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Join Our Research Team at DMA 2014
Apr 13, 2003
Interview

How to Pitch Your Story to WSJ's Walter Mossberg

SUMMARY: If you sell or promote personal electronics, absolutely click on the link to read this profile of WSJ's Walter Mossberg. He has very strong opinions about how he wants PR people to pitch him. We outline all his Do's and Don'ts here.
Walter Mossberg
Personal Technology Columnist
Wall Street Journal
1025 Connecticut Ave NW #800
Washington, DC 20036-5477
202-862-9287
mossberg@wsj.com

-> Circulation:
WSJ Print: 1,890,041 as of March 02
WSJ.com: 680,000 subscribers as of January 03

-> Mossberg’s background

Mossberg is based in WSJ's Washington DC office, where he spent 18 years covering national and international affairs before turning to technology.

“When I started the column in '91, there were technology columns in many papers, but they were written by geeks and were dripping with condescension,” Mossberg says. “They tended to be reverential about the computer industry. I deliberately set out to turn that on its head, to meet the needs of smart, non-techie people. I get a great deal of satisfaction in cutting through the hype.”

Mossberg has three weekly columns in the Wall Street Journal and a fourth every month in Smart Money magazine. “People who write columns have a great pulpit, but they can run out of ideas,” he says. “For me, the problem is that there’s almost too much to cover.”

-> Current editorial coverage

“I write for the part of the world that is not operating under the control of the IT department,” Mossberg says. “I cover products that make sense for average people, and I write in plain English.”

Mossberg has three columns in the Journal:

1. Personal Technology appears every Thursday on the front page of the Marketplace section. It covers new developments in products, Web sites, or services. “I write about hardware, cell phones, digital cameras, printers, MP3 music players,” etc.

2. The Mossberg Solution is in the Personal Journal section, and part of the research for this column is done by his assistant, Katie Boehret. This covers things that are more “oddball or gadget-y.”

For example, this week’s column is about universal remote controls.

3. Mossberg’s Mailbox is a Q-and-A that appears every Thursday in the technology pages.

Mossberg also writes The Mossberg Report, a longer analytical column which appears in Smart Money, the Journal's monthly “Magazine of Personal Business,” and he appears weekly on CNBC’s Power Lunch program.

-> The best way to pitch Mossberg

Send an email to mossberg@wsj.com. Make sure, of course, that you’ve read his columns and understand what he is looking for.

“I get an astonishing number of pitches from people completely ignorant about what I do,” he says. “If they had taken a minute to look at my columns they’d know I wouldn’t write about corporate software in a million, billion years.”

In fact, he considers inappropriate pitches from PR people just one step up from SPAM.

He does, however, have “great respect” for smart, hardworking PR people. Approach him the right way, and he is very open to learning about your product or service.

Also, keep in mind: “I’m juggling three columns a week, with an additional one a month. I get nearly 300 emails a day,” he says. So DO NOT call or email to follow up.

Other “don’ts:”

1. Don’t subscribe him to email publications he has not asked for. “It makes me hostile.”

2. Don’t send emails with gigantic attachments. “I may be in a hotel with a dial-up connection. I don’t want to receive anything larger than 100k. If I’m interested, then I’ll ask you for more information.”

3. Don’t write “here’s a story for you” in the subject heading. “I’ll just delete it,” he says, “because I decide what a story is.”

4. Don’t do “hokey, stupid things” like tying products into holidays (i.e.: “Here’s a Mother’s Day gift idea”).

5. Don’t tie things in to the war or terrorism. “Tech columnists around the country actually email these to each other and sneer at them,” Mossberg says. “They’re universally met with scorn by all of us, and are a good way to make a reputation of being phony and unworthy of being dealt with.”

6. Don’t send a product “over the transom.” Email first. If he wants to see it, he will let you know.

7. Don’t invite him on a junket. “This most recently happened with Motorola, who took a bunch of reporters to China to unveil cell phones. My general reaction is to assume that a company’s products are so weak they have to bribe people to come look at them.”

-> What Mossberg looks for in a story pitch

He wants short, to the point, smart pitches. Tell him what the product is, why it is different from other things around it, how it is important to the user. Let him know that you are happy to meet with him to demonstrate it, or to send it to him.

“I have a canned email response that says, essentially, okay, I’ll meet with you, please call my assistant to work it out. If it’s a well thought-out, succinct email, the odds go up that I’ll just click the button and send that response back.”

-> Deadlines

The Personal Technology column is written on Wednesday. Mossberg does not do meetings or talk on that day. The Solution column is written Tuesday and runs Wednesday, and Mossberg’s Mailbox is typically written Monday, for Thursday publication.

However, anything he is going to test, he needs to see weeks and weeks before it will ship. “I test everything. I will not write about something simply from a press release. I owe it to my readers to try them out.”

It is more likely that he will write about a product if he tests it before it hits the shelves.

-> Submitting pre-written contributions

Mossberg laughs. “There’s no such thing,” he says. “I never include anything in my columns anyone else has written.”

-> Where you can meet him

Mossberg is co-producing D: All Things Digital, a new tech conference that will take place May 27-29. See http://d.wsj.com for more information.

You are also likely to meet him if he is interested in your product: You will be invited to the office to give a demo. (A word about those meetings: He wants them to be productive and to the point, so he reacts very badly when someone shows up with, say, a slide show. “I can be critical in those meetings,” he says.)

-> Favorite professional publication

Every morning, Mossberg reads the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Online, he reads Wired News (www.wired.com/news), news.com, and CNET.

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