05/08/15

On the Record: Lydia Dishman

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Welcome to our new DLC blog series, On The Record, where the tables turn and the reporters we work with are on the other end of the interview. Find out how they started in the biz, what it’s like to be in their shoes, and how you can best work with them. We’ve done a few interviews so far and immediately noticed that every background and every experience is unique, so we should treat each reporter as such. We all know this but it’s a good reminder.

For our first installment, we interviewed Lydia Dishman, a freelancer we worked with for several of our clients. Take note of when she reads e-mail, when she tries to sign off daily, and her biggest tip and pet peeve for PR people.

How’d you get started in journalism?
I started reporting for my elementary school newspaper and worked on student shows for Instructional Television (ITV News) so I’ve been a journalist for most of my life. I’ve always loved asking questions and learning about people and what made them tick. I developed an interest in what makes businesses tick from my watching my parents own and operate an Italian restaurant in NYC when I was in middle and high school. Their risk-averse sense of entrepreneurialism gave me the courage to make the leap myself when I left my staff job in NY and reinvented myself as an independent contractor, confident there was a way I could do it without totally losing my shirt.

Tell me about your reporting gigs.
I started at NBC News after getting a degree in journalism. Then took a detour through book publishing at Random House where I was in sales for many years. I went back to journalism on a freelance basis when I moved away from NYC. I’ve since written for almost all the local publications in Greenville, SC and nationally (and internationally) for CBS Moneywatch, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Forbes, the Guardian, Popular Science, the New York Times, Yahoo Finance and others. Fast Company is my main gig right now.

How different is an on-staff job vs. freelancing?
Freelancing is a competitive sport. In an interview I did with another magazine, I said the competition comes from all sides: staff writers, reporters who have existing relationships with editors and established sources, writers at the beginning of their careers who are willing to work for extremely low wages or for free, online news aggregator sites, etc. There’s zero job security, and even “good” clients can get whisked away when a new editorial regime is installed.

Staffers have the good (or bad, depending) fortune of being surrounded by coworkers and supervisors. They can be a source of valuable industry information, mentoring, and general fun when you just need a break. The teams I’ve worked with have all seemed pretty supportive of each other, I suppose given the amount of bonding that happens on deadline. As an extrovert, the solitude can be a challenge. My cat isn’t much of a conversationalist. On the flip side, though I take part in weekly editorial meetings for Fast Company, for instance, I’m never slowed down by the kind of lengthy conference room slogs that put a dent in on-site employees’ productivity.

What’s your day to day like?
I’m usually answering email that came in overnight by 7 a.m. From there, it differs depending on the day. I typically have a deadline to meet every day, so it’s research, interview, write – not necessarily in that order. Once I’m writing, I require total focus: I ignore the phone and can’t even have music playing in the background. That said, I do try to get up and walk around at least every hour. My back can’t take it when I sit for too long, even in an ergonomic chair. I try to be done by 4 p.m. ET so I can spend time with my family.

How often do you get pitches from PR people?
I get between 20-50 email pitches per day. Not as many as some, but definitely a lot. I try to respond to each and every one in a timely fashion, therefore, if I’m not interested, you may be getting a canned reply.

What are your tips for PR people on how to work with you?
My biggest tip: Please Google before you pitch. A simple reporters’ name + name of your client/client’s company. That will save you the pain of being ignored or pointed out that you are pitching someone they are already familiar with.

Other than that, check my site lydiadishman.flavors.me for guidelines and please understand that a lot of reporters (me included) aren’t always able to tell you what they are working on and what kind of pitches would be best to send them.

My biggest pet peeve: PR who pitch multiple writers at the same publication. See question #3.

What do you like to do when you’re not wearing your journalist hat?
Spending time with my daughters and husband, catching up with friends who live in other parts of the country, genealogy, gardening, cooking, reading — not necessarily in that order.