The Stories I’m Looking (and Not Looking) to Write

Even more than a journalist, I consider myself a storyteller. My mission at Mashable is to tell stories about how technology and digital are changing our world and to shine a light on the people that are shaping the future of our society.

The problem is that there are so many stories; I can’t tell even a fraction of them. I hear about hundreds of ideas, startups and successes every single day, but I only can write and edit a few of them. Plus the stories I choose to tell today are dramatically different than the stories I told when I first started writing for Mashable.

So how do I choose a story from the pile? While I don’t follow any strict guidelines, I do have guiding principles for how I determine a story is right for Mashable’s readers. I want to share a few of these with you now, so that when you have a story you want told, you know how to frame it.

(btw, I’m framing these points in terms of story structure. Related, I suggest checking out one of my favorite books ever, The Anatomy of Story)

  • Context: I will always cover the big stories — perhaps Facebook launches a new social graph or Google launches its own social network. These stories provide the context of the stories that shape the technology world. Of course, I like have these stories early — I can craft a better article that way.
  • Premise: I want to tell an interesting story, and I want to tell it first. I care less about the fact you’ve raised money (though that is important) and more about the fact that you’re launching. I care more about consumer products than enterprise. I care about numbers and data more than assertions.
  • Characters: The characters of the story matter. It’s a much more interesting story if the founder was an a prominent ex-Googler or one of the investors is Ron Conway. People relate to recognizable names and interesting personalities. I consistently ask PR people to send me the background information of the founders, so save me the trouble and send that along the first time.
  • Theme: What’s the real purpose of your story? Why should I tell it? Why should people care? Sometimes people forget to stress these points.
  • Plot: Interesting plots make for interesting stories. Rivalries and competition are interesting. Fast growth is interesting. Strong characters are interesting. Beautiful products are interesting. Saying you’re a competitor to some big guy isn’t a plot, though.

I want to be clear: me not telling your story doesn’t mean that your story wasn’t worthy. I may just be swamped, or I may have been the wrong person to tell your story.

I’m going to be saying “No” more often to pitches. Not because they aren’t good, but because I’m focusing in on different types of stories that will help me paint a broader picture of how the digital revolution has altered our reality. You’re going to see more interviews and more thought pieces in the future.

One More Thing: Things to Avoid in Pitches

I am asked all the time what makes for a good pitch and what makes for a bad one. I’ve discussed some things I like to see, but now I want to talk about what immediately turns me off to a pitch. These are the emails I immediately delete from my inbox.

  • The “Expert”: I rarely quote “experts” in stories, so please stop offering your CEO/client as an “expert” who can discuss the major news event of the day. If I need an expert, I will find you.
  • Long Pitches: Get to the point. An ideal pitch goes straight to what the news is, why you think I should care, why you think my readers will care, and a simple statement asking whether I want more information. Two paragraphs is always enough for a pitch.
  • Pitches via Facebook, Twitter, etc.: I almost always ignore these pitches. Email is the way I manage pitches.
  • Buzzwords: Have you seen my list of bad buzzwords for pitches yet?
  • Stories that Just Don’t Fit: Mashable is a consumer-facing publication…heavy SaaS or enterprise stories just don’t interest our readers, and they don’t interest me.
  • Somebody Else’s Story: I’m not looking to write about something TechCrunch wrote about five hours ago. I’m not looking to write about your startup’s small product launch after you gave the launch exclusive to another publication.
  • You Wrote About __, So You’ll Love Our Company: Not ONCE has this pitch ever worked on me. Just because I wrote about Spotify/Groupon/Random Startup doesn’t mean I want to write about your Spotify/Groupon/Random Startup competitor that’s just slightly different than the competition. Don’t send me this type of pitch, ever.

Note: If your startup has already launched, and you’re still looking for coverage, the ideal place is Mashable’s Startup Review Program. It’s a great way to get featured without any specific news event like funding or your company’s launch.

This was a long post, so if you have any questions, post them in the comments and I will answer them.