Goodbye Inbox, Hello Pitchbox

Media | Pitching
I read in the Times that the most wired magazine (well, Wired), still has to put up with email pitches. Editor Chris Anderson grew tired of all the PR pitches and announced to the world that he was blacklisting all of the email addresses. They should be cultivating relationships with beat reporters, instead of counting on him to make the rain.

Not a bad idea. But it’s a shame no one suggested a better idea to the magazine.

I came up with a solution to this over two years ago – I called in the “Tipster Network.” It seemed to me what the editors and A-List bloggers of the world needed was a special inbox for ptiching story ideas.

Maybe it didn’t catch on because of the name. Here’s a new name: Pitchbox.

The Pitchbox works best for story pitches that aren’t private. Imagine, for example, you are a Wired obsessive. You’d want to see the stories that the magazine is rejecting. And certainly the pitchers want you to see the stories as well. And the editor/blogger may go for it as well – if they’ve ever spoken enthusiastically about the “wisdom of crowds,” it’s the crowd of readers that could vote pitches up or done.

Here’s another reason the editor of a magazine or blog might go for this: to show how many pitches they reject. After all, some link blogs are so desperate that it appears like they pass along everything they get (yet they somehow manage to reject my stuff). Also, the technology would allow the editors to supply a quick response to mollify the pitcher. There is nothing that irks me more than seeing an A-List blogger make some banal observations about the quality of wifi at whatever airport they’re at, after I’ve just pitched them a multi-part series I’ve written.

One a few occasions over the years, editors have suggested I just log in to their communities and write the story myself. I did that here for OJR, and I feel very uncomfortable doing that again. It cheapens the medium. The point of the game is to have someone else validate your work (see “Give Me Props,” 10/17/2005). Bill Densmore did quote from my email “press release” in a recent post about my TimesSelect research, but he did take the time to call me up and interview me.

Now, about the name Pitchbox. You can imagine a web/blogosphere where websites don’t list email addresses or contact information, for privacy reasons. But this is also a web without PitchBoxes, and we’re poorer for it. (In June 2006 I described a concept specifically for responding to newspaper articles as a LetterVox.) You see that orange RSS icon everywhere? Why isn’t there a standard icon for a Pitchbox? (In September, I asked a similar thing of Boston news stations and newspapers) has redesigned their site. But they’re missing Pitchboxes/LetterBoxes.

I never thought that the Tipster Network could be monetized (take ads for this special inbox? Charge pitchers?) I figured at the time I could use the inbox feature of But it lacked the public inbox aspect, and not everybody uses, and usernames are hard to guess and not well publicized. Yahoo’s loss.

By contrast, there’s one site which makes it easy to search for people – and send them messages to a special inbox: Facebook. You’d never guess who’s on it.

This weekend I put together a simple idea that camera phones could be used for geotagging emergency media (GEM); this could have helped people in Southern California see how their neighborhoods had looked before they returned – assuming that the early returners were taking pictures along the way. There are phones that do this, I learned today, but not many, and some require special software, and on the whole, nobody has every thought of this. What was missing was the institutional weight of a huge industry player to move the technology in a positive direction. I remembered that my wireless provider, Verizon, has a policy blog up now. Sure, it’s probably a marketing decision, but I think it should be very much a public safety issue to promote GEM in much the way E911 is.

The Verizon blog has the potential to be great. When I briefly worked for the newly formed Verizon (I had worked in GTE Internetworking when GTE merged with Bell Atlantic), I had no idea who the corporate leadership was under Ivan Seidenberg. Today, as a member of the public, I have a better sense who they are. But really, I can’t because there was no place for me to put comments about a new topic on the blog (I can answer Dan Gillmor’s open question on the Google phone announcement, but I’d look like an idiot if I did the same thing with Verizon’s post). In the pre-blog days when forums reigned supreme, I could do this. But as few people are willing to admit, blogs swung the pendulum back towards publisher control. Verizon’s blog still has no contact form. So, aside from the comment forms, the Verizon Policy Blog is still very similar to a broadcast model website.

By luck, members of Verzon’s corporate communications team turned out to be on Facebook, so I messaged two of them. Of course, under the rules of Facebook, once we messaged each other, I could see their marital status, their religion, their likes, their friends, their Facebook apps. I hope they didn’t prejudice me for listing my religion as “Jews for Jeter” (as in the Yankees’ shortstop).

As I’ve written about before (“Pitching High and Inside,” 4/12/2007) pitching ideas is never easy, for the most part because the people who get pitched to are pitched to by everybody. But it seems like the proper application of social media can help mitigate the problem.