July 23, 2019

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As part of PRSA’s mission to advance the PR profession and the professional, we bring you our next Meet the Media Q+A profile. In this Q+A, we speak with Megan Hernbroth, Startups & Venture Capital Reporter at Business Insider to learn more about the work she does on a daily basis, how to best work with her and her hobbies and interests.

How did you get into journalism?

I joined my high school newspaper, The Wildcat Chronicle, my freshman year and worked up to become the editor-in-chief by my senior year. I loved writing, editing, and managing our little team so I decided to pursue a degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. 

As a broke college student under a good amount of student loan debt, I worked several jobs on and off-campus in addition to my course load. It really restricted my opportunities to continue pursuing journalism at the time because I didn’t have the time or means to take up unpaid internships or commit to competitive student-run publications on campus. Instead, I started working in paying hybrid marketing-PR-communications-editorial roles before landing out in PR full time in San Francisco after graduation. 

After a few years in PR, I realized I still really missed everything that happens on the reporting side of things, so I started exploring my options. A well-placed Twitter DM later, I’m finally back on a track my high school self would recognize!

What are some media trends you’ve witnessed and how do you anticipate the media industry will change moving forward?

I have a feeling more and more content will ultimately end up behind a paywall in one way or another moving forward. The ad-supported business model has had a chance to play out, and it didn’t shake out in publications’ favor for the most part. Many outlets, Business Insider included, have started experimenting with paywalled content as a means to support quality reporting that would be scrapped otherwise, and so far those experiments have been promising. 

What you’ve seen with layoffs at different publications is further evidence that gaming the ad-supported system just isn’t sustainable for every publication in the long term. For any outlet to survive in this day and age, digital or not, there needs to be a sustainable financial model that supports quality over clickbait and operates outside of the Facebook and Google publishing vacuum.

As a journalist focused on startups and VC, what do you anticipate to be the next big startup or tech trend?

In general, I think folks are becoming more aware of the mental health consequences of starting a company or working long hours in a startup. You’re seeing a lot of companies dealing with employee pushback in other areas as well, but it goes back to folks recognizing that they want to feel heard and supported within an organization because of the immense role work plays in all of our lives.

At the same time, it’s pretty interesting that you’re starting to see a big uptick in wellness and mental health startups trying to solve a lot of these issues. A few years ago, the conversation was around work-life balance, and now that question has basically fallen off my list because many founders and investors are admitting that a true balance is nearly impossible. Instead, they will recommend a meditation app, an at-home connected fitness device, or text therapy. 

Work and wellness are inextricably linked, and that’s not going to change as younger folks enter the workforce and start companies of their own. Whether that will be reflected in more distributed teams, different industries getting VC attention, or just better benefits, the future of work looks a lot more like the wellness industry than it did 5 years ago. I’m interested to see how this trend plays out in terms of new tool creation with things like Zoom and Slack to support remote teams, or if an entirely new industry of startups will begin getting attention.

What’s it like to go from working in PR to journalism?

It’s been quite the transition if I’m being honest! Having done PR for the last several years, I have great respect for the demands folks in the profession are under and how hard the day-to-day can be. I worked both in agency and in-house for a few startups, so I’ve seen both sides and the challenges and benefits to each. 

That said, I could not be happier on the editorial side. There is a lot more autonomy to work on projects I am interested in, and so many more opportunities to raise my hand and learn about a topic that might not be 100% in my purview. There’s something about having more control over my work life and schedule that is really attractive to me!

I like to joke that I am effectively the translator between my newsroom and PR folks we work with now since I can pretty easily guess what the hold up is, or why we haven’t heard from someone, or whatever the actual case may be. I also try to answer most if not all emails since I know how valuable that information is in PR. I don’t want newsrooms to feel like this big black box, which is how I felt when I was in PR.

What makes for a good story?

It’s all about people. I love a good founder story, or a particularly painful problem that your startup is solving and how that impacts real people. I don’t have requirements about funding stage or round size, but I do want to talk to someone who is interesting and passionate about the problem they are working on. Too often, I get on the phone with a founder who is just walking through marketing language and is terrified to say the wrong thing. That misses the point! I am not on that company’s payroll and I can’t republish marketing language, so more often than not that story gets scrapped entirely. 

Tell me about why this company, or this founder, or this problem, really matters. Is it part of a trend you’ve noticed? Does it have social good implications? Is it a truly innovative solution? If you are struggling to answer those questions in a 250-word pitch, I definitely can’t write 500 words on it.

What are some of your favorite hobbies and interests?

I love to hike and rock climb, so I end up spending a lot of my free time outside without cell service. Joshua Tree National Park and Glacier National Park are tied for my favorite places of all time, but I also cannot pass up some of the amazing parks within a few hours’ drive of San Francisco for a quick weekend getaway. I also have a 6-year-old rescue dog named Oliver who takes up most, if not all, of my remaining attention.

Anything else PR pros should know?

This is pretty BI-specific, but we cannot use data from proprietary studies as the findings are inherently aligned with that specific company’s goals. We also cannot link back to your home page or blog post unless the actual home page or blog post is the subject of our story.