How I Decide What to Write About-And Why I Might Not Cover Your Company

7/29/11Follow @wroush

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the region’s major venture firms. I also hang out at tech incubators and attend their demo day presentations, which gives me a chance to meet lots of new companies quickly.

Going to conferences and events—5 percent. There are some worthwhile events out there—O’Reilly Media does a nice job, as do Google and the Churchill Club. But generally, a conference crawling with other journalists is the last place I’d expect to find an original story. I’m particularly averse to the big company-centric conferences that cycle through San Francisco’s Moscone Center, like MacWorld or Dreamforce. The news that the companies and related vendors want to share at these events is usually prepackaged crap, designed to turn journalists into marketing communications vessels, to be indelicate about it.

Followup stories about companies I’ve covered in the past—10 percent. Once I know a company’s founders and their basic story, it’s much easier and faster for me to put together a followup story a few months down the road, perhaps something giving the context around a business model shift or an important product release. The 10 percent figure will inevitably go up over time, as we add more Bay Area stories to our archives.

Random stuff I stumble across—20 percent. As a gamer, traveler, photographer, gadget geek, and digital media consumer, I’m always coming across cool tech products and services. Sometimes I’ll look up the creators and profile them; sometimes I’ll just immerse myself in the technology for a while and then report back to readers. My Friday column, which you’re reading now, is one regular venue for such subjects. It’s the one chance I have each week to set aside Xconomy’s usual hyperlocal focus and write about whatever gadgets, apps, or digital media trends catch my fancy.

How I Decide Which Stories to Write, and Which Not to Write

I don’t have a simple flowchart that dictates whether I will pursue a given story idea. But the first four questions I ask do have fairly binary, yes/no answers.

Does this story pertain to a company in the Bay Area? I get a surprising number of pitches from people who don’t understand that Xconomy is hyperlocal. Perhaps we haven’t done a very good job of explaining it, but we believe that innovation is best understood through a local lens, which means we focus exclusively on companies and organizations based in six major U.S. innovation hubs: Boston, Detroit, New York, San Diego, San Francisco (meaning the whole Bay Area), and Seattle. I’m responsible for our Bay Area infotech and energy coverage. If a company isn’t headquartered in the Bay Area, I won’t write about it. If it’s life sciences related, then I’ll send it to our national biotech editor, Luke Timmerman. If the company is headquartered in one of our other home cities, I can put you in touch with the appropriate editor there.

Is this story being offered under embargo? I don’t like to work under embargo, for reasons I explained at length in a recent column. So I always turn these pitches away, and ask the person to get back in touch on or after the embargo date. (Note: this is my personal policy, not an Xconomy-wide policy. And exclusives provided under advance embargo are another matter entirely—I love those, of course.)

Is this idea about a startup that’s already been covered to death in TechCrunch, GigaOm, Mashable, VentureBeat, ReadWriteWeb, TheNextWeb, Business Insider, etc.? If so, chances are I won’t write about it. I can make my best, most original contributions when I find companies whose stories haven’t been told—where nobody has taken the time to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.dailygrommet.com Jules Pieri

    Wade, How delightful to have you open up the hinge-top on your brain and tell us about your coverage decision process. I don’t know how you sleep with all those unwritten interviews in your back pocket…I would worry that I would forget the texture or key insights I had in the moment of the conversation. Do you have a trick for keeping important details and synthesizing thoughts those “live?”

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    Hi Jules. I don’t sleep very well. ;-)

    One thing that helps, though, is that I am blessed with super-fast typing skills, so I get verbatim notes of most interviews. My notes don’t always capture the texture or the in-the-moment insights in my own head, but they do help me reconstruct what I was thinking at the time. Do you know how sometimes you’re listening to a song, and you can suddenly remember exactly where you were the first time you heard it? I’m not sure if that happens to other people, or if it’s just me—but anyway, my notes are like that.

    Also, when I come back to a story that’s been languishing in my notebooks for a month or two, I make a point of re-immersing myself in the company’s news, and often do a quick phone or e-mail check-in with the source. But as you can imagine this is not terribly efficient. So I’d like to whittle my backlog down to the point where the delay is less than 1 week.

  • ef

    Wade,

    Thanks for taking the time to carefully lay this out. While you rightfully position this as your own personal set of tenets I have found that much of it is quite common in tech journalism. These points are not only a great tool for new PR professionals to learn the ropes, but are also important for executives and entrepreneurs to understand.

    Thanks again and take care.

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  • http://OnStartups.com Dharmesh Shah

    Thanks for reading that article. It seemed to strike a chord with hundreds of people.

    For me, personally, it has been life changing. At first, it was still difficult to say no. But now, I find myself often sending a quick email with a link to the article. (http://MustSayNo.com).

    Hope all is well for you. We’re trying to do our share of innovating out here in Boston too.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    @Dharmesh: And thanks for reading *my* article! Glad to hear that your piece has helped with your overcommitment dilemma. I have had a similar experience — I now include a link to this article in the signature line of all of my e-mails. And when I have to say no to an idea, I point people to this piece for guidance on the criteria I’m using.

  • http://twitter.com/sunnycmui Sunny Mui

    Great advice, I’ll be sure to cross my fingers when I submit out B2B social ecommerce startup. We think it fits the category of truly disruptive so we hope you think so too!

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  • Binay Curtis

    This is a great article to share with my start-up clients. Thanks for taking the time to write it…

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    That is simply fantastic – thanks for putting your time into conceptualising and producing such a graphic. Outstanding!