The Wired franchise has a gift for finding the fresh narrative in complexity.
Even under Condé Nast with a nod toward mainstream, the property remains true to the Alpha Geek.
When the UK Wired sent out the following ProfNet, I assumed they would get crushed with pitches.
I am editing a special edition of Wired, coming out later in the year, which will preview what is going to be important in 2013, and I would be delighted if you would consider contributing something to it. We’re looking for suggestions for the technologies, people, ideas, syndromes, trends, ways of thinking and innovations that should be on every smart person’s radar in 2013. These could be anything from a tiny but significant breakthrough in physical sciences to a new way of thinking about democracy, and will almost certainly include something you are thinking about right now. Our field is open: from bioscience to politics, business to pop music, fashion to international law, art to nanotechnology …
Which got me thinking about the challenge of raking through so many pitches to identify the best stories.
This led me to David Baker, editor of The Wired World in 2013, who agreed to give us a glimpse behind the curtain.
Lou: I just reread your original ProfNet from June and zeroed in the words, “significant breakthrough.” How did you define “significant breakthrough” in the context of the Wired’s Preview for 2013? Or is it really something more along the lines that “you know one when you see it?”
David: It’s an insight or a discovery that will make a big impact somewhere. In fact, in the Wired world, this is quite hard to spot as really disruptive ideas tend to come from unexpected connections between apparently unrelated things. I used experts in the field to help me judge whether or not something was “significant.”
Lou: Roughly, how many entries came your way?
David: More than 250. A lot of PR companies ignored the criteria and just sent me some releases about a vaguely tech-related product that had no bearing on 2013. That was a bit irritating to be honest. Some of the best suggestions came from university press offices and research departments.
Sidenote: Why is it so many people in the PR profession have trouble following simple instructions? Don’t answer that question.
Lou: In reviewing so many possibilities, what were some of the cues or indicators that moved a pitch out of the initial pool to the next round?
David: First, that it was relevant to 2013 and would have an impact then and not now. Second, that it was based on science. Third, that it piqued my interest as an intelligent reader of Wired. Fourth, that it wasn’t simply trying to sell a product, but had a wider implication. Fifth, that it was short, preferably four or five lines max, well-written and understood my needs as a commissioning editor. I received lots of press releases that were very long and very boring.
Lou: I loved the storytelling in your Wired piece on the quest for the perfect dark chocolate. People don’t intuitively think of chocolate as one of the most complex substances under the food umbrella. Was that part of your evaluation criteria for the stories that made the Wired Preview? The unexpected?
David: Definitely. Unexpected connections make interesting things, but they also make interesting journalism.
Lou: If you reflect on the stories that ultimately made the Wired Preview, what are the common denominators?
David: Simple ideas, backed up with data, written tightly – like the stories that appear each month in the regular magazine.
Lou: I’d welcome any other thoughts you have bridging the storytelling gap between PR and the media.
David: Keep it brief. Read the commissioning editor’s requirement, and show how your story fits the bill. Don’t expect coverage of your client’s product unless it really is amazing. Sorry.
Lou: Thanks for sharing your insights.
David: No problem.
Note: The UK Wired’s “The Wired World of 2013” will be published on Nov 1.