Pressing the Press: Say Hello to Mitch Betts

By Ciri Haugh (@chaugh)

Computerworld’s Executive Editor Mitch Betts has been an editorial mainstay at the award-winning technology publication for 26 years. He started his career by covering technology issues, including the first computer-crime law, around the halls of Congress, where he says he filed stories on a dedicated word-processing machine called a PortaBubble. This veteran journalist moved his way up the ranks, becoming the Washington bureau chief and a national correspondent before transitioning into editing roles for news, columns and features. He’s still based in the Washington D.C. area, although Computerworld is headquartered in Massachusetts.

We chatted with Mitch about his role at Computerworld, his biggest pet peeves of PR people and his status as a “futurati”!

Twitter handle: (@mitchbetts)

As executive editor at Computerworld, what are your main responsibilities?

One aspect of my job as executive editor is the general oversight of the Editorial Department, including policies and processes. I’m sort of the “chief operating officer” of the department and the right-hand man for the editor in chief, Scot Finnie. For example, I had a major role several years ago in transforming our news operation from a print-focused team to an online-focused team.

These days, my major responsibility is managing the print magazine and our new digital editions. Working with a few other editors, I edit many of the magazine features along with the short articles in the Heads Up section at the front of the magazine. I also manage the freelance budget and the Editorial Calendar.

Can you tell me about one of your favorite stories that you had an opportunity to work on?

A recent example of the work I like to do is the story I assigned and edited about computerization in healthcare. It’s essentially a report card on how it’s going after 20 years of trying — and it’s not doing very well (See: “Healthcare IT isn’t living up to the hype”). What I like about the story is that it’s a relatively tough, hard-hitting feature, yet also has nuances. It’s full of research, not just anecdotes. There’s no fluff as it’s not a typical “trade press” story.

Computerworld has a long history of covering the social and political issues of the computer age, not just the bits and bytes. I’m proud of being a small part of that 40-year history.

What do you look for in a good pitch? What really makes it a compelling story idea and not just fluff?

Here’s the number one thing you need to know about Computerworld’s enterprise IT features operation: we see the world through the eyes of the corporate IT manager or CIO — not the vendors. So whatever would interest the CIO of Southwest Airlines or FedEx or Procter & Gamble, for example, is what we want to cover. We build our stories from the ground up by finding out what the corporate IT shops are doing.

So, you can see that the best pitch for us is on a customer (we call them “users”) but not just any customer. We don’t have the time or resources to cover run-of-the-mill customer stories. Tell me about a big company doing big things with IT and getting big results. Our stories mention the vendors involved, along the way.

So here are my two suggestions for pitches about enterprise IT:

  • Pick a large enterprise doing fascinating things with the technology and that are solving business problems. Pitch a short blurb about that customer. Put it in a business context and tell me how it’s yielding a return on investment.
  • Identify an enterprise IT trend and suggest customers who exemplify that trend. If you know of an analyst report on the topic, that’s cool too.

What are your main “pet peeves” when working with PR people?

Here are some bad ways to approach Computerworld:

  • Suggesting a profile of the vendor. Not going to happen. We’re a “user pub.”
  • Offering an interview with the vendor’s CEO or VP of marketing. That’s not usually the way we build our stories.
  • Bugging other folks — like our super-busy news reporters and editors about items on the Editorial Calendar. The Editorial Calendar has features, not news. I’m the right contact, two months in advance.
  • Bugging features people with news and product launches. Features and news are two different things.
  • Offering an article (“byline”) contributed by folks in the IT vendor community. We don’t use them.
  • Uttering the word “advertiser.” That’s really, really bad. Our editorial and advertising operations are totally separate.

What feature topics are going to be hot at Computerworld for the next few months?

I sense that the following topics are hot with our CIO-level readers:

  • Managing all the smartphones and tablets entering the workplace.
  • Cloud computing, including software as a service and private clouds.
  • Business intelligence, analytics and “Big Data.”
  • Desktop virtualization.
  • Security and data breaches.
  • Transforming the IT department into a true business partner that’s involved in strategic business projects, innovation and producing revenue.

I also have a blog post about some of the long-term trends we’re seeing:

What do you think about pitching over social media? Love it or hate it?

For me, as a features editor, 140 characters is too short for what I need to know. News editors and reporters may have a different view.

Fun fact: your Google profile says you are “futerati.” Can you explain what that means?

Someone else made up that word, which is similar to the term “digerati.” In this case it means that I’m on a list of “futurists” because I have a personal interest in long-term trends and scenarios. I’m working towards a Certificate in Strategic Foresight from the University of Houston.

Anything else that you’d like PR peeps to know?

There are other ways to work with Computerworld besides pitching enterprise customers. For example, we have a reviews editor for hands-on reviews of interesting products. We do an annual “holiday gift guide.” We also welcome nominations for our awards programs, but please read the details so that you know what we’re looking for.

I can’t speak for our news editors and reporters but I have one suggestion for working with them: oftentimes they’re feverishly working on whatever is the “hottest story of the day,” like the latest data breach or IT controversy.  They are under tremendous time pressure to get the story posted. If you can offer quick access to an expert source on that topic, you could be a hero. That’s much better than trying to squeeze another story onto their already crowded plates.

Our staff listing has news beats and contact information and is a pretty good place to find out who does what at Computerworld.

1 Response to “Pressing the Press: Say Hello to Mitch Betts”

  1. 1 Pressing the Press: Meet Andrea Salisbury, GateHouse News Media New England « Slice Trackback on May 23, 2011 at 2:07 pm
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