Welcome to the first post in our media Q&A series! Here, we flip the script and interview reporters we work with to get their insights on the current state of the tech industry, learn tips/tricks for how to best pitch them, hear their take on current events, and maybe uncover something personal we didn’t know about them before.

Today’s Q&A features John Converse Townsend, a writer and social media producer at Fast Company, and a co-editor and reporter for ESPN’s TrueHoop Network.

Q: How did you get your start as a journalist?

JCT: It was in the mid-to-late 2000s, at a time when Twitter was releasing and Facebook had just picked up. The idea of social networks was much different – MySpace was the hot one of the time. It was cool to see the democratization of content. Some big name journalists now writing for GQ and Esquire back then weren’t being paid but had entertaining voices on social media. I remember reading nascent sports blogs – those guys had opinions and it was an easier place to be heard back then. Myself and a couple guys from UNC [alma mater] started a sports blog that was somewhat successful, given that we didn’t put any money into it. People (not just our moms) were reading it. I graduated with one of the worst professions when no one was hiring. I put out all these applications, but it was the classic paradox of “you need experience for us to hire you” but you can’t get experience until you have a job. So I interned in my spare time, contributed to different outlets, got on Twitter. I just continued to try to be creative and express myself and eventually it worked out.

Q: What do you cover?

JCT: I’ve been covering what I describe as smart solutions to social problems. That can range from a nonprofit doing good work in disaster recovery or a smart technological fix that alleviates some issue presenting a problem to people. Growing up overseas I was exposed to different people and cultures and ways of life. Part of what I try to do is tell stories that will in some way make the world a better place. I love learning about what startups and organizations are doing in small ways to improve the world.

Q: What technology are you excited about?

JCT: A lot of people talk about VR but I’m not really into it, which is weird since I’m a gamer (my mom got me the original Nintendo when I was two-and-a-half and I got really good). For some reason graphics in VR aren’t there, though they’re getting better quickly. [Going back to basketball] if I’m going to play a VR basketball game and there’s no glove where you can feel the weight of the ball, why wouldn’t I just play a video game or go outside and actually play basketball? This isn’t really tech related but I’m really interested in transportation as it pertains to cities. The Segway people got a ton of money from everyone and it didn’t work out; the internal combustion engine is being forced out of cities — there are all these interesting dynamics, so the future of urban transportation is something I’m keeping my eye on. Some guy just passed me on a motorized skateboard and I think, huh, why don’t more people use that? How could different modes of transport change the way we interact with one another, change our cultural patterns, and shift costs, etc.?

Q: What’s your favorite way to be pitched?

JCT: Short pitches are best. The way we do it is helpful because instead of going back and forth over email over the course of two days, we can have a more casual conversation, get follow up details, etc. I’m not against email, though I don’t love it generally. I’d be embarrassed to show how many unread emails are in my Gmail…it’s a lot. You get so much shit in your inbox all the time! I selfishly choose the pitches I’m going to enjoy writing about. If I’m enjoying reading and writing about it, then chances are the reader will too. If I don’t see what’s cool about it, then the story won’t do well, and there’s a better use of my time than what could be essentially PR for a product or service.

Q: For people without the benefit of having a casual conversation with you, what’s the best way to reach you?

JCT: I’ve had a few things come through Twitter, which is neat. Social media also works as an aggregator – if I see a tweet, sometimes I’ll check out the story. I’ve had times where I see something cool on Instagram or Twitter and I’ll reach out to them to find out more about a startup or new idea.

Q: Do subject lines matter for those people stuck in your inbox?

JCT: Yes, it does. A tip – the way we do headlines is pretty smart. The behavioral science suggests you want to be conversational, but you also want to share the biggest part of the story. Essentially, don’t bury the lead. So look at some of our headlines, e.g. why X doesn’t do what you think it does. If you can sell it in a headline, you’ll get a click on a story. The same goes for email subject lines. It matters.