This post originally appeared on Newswire.ca
Saleem Khan is a digital news pioneer with a passion for the public interest. He leads the investigative journalism project INVSTG8.NET, directs Innovate News and manages media services practice Technovica. Khan launched, managed and reported for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. technology news service; was news and global technology editor at the world’s largest international newspaper, Metro; and edited for Toronto Star newspapers. He has reported for the New York Times, Globe and Mail, National Post and Fast Company. Khan led the Canadian Association of Journalists as chairman and director for a decade through 2010. He is an IRE and ONA member.
Follow him @Saleemkhan
What is it like to be an independent technology reporter?
It’s an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about. No, wait — that’s Jerry Maguire’s job.
Covering innovation and technology is like having a time machine: I routinely get to see the future. On a good day, I get to live in the future; I get to feel like a kid indulging his curiosity and going wherever it leads, which is exciting.
I gain insight into a vast range of organizations and their work on what’s next. That gives me a unique perspective of what is happening, how it’s all connected, where it may be leading us, and what that means for us as a society and culture.
As a result, I’ve become an accidental futurist: I am asked to consult or provide strategic foresight on initiatives and products. I decline most offers as conflicts of interest with my journalism, but I do accept some, especially if they could contribute to advancing the state, quality or practice of journalism. For example, an interactive infographics startup I advised from its inception, InfoActive recently became the first-ever acquisition by data visualization, business intelligence and analytics software maker Tableau.
Exposure to all of this has also led me to develop my own news technology projects, such as invstg8.net , a networked access-to-information tool for journalists. That, in turn, has sparked an eponymous, internationally distributed independent investigative newsroom, now working on our first set of investigations.
Of course, it has mundane moments: Mainly administrative and organizational tasks that were someone else’s job when I led technology coverage for national and global news organizations such as CBC and Sweden-based Metro International newspapers, for example.
So, the short answer to the question would be: Busy.
Where do you place your work?
I may or may not have strewn newspapers and magazines opened to my stories around coffee shops, loaded them onto screens in the Apple Store, or reset your browser’s home page.
I try to place stories where they have the most logical impact. Placement depends on the nature of the story more than anything else. For example, I’m more likely to offer something with a Canadian angle to a major Canadian newspaper, broadcaster or magazine because there’s a natural fit.
Generally, I place stories with major American or European outlets unless there’s a compelling reason to go with Canadians.
My primary and favourite outlet to work with at the moment is Fast Company. The team there is smart, knowledgeable, serious, decisive, and fun. It’s a great platform focused on stories about innovation, and it has a huge and engaged audience. So, they often get the first shot at any story I’m mulling.
How do you decide what to cover?
My nickname is Nostradamus.
That really says it all. To elucidate:
First and foremost, there has to be a story. That may seem obvious but not everything is newsworthy. I generally find my own stories through meeting people, talking to sources, and pursuing my curiosity about things I see and hear. I stay hip to what the kids are into. More than anyone, they’re driving the future.
I’m open to being pitched, but too often, those pitching are like first-time parents talking about their baby: Every burp, noise or movement looks like major news to them. It’s great that they’re so excited and involved, but it’s just not interesting to most people. That’s true for a company, product or client, too.
Once I know there’s a story, I assess the time it will take to produce the story vs. the revenue it might generate. Again, that may sound obvious, but budgets at media organizations are so constrained these days that the cost-benefit analysis of pursuing a story is now a prominent factor in any decision.
That increasingly means that I pass on stories others may see as low-hanging fruit, or may refer them to a staff reporter or a freelance journalist junior to me.
How do you get your stories placed – do you need to pitch to editors first, or after a story is written?
I never produce a story without knowing where it’s going. Journalism is a collaborative process, so it’s important to maintain open communications between editors, producers and reporters.
When I have an idea, I do a little research and outline a treatment in a brief note to the editor or producer I think would be interested. He or she may emphasize a particular focus or angle, and if they’re interested in the story, we negotiate a deadline and fee. Then I deliver.
How does social media factor into your work?
People literally laughed at me years ago, when I said social media was the future of news. Guess who’s laughing now.
Social media has transformed journalism. It’s easier to find and disseminate stories, and especially to interact with the community.
I mainly use Twitter to stay aware of things that are happening, and to converse with the community interested in the subjects I follow. I have a few dozen lists and search columns in TweetDeck to manage the flow. I use Facebook for social and professional conversations in groups. Not enough of my peers are on Slack, or use OTR messaging to give them sufficient utility for now.
I also experiment with new platforms to understand how to engage on them in a way consistent with journalistic values. Like I said: I stay hip to what the kids are into.
What does a typical day look like for you?
When I’m not being lit on fire and nearly burned to death in a foreign land (this actually happened to me in Norway last month; take me out and I’ll tell you about it), my days are less exciting.
I wake up, imagine as many as six impossible things, scan Twitter via phone or TweetDeck (always on a screen), e-mail, and 24-hour TV news channels (Toronto’s CP24, CBC, CTV, BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera), while drinking a litre of water, brush my teeth, etc. Next: eggs (I can boil a five-minute egg in three minutes), toast, orange juice, check news sites (Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, National Post, The Intercept, New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera; Internet-only news comes via Twitter feeds). E-mails and phone calls to editors, producers and sources, phone interviews, write, jump on my mountain bike for a ride in the Toronto ravine network, walk on water, in-person meetings and interviews, more e-mail, attend professional or industry networking event, dinner, research, plan the next day’s agenda, catch up on Facebook updates from friends, The National, The Daily Show, The Nightly Show, go down the rabbit hole online with my latest idea, shut down the house, bed.
What’s your #1 tip for PR people who would like you to cover their news?
This isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross.
Don’t sell (it won’t work). Stop saying everything is innovative or revolutionary. Be factual. Be focused.
Journalists know better than anyone what they’re working on, what their outlets are interested in, and whether or how what you’re pitching might fit. If we think we can work with what you’re offering, we’ll tell you. If you have data or reports you can share, you’re my best friend.
And for goodness sake, if you say you will follow up on something or get more information, return with a response! In the last year alone, I’ve seen a huge company spending tens of millions of dollars on advertising lose out on four big feature stories because of unresponsive PR staff.
If you’re really interested in this subject, I do a workshop, “How to talk to journalists,” in which I discuss ways for PR professionals to effectively engage with journalists.
What’s the #1 thing PR should know about you?
A question is just a question. I’m not out to “get” you, your executive or client, I’m trying to inform my audience. I ask questions and listen to the answers to understand the context of what we’re discussing. My questions are mostly based on what the source says. That’s how I figure out what the story will be. The story almost always becomes something much more interesting than what it would be if it were based on assumptions.
And don’t leave voicemail. E-mail.
First website you load in the morning?
Coffee, beer or green juice?
I don’t drink alcohol, and I’m a social coffee drinker. But since I’ve been travelling across oceans for the last couple of months, I make a beeline for green juice whenever I see it. Or this.