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I’m the senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch, where I focus on all the ways — present and future — that people and packages travel from Point A to Point B. I’m also the co-host of the podcast The Autonocast, which focuses on the future of transportation.
Can you tell us what types of stories, trends or issues are on your radar now?
While I’m particularly interested in the future of transportation topics like autonomous vehicle technology and eVTOLS (flying cars), these all fall under a broader interest I have in cities. Specifically, I’m interested in how the combination of technology, economics, policy and design within cities can work for or against its citizens.
Describe the craziest or most fun story you have written.
There are a lot that come to mind, but I suppose covering Tesla for eight years has been one of my wildest rides. It’s not one specific story as much as the day-to-day reporting, vetting and verifying sources, chasing down scoops and of course, keeping track of the company’s and its CEO’s many highs and lows over the years that has made it so fun. It’s never boring.
What story or stories are you most proud of?
I have this rule that my articles will make people smarter, not dumber. It’s a simple rule that helps cut out the noise and keeps me focused. Any article that meets that criteria is one that I’m proud of. However, the ones I’m most proud of are those not based on an announcement or press release and instead are enterprise stories that have perhaps started with a tiny hunch or tip or general curiosity into a person or topic. This doesn’t always mean it’s some investigative piece that exposes a company or person. Instead, it means I’ve spent time connecting the dots that had yet to be connected. Perhaps one example is a story about Anthony Lewandowski, the controversial star engineer at Google who founded a self-driving trucks startup that was later acquired by Uber. This individual was at the heart of a trade secrets theft case between Waymo and Uber. I spent weeks rooting around corporation and LLC docs along with property tax records and eventually discovered he had secretly created yet another startup. It wasn’t the biggest story of the year by any measure, but it’s one of those pieces that I look back on with pride.
What elements or characteristics do you look for in a story?
It all begins with determining if it’s a story to begin with. A former professor of mine would ask the question, ‘Is it a surprise?’ to make that judgment. I still use that today. Now, that doesn’t mean I haven’t written about seemingly ordinary folks. The question isn’t meant to root out only extraordinary people and companies. Instead it aims to cut right down to whether this is news or not. For instance, man bites dog is a surprise, while dog bites man is not (at least in most cases). I love this basic test because it’s not based on whether an event, announcement or action is positive or negative.
How long have you been in journalism and how did you get started?
I caught the journalism bug during my first internship at the Westword, an alternative news weekly in Denver, when I was about 20 years old and I never looked back. Since then, I have worked in weekly and then daily newspapers, online media outlets and magazines.
Finish this sentence: If I am not reporting, I am … hiking, backpacking, climbing, skiing or reading.
What advice do you have for PR people who want to pitch you?
I wish PR folks understood the sheer number of emails, phone calls, text messages and notes in LinkedIn and Twitter I receive on a daily basis — and that’s not even my main job. If they did, I think they would be far more mindful of who they pitch. Here’s my advice: research the reporter before you pitch and make sure this is relevant to their beat, spell their name correctly (I’d say 75% of pitches misspell my name), be clear, and cut to the news or announcement right away. Finally, don’t promise your clients coverage. I’m not, nor is any reporter, the marketing arm of Company XYZ. Reporters (along with their editors) determine coverage and understanding that makes it far better for everyone.
Any pet peeves with PR people?
I often joke that the words “no promises on coverage” will be written on my tombstone. I understand the job of a PR person includes getting “positive” coverage of their clients, whether that’s a person, organization or company. But that’s not my job. And yet, there are a number of offenders who will send me the same pitch a half a dozen times in the span of two days. The only thing these folks achieve is a bad reputation and a general apprehension of covering that company they represent.