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Big Thinkers

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Meet the Press

Big Sky Communications has strong relationships with the best technology journalists in the business. Big Sky sat down with department editor Jessi Hempel at BusinessWeek to get the inside story on what she looks for in a story, the companies she likes to cover, and more.

Big Sky: How did you get started in journalism; what’s your background?

Hempel: After college I did Teach for America in New York, and then I wrote for a number of Internet start-ups in the Bay Area. Once the [dot-com] crash happened, I applied to graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley, where I did a two-year masters program in journalism with a focus on Asia. I interned at TIME Asia, and traveled to Japan and India for reporting assignments. In 2003, I graduated and came to New York, landing at BusinessWeek.

Big Sky: Why do you choose to focus on business and technology?

Hempel: My beat arose naturally out of my passion for the subject matter in my life, both professionally and personally. I’m most interested in how changes in technology are changing/enhancing/detracting from the way human beings form community, do work and create relationships.

Big Sky: What do you think makes a great story?

Hempel: Tension. Stories work well when something unexpected happens. I usually decide if something is newsworthy by thinking about whether or not it is counter-intuitive. If it is something that matches my assumptions or that I would have expected to see happen, then I imagine readers will react similarly.

A good example is coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I’ve gotten a number of pitches from folks wanting me to write stories about their amazing charitable initiatives. While they may be laudable, they are not necessarily newsworthy, even with the one-year anniversary as a peg. I would expect to see charitable endeavors. What works for me is something unexpected: a story about a company that cut its charity and why, [or] a story about an outsize gift a year later.

Also, great characters that are willing to allow great access make great stories. It’s always a challenge to write about someone who isn’t willing to talk candidly and share information.

Big Sky: How do you decide which companies and trends to cover?

Hempel: I’m always looking for fresh angles. If you’ve already read it in a competing publication’s editorial pages, I’m probably not going to write about it unless I have substantial information to drive the trend forward. As for companies, I try to write about companies that are making a substantial impact in their field and are also willing to work with me to get the story.

Big Sky: What do you see as the most important trend in technology today?

Hempel: I’m most interested in the future of web collaboration through forms of social networking and its impact on the future of work.

Big Sky: What do you consider to be the most interesting technology company today, and why?

Hempel: I am very interested right now in Cambrian House, the software company that is experimenting with web collaboration to crowdsource every element of its business.

Big Sky: What’s your biggest PR person pet peeve?

Hempel: I am often frustrated by PR folks who blanket me blindly without figuring out what I cover, who call me obsessively (I prefer to receive pitches over email), and who try to use either flattery or overly friendly terminology to get me to pay attention to stories. I prefer folks who are succinct and straightforward, are businesslike in their approach, and who personalize their pitches. I always respond to personalized pitches, and I have several very strong relationships with pr folks who become the first people I call when I’m working on stories.

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Jessi Hempel,
Department Editor,