Laura Shin – Features Editor, SmartPlanet
“Invention, my dear friends, is 93 percent perspiration, 6 percent electricity, 4 percent evaporation and 2 percent butterscotch ripple.” For many, this somewhat dubious equation conjures up a childhood hero who for many opened the door to pure imagination, to music-making and dreaming dreams. That gold mine of ideas necessitates those who will bring these ideas to the fore, wide-eyed with childlike wonder, yet with an adult eye critical enough to not, well, swell up like a blueberry or get jammed in a fudge tube.
One miner for such gems is Laura Shin, features editor for SmartPlanet as of November 2013. Though Shin has served as contributing editor for the digital magazine since May 2011, the recent departure of founding editor Andrew Nusca saw his duties divided between Shin and Alyson Windsor, news editor.
SmartPlanet originally began as a sustainability publication, logoed with leaves and grass, though has evolved.
“[The site] started off focusing more on sustainability and in recent years we’ve shifted it to more toward an innovation focus, particularly a global innovation focus. For instance, we have a vertical called the Global Observer where we have dispatches from around the world. We’ve got business verticals like Business Brains, which features people working in different companies,” Shin explained.
SmartPlanet’s breadth of new content demanded a sleek re-design, which went live on Nov. 18, to better harmonize the graphical elements with the content.
“In the background before the launch, I was working with Andrew and the other editors to shift the content more in that direction. Now with my new role and the redesign having been launched, the focus is more directly out there, where even the readers get it, people who are pitching us can see, or at least they’re not led astray by the leaf and the grass,” Shin chuckled.
Though SmartPlanet is not without competition, Shin is quick to note the magazine’s distinguishing features, such as the global focus, and hearing from “behind-the-scenes people that don’t normally get so much media attention.”
Shin additionally notes the ingenuity of delivery SmartPlanet offers, including a blogroll, The Bulletin, which offers quick news hits on business, technology, sustainability and transportation, with a weekly magazine launched in October containing SmartPlanet’s features.
New territory Shin plans to explore is a wider perspective on innovation, going beyond those behind the innovations, but also “getting the wider perspective on what others think or even a critical eye,” she said. “The idea of global innovation can be a little ‘Ooo, ahh…look at how cool this is.’ The trick is that there’s a lot of ideas out there that also aren’t very good, and some of them even gain traction. I myself have written about things that on the surface seemed really neat, and then when you dig a little deeper, you find this doesn’t hold up for various reasons.”
Shin’s critical eye also offers her a unique perspective on the shifting worlds of print and digital format journalism. The Stanford and Columbia Journalism School alumna first broke into journalism at Newsweekwhen “the website wasn’t the cool place to work,” she joked. Shin later worked on the digital side of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, tried her hand at freelancing and wrote regularly for the Los Angeles Times.
Shin got an early experience with online journalism and was drawn to the opportunities it offered. However, she is quick to confess her love of print, noting the recent decision by
New York magazine to go bi-weekly. “I’m in mourning,” she said. “I do love print and I still subscribe to magazines. I like a really nice cover or nice layout. The graphical possibilities there are really fun.”
“But the reason I fell in love with journalism and reading is from print. I do feel like something is lost. Digital can’t replace print and vice versa. We probably need both in the future, but exactly how that’s going to look is yet to be determined. The one most fascinating thing I read about what’s happening with New York mag, is that the digital revenues are set to eclipse the print revenues this year. For the longest time, the mantra was that print advertising pays for digital stuff. Print advertising pays the bills. But it looks like that’s changing, and to me, that’s interesting,” she said.
Shin is clearly a curious soul, which is evident as she expounds upon her love for journalism. “Two things that stand out for me that I love about journalism are the ideas, the stories. I just love finding out something new. The other thing is the actual writing. My favorite moment in this whole process is the moment when I’ve gathered most of my material and I face the blank page and I’m like, ‘how do I want to tell this story?’ That question to me is the most exciting part of it,” she explained.
What is clear is that the global world of innovation, the confluence of technology, business and science, is a fruitful field of notions, with thoughtful journalists like Shin to sift through the snozberries, bringing audiences into the conversation and equipping them with information to face the future. As Willy Wonka himself said, “If the good Lord had intended us to walk, he wouldn’t have invented roller skates.”
Shin is open to receiving relevant pitches via email, though she notes,
“We don’t take a ton of freelance pitches. We only publish six or seven stories a week, and the majority of those tend to be taken up by people we’ve contracted. That said, I am starting to take pitches for the Global Observer section: people who live abroad, who can tell me things going on in the business or innovation world in their city, any new trend or news that sheds light on business, economy or innovation in their part of the world, that is of interest. The Report [section] also takes freelance pitches. They’re slightly shorter stories, between 500 and 800 words. They are more about business and innovation trends, and are more U.S. based,” she explained.
Shin also recommends utilizing the masthead on site to target the appropriate section editor. “I personally manage the Global Observer and Pure Genius sections. The Big Story, Business Brain, The Report and The Word are managed by the other two editors.”
In terms of crafting pitches, Shin recommends good tailoring and research, above all. “The most successful pitches are ones that frame their pitch in the same way a writer would pitch a section editor here,” she said.
“The PR pitches that I almost automatically delete are just, ‘this person was promoted at this company.’ It’s just not a story. Things that tend to be more successful are ones that show me immediately how this will look and play on the site. This only goes for people that are doing blanket press releases, sending out as many as possible without tailoring the pitch. For those that are tailoring the pitch, they take their time to read whatever vertical they think it will fit on, get a sense of the headlines and text and how we frame the first few paragraphs, that will probably help them write a successful pitch,” she explained.
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