Ask a journalist — Alastair Goldfisher

06/20/2019 - Lori Bertelli

In this series, we will interview journalists to get their perspective on the media, what makes them tick and how we can best get their attention as PR professionals.

We kick the series off with Alastair Goldfisher, venture capital editor at Venture Capital Journal, which is owned by PEI Media. Alastair reports on the venture community, creating content for venture firms raising funds and seeking investment opportunities and limited partners looking for compelling investments in venture.

Q: Can you give us a short overview of your career as a reporter? How did you get started?
A: I’ve been doing this for 30 years, so it may require more than a short overview. I always wanted to be a writer, even when I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, though I didn’t know what it meant to be a journalist back then. But I had a bike route when I was kid. I rode around on my Schwinn, delivering the home town newspaper to the neighborhood after I wrapped it up in rubber bands.

I went to a junior college in Orange County and began freelancing while in college. My first clips, in 1989, came from covering local city council meetings for a community newspaper. I then moved north and went to San Jose State University, majoring in magazine journalism.

After I graduated from SJSU, I kept freelancing and looked for work and joined the San Jose Business Journal as a business reporter in 1994. A year later, we covered the Netscape IPO and after that it seemed I had plenty more Silicon Valley business stories to write. I’ve covered many beats as a business reporter, but I’ve focused on venture capital now since 2003.

Q: What is the most difficult / rewarding part of the work you do?
A: Maybe the biggest difficulty is managing the inbound email. It can be a time suck, which is why I can’t respond to everything. But I typically look at who is sending me an email before choosing how or whether to respond. Not sure what’s rewarding, but I look forward to how no two days are the same. Always something new to cover or to focus on, new people to meet and ideas to write about.

Q: How do you see the industry changing?
A: The notion of storytelling has turned around on its head. Long-form journalism still exists. But the biggest change in journalism is how we consume the news. We take in a lot of alerts. We read posts and the headlines, but we don’t click and read full stories. We skim the tweets and retweet comments. But we may not digest the entire storyline. We scan a lot on our phones and tablets. But the daily routine of reading is impacted. I had one person tell me the other day he no longer gets through an entire New Yorker article. So we see story length getting squeezed, staff sizes are smaller and the number of paywalls are increasing. Meanwhile, I also point to the advent of blogs over the years. Bloggers may have expertise in their domains. But blogs are not vetted by editors. Sometimes they’re not even proofread. And the tenants of journalism, including fairness, accuracy and balance, are not a part of many websites.

Q: How do these changes affect how you work and the stories you write?
A: I know I’m old school, but I’m still engaged and believe in journalism. We report and write stories based on source development, trend watching and listening to what our readers want.

Q: What media trends do you think will be around for a while?
A: I’m surprised print journalism remains as strong as it still is. I still read magazines and books, and many others also prefer the printed word in their hands rather than on a screen. I’ve incorrectly predicted the death of print in the past, so maybe now if I say print will remain a part of our lives, it will finally die out. I’m not going out on a limb here, but social media is here to stay. I passively share my stories on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and such. I should take a more active role in spreading my content via social media.

Q: What advice can you give PR profs? How can we best help you?
A: Be helpful. I know we all have jobs to do. But let’s be professional. I respect you and your job. So respect me and my work. Don’t lie to me. Don’t waste my time. Don’t send me stuff I don’t need. And if we don’t sync up this time and work together, no hard feelings. Let’s try again next time. Just be helpful.

The second most important advice I can give PR people is know who you’re pitching. I ask myself all the time when covering stories and editing, “What would my readers want to know?” PR people should do the same and know the journos they’re speaking to. Still, I routinely receive nonsense pitches. I barely have enough time to delete them much less respond. In 2013, when Angelina Jolie opted to have a double mastectomy, I got not one but two “healthcare” pitches from different agencies telling me they have a story idea and a resource available. C’mon! I have a public profile. It takes less than 5 minutes online to find out what publications I write on and what I cover.

Q: Any pet peeves we should avoid?
A: Avoid crappy emails that waste my time. A PR person asked me the other day what subject line would get my attention. It’s not the subject line I look at. It’s who the email is from. We’re living in a world of “conversation overload.” I am resigned to how there is a lot of information online that I want, and as a result I get a few hundred emails a day. Every journalist, in fact, receives hundreds of messages a day. So why would you, as a PR person, write longer than three or four sentences in an initial email and include attachments? Keep your pitches short. Keep the line in the subject box succinct. And don’t include background info. If we want more, we’ll ask for it. Hit me with your best shot in a couple of lines, and we’ll go from there.

Q: What are you reading now? What do you do in your not-a-reporter / editor time?
A: This is one of those interview-type questions I think everyone lies about. But I have a book of Stephen Dunn poems on my desk. That doesn’t get opened as often as I would like. I just got a book in the mail because I joined a venture firm’s informal book club. It’s a book by the “Free Solo” star Alex Honnold called “Alone on the Wall.” Not too long. I might read that one. I also want to read Duffy Jennings’ “Reporter’s Note Book” about his time as a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in the 1970s. But I haven’t bought it yet.

About Alastair:
Alastair has worked as a business journalist since 1994, and he’s been with the group that publishes Venture Capital Journal since 2003. Previously, he was founding editor of California CEO and before that was a reporter with the Silicon Valley Business Journal. He graduated from San Jose State with a bachelor’s in magazine journalism and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, sons and pets. Alastair is a vegan, likes to exercise, takes lots of photos, and his two favorite drinks are espresso and beer. Reach him via Twitter at @agoldfisher and other social media platforms listed on his About.me page. You can also see his writing work at VCJ.