Pressing the Press: Meet Klint Finley

By Matt Nagel (@mattsf)

If you work in technology, Klint Finley is on your radar. He’s a busy guy writing on enterprise technology for ReadWriteWeb, dissecting media on Mediapunk and sharing offbeat stories of interest on Technoccult. Klint spots technology trends like no other, reporting on gamification before it caught on, and sharing compelling analysis about ongoing trends, like the consumerization of IT and big data.

We asked Klint about how he broke into journalism, his favorite stories and even his “pet peeves” with PR people. Read on to learn more!

Twitter handle: @Klintron

You’re a very busy writer with ReadWriteWeb, Mediapunk and Technoccult. How did you get started in journalism?

Well, ReadWriteWeb (RWW) is my main gig so the other sites take a backseat. RWW keeps me plenty busy.

I started doing freelance journalism in high school and also wrote for my school newspaper. I also started blogging in high school. I continued freelancing and blogging in college. I majored in Communications, but for various reasons ended up working in IT after graduation. But I always stuck with writing on the side. Last year I answered a writers-wanted ad from RWW and that eventually turned into a full-time job.

What have been your favorite stories so far?

Two of my favorites have been the story about how the Large Hadron Collider scientists at CERN are using Apache CouchDB, and a story on how a company called CNS Response is using in an unusual way. I think our readers are a lot more interested in how a technology can be applied than they are about what new features were added to a product recently. I love all the interviews I’ve been doing for ReadWriteHack as well.

What blogs do you read every day?I don’t follow many blogs or RSS feeds directly any more. I mostly use Twitter to track several people and blogs. I follow what my fellow RWW writers do of course. I keep an eye on Techmeme and Hacker News. I can’t go a single day without reading at least a couple TechCrunch posts. I read GigaOM’s cloud blog. I also follow lots of analysts, especially the RedMonk guys since they are so developer-focused. And I have been keeping an eye on a blog called MyNoSQL.

For fun, I like to look at Tumblr. I also have a list of my favorite (non-RWW work related) people to follow on Twitter:

What do you look for in a pitch?

Whether it’s something I think our readers would be interested in. And the sooner that’s communicated – preferably in the subject line of the e-mail – the better. I know there may be reasons that someone might not be able to provide too much detail in a pitch before we accept the embargo, but the more you can tell me up front about why someone should be interested, the more likely I am to respond.

The sections of RWW that I write for are generally not about news coverage. What we’re looking for are resources, such as actionable information or perspective on technological trends. Jay Rosen has described journalists as “professional explainers.” So anything that helps me explain to my readers the significance of what’s going on is helpful. Context, context, context.

A lot of pitches I get completely ignore the competition. Often that’s because a company is differentiating its product in such a way that they don’t think there is competition. If there’s an obvious, but incorrect comparison to be made between two products, say so and explain why the two products aren’t really in competition.

I’d actually love to see vendors team-up to make pitches that help explain a market or a trend. I think that would be more interesting than a pitch about a product update. I suspect a lot of companies are disappointed when they have to share the limelight with other companies when I do a list post highlighting industry trends or related technologies, but to be honest those types of posts tend to get more attention and work out better for everyone.

Any “pet peeves” about working with PR people?

I don’t know how other journalists feel about briefings, but I tend not to like them.  Too often it’s someone just reciting a canned speech that I could have read on screen much more quickly. Sure I can ask questions, but I can also ask questions by e-mail.

And it often seems that scheduling a briefing is priority # 1 for PR people. I’d rather have a detailed pitch that gives me a clear idea of whether I want to cover something before committing to a briefing. Because of the speed at which I sometimes have to turn around stories, I often prefer to do a story without a briefing at all. So I’d prefer if PR firms and the companies they represent not lean too much on the briefing to make it clear why our readers should be interested in something and why the product is different from other products.

How do you feel about news embargoes?

I love them, at least in theory. It gives me time to really think about a story and do my homework. However, in practice, embargoed stories often end up pushed to the last minute anyway. And as certain companies have taken to breaking embargoes, I wonder if it’s a practice that will actually survive in the digital age.

What new trends do you see on the horizon?

In technology, I’ve been covering the consumerization of IT. But I’m also interested in the enterprization of personal life. It’s interesting to see families and groups of friends using “groupware” such as calendar sharing, wikis and Google Docs – or even something like Facebook Events – to coordinate. RIM is offering enterprise security tools to consumer BlackBerry users now. And this new crop of mobile messaging services is inspired by BlackBerry Messenger.

How might consumers take advantage of predictive analytics, mashups, data mining or real-time intelligence? We’re already seeing some of this happening with the “quantified self” movement – stuff like, Rescue Time and RunKeeper. Stuff that gives people what they call in business “actionable insights.”

Last year Google released App Inventor, enabling people without programming experience to build Android applications. Adam Greenfield wrote a post about it, and I followed that up with some of my own thoughts about how consumers could start using the same sorts of visual programming and data mashup tools that BPM and business intelligence professionals are using.

In media, I think we’re going to see more evolution and refinement of how we present news and information online. List posts and infographics are often associated with fluff right now, but there’s no reason that serious journalism couldn’t be presented in an easier-to-digest format. If the Watergate scandal were to happen today, perhaps it could be presented as “5 Ways the Nixon Administration Broke the Law” or whatever. You could still tell the story and present all the information without dumbing it down. That said, there still needs to be a way of funding this sort of investigative journalism, as it will still be time-consuming to research and craft important stories. I’m a little cynical about funding models for journalism, but as the cliché goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

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