November 02, 2012
/ by Laura Spaventa
Welcome to the HARO Limelight Series (HLS), where we will highlight either a reporter or source who has had success(es) with our service each week.
Our purpose with this series is t0 educate readers on how to more effectively pitch reporters and garner media hits.
We hope you find this series useful. Please leave any comments or questions below! We interviewed Erica Sandberg, the editor at large for Bankrate’s Credit Card Guide and personal finance expert and reporter, for the inaugural interview in the HLS.
1. What beats/topics do you normally write about? Why do these particular subjects interest you?
As editor at large for Bankrate.com’s CreditCardGuide.com and columnist/reporter for CreditCards.com, I hit the personal finance and credit beat hard. Anything concerning money is fascinating to me, so delving in and finding fresh stories and new takes on evergreen topics is a thrill. I’m also drawn to consumer issues and cover them as host on my new web show Making it With Erica on MySourceTV.com. I report on how we can all enjoy life no matter how much money we have (or don’t have).
I also am the “scam stopper” expert for Western Union and the Better Business Bureau. For them I write a blog and host a video show. I cover how to avoid getting conned out of cash. Thieves make me seethe.
2. What is your favorite part about your job?
I am outrageously lucky and grateful because I absolutely adore most of what I do. I’m freelance, so even though I am often working against tight deadlines, it’s at my own odd schedule. I usually wake up at 4:30 am and after a bit of coffee I’m off and running!
Regarding the work itself, my favorite aspects are the live TV and video opportunities. There’s an exciting element to it that I’m addicted to. Editing stories that I’ve worked hard on is also super pleasurable. The hard part – interviewing, outlining, and organizing – is over, and I get to concentrate on making the piece sing.
3. What is your least favorite part about your job?
Managing stories in the initial stage, probably. So many come with a ridiculous amount of data and sifting through it all and keeping everything straight can be taxing.
Oh, and I hate tech. Everything about it – from reporting on it to dealing with a laptop that simply will not connect to the internet in a hotel room when it says that I can…
4. What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career and how did you overcome in?
I’ve had to learn to take nothing personally in this business. The fact is, sources can be brusk, editors harsh, producers mean, PR people pushy, and reporters competitive. Dealing with such styles was hard in the beginning, but now I don’t care – at all – about any of that. I just move forward the best I can.
Also, I am not a perfectionist, but my standards are incredibly high. My aim is to always produce a product that viewers, readers, producers, companies, and editors love and value. Therefore, when there is criticism I listen, apply, and adapt. But I don’t cry into my coffee about it. Ever.
5. How has the journalism field changed since you first started writing and what are you doing to adapt?
I am fascinated by the way web shows are taking off. Sure some programs are embarrassingly awful (don’t get me started on the celeb beat – most hosts want to make me slit my wrists), but when done right it’s an effective new method to get information out in an entertaining style.
6. When did you first learn of HARO and how has it changed your job?
I used to work in PR for a credit counseling agency and reporters and producers would call looking for people to comment on a story. They would beg, “Haven’t you got anyone who will appear on camera to talk about how their debt ruined their marriage and now they’re thinking of suicide? And can you get me that person by noon?” I’d run around like a crazy person trying to satisfy their needs.
By the time I left and began my career as a freelance journalist, HARO was up and running. A colleague told me about it and I thought, “Well it’s about time!”
HARO makes my professional life easy. It really does. Finding sources has been a dream – and I’ve kept in contact with many of them for all sorts of follow-up stories. Some have even become friends.
7. Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to PR professionals pitching you a story?
Well, I understand that some of their job consists of throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping it sticks. I’ve been there, having written and submitted countless press releases. So I honestly don’t mind being contacted by them, even when the pitch is way off base.
The only thing that irks me is when I do a PR person a favor – I’ll pass their pitch on to a colleague or go out of my way for them – and then I don’t even get a “hey, thanks.” Again, I don’t take it personally, but it’s common courtesy. I value good etiquette.
8. What tips or pointers would you offer to PR professionals looking to pitch you a story?
In the first contact – usually made by email – brevity is always appreciated. One link is fine, but I probably won’t click on more than that.
If I can’t use it, please don’t ask me to pass it on to other reporters or editors, or ask me to send you a bunch of other names and numbers. I love to help people and will if I can, but I can’t stand it when PR people get too aggressive. Don’t treat people who aren’t your assistant as assistants. While you’re at it, don’t treat your assistant like that either.
9. Does social media play a role in your job? If so, how big of a role?
Very much so! I collect sources on LinkedIn, and pull from that contact list all the time. Facebook has been an instrumental way of not just sharing stories and videos, but as inspiration. If I hear a lot of my “friends” talk about a certain subject, I can feel it getting hot. Chances are good that I’ll use that heat for something.
I rarely use Twitter though. Just never got into it. And the last thing I want to do is read someone else’s tweets.
10. Where can people find you in the social media sphere? Do you welcome people pitching you via social media?
I’m pretty easy to find – Erica Sandberg on Facebook and @EricaJSandberg on Twitter. I’m happy to receive pitches on Facebook and LinkedIn.
11. What advice would you give someone who is looking to get started in the journalism field?
Say yes to anything that sounds remotely interesting. Weird and wild projects that make you nervous will help you grow. At the very least they will be conversation fodder for cocktail parties.
Get a really good handle on your worth. Don’t accept projects that pay too little (you’ll be seen as a sap) and don’t demand too much (you’ll be pegged an entitled jerk).
Be polite and kind. You’ll be the rare bird if you are. Treat the sound guy and makeup artist as you would a top producer or agent. We are all in this together.
If you’d like to be featured in the HARO Limelight series as a member of the media or a source, email: laura(at)helpareporter(dot)com.
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