

In the tech landscape, the All Raise cover story for Forbes continues to stand out as one of my cool reporting experiences that are moments in history. They gave us access early on as All Raise [which aims to accelerate the success of female and non-binary founders and funders] was coming together. I was sitting in the room when founding member Aileen Lee announced that All Raise would receive funding from Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures.

I’ve also written some investigative stories that have had consequential business outcomes. Accountability is a really strong function of journalism. Although those types of stories wouldn't necessarily be among my favorites, they stand out to me as being impactful writing. It’s a very surreal position to be in as a journalist. You can carry a lot of privilege and responsibility in translating what you discover into stories.

<split-lines>"It’s a very surreal position to be in as a journalist. You can carry a lot of privilege and responsibility in translating what you discover into stories."<split-lines>

‍As the end of the year approaches, how have you covered predictions? 

I’ve tended to publish predictions around January 1. So, I’ve done a combination of asking for M&A predictions and New Year’s Resolutions from VCs, which is my own weird take just for fun! 

The hard part with predictions is that, in general, they often end up sounding the same. It’s really hard to get people to have something that goes against the grain. I noticed this last year when everyone was saying ‘Remote work is going to be a big thing’ or ‘We’ll see a surge in cryptocurrency,’ which are predictions you could easily map out yourself. It’s always nice when I hear something counterintuitive or a perspective that I hadn’t heard before.  

How do you like to be pitched?

I always prefer to be pitched via inbox. I’m not the type of person who likes a phone call, Twitter DM or Instagram DM. I typically receive about 150 or 200 emails before 10 or noon every day, which is a lot to go through.

First, I consider if there is enough reasonable lead time for me to cover the news, for instance, an embargo that’s a week from now. Some startups have approached me saying their funding is in 48 hours and asking to hop on the phone and talk. That’s not quite enough time for what I do. 

After that, it comes down to content. Is this something that realistically I want to cover and which seems relevant to my audience? I also want pitches to be straightforward, not overwritten. For example, instead of ‘I’ve got a SaaS platform that’s B2B/B2C doing generative AI for NFTs,’ tell me what it actually is and why it is interesting. You can do that in four or five sentences, but most of the pitches I receive have long intros that are unnecessary. 

Ultimately, the pitches most likely to catch my attention are the ones which I can read and immediately understand, not the ones that have the most gimmicky quirks. Think of how you’d describe your company to your mom or friends, and that’s how you should pitch it to me.

<split-lines>"Ultimately, the pitches most likely to catch my attention are the ones which I can read and immediately understand..."<split-lines>

‍What are the most annoying things that PR people do when engaging with a reporter?

One of my biggest pet peeves is when a PR person pitches multiple reporters at a publication without disclosing it. To me, that’s a big red flag because, if you’ve done that and haven’t told anyone, then several of us are already talking about it in Slack. It can feel like PR is fishing at that point instead of going to the reporter with the most background knowledge on the topic.

Honesty is the most important thing. Anytime you start saying things like ‘I’m giving you an exclusive,’ but it’s actually just an exclusive quote and an embargo for everyone else, it can be a slippery slope to me never trusting or wanting to work with you again. It seems pretty basic, but you’d be surprised how many times PR people try to pull one over on you. Also, if PR doesn’t know the answer to something, that’s fine, you can circle back. But don’t lie.

<split-lines>"One of my biggest pet peeves is when a PR person pitches multiple reporters at a publication without disclosing it."<split-lines>

Do you find intro briefings to be helpful? Or do you prefer to only speak with sources for specific stories you’re working on?

I think intro briefings can be very helpful but they do need to be specific to what I’m covering in my beat. In my experience, I’ve been less interested in taking meetings with random startup founders and more focused on talking with VCs, whether to reconnect after a few years or with people who have left a firm recently and want to discuss the new company they are launching. 

As a reporter, I typically do not like PR to be on intro calls. I prefer an initial off-the-record meet-and-greet as I find it’s much easier for me to create a one-on-one relationship with the interviewee. Then after the briefing, I’m happy to work with PR again and share my ideas of where I think we can do an on-the-record story.

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