Alexandra does not have the most “conventional” background in journalism compared to some of her peers. Prior to journalism, she worked in the private sector at companies like Tenable and GEICO where she wrote about technology. Alexandra enjoyed this process, which led her into doing a lot of volunteer journalism and she eventually landed a job writing for The Hill. This opportunity opened many doors for Alexandra and eventually brought her to Nextgov.
At Nextgov, Alexandra covers emerging technology topics ranging from AI, machine learning and quantum technology to data analytics, privacy, cloud applications, crypto and more. She especially loves working at Nextgov because of its niche and engaged readership where she can really dive into the details of technology without defining too much or sparing significant amounts of nuanced information.
Tune in to the full podcast or read the transcript here to learn more from Alexandra, including:
- How her past jobs in the private sector have helped her current role at Nextgov
- Her dad’s prediction that data security and privacy would be the next “frontier”
- Topics Alexandra will be looking at in 2023
- How the definition of critical infrastructure may be expanding
- Advice on simplifying PR pitches
- What she’s been up to in South Carolina
0:25 – Alexandra’s professional background
1:47 – Her role at Nextgov and the topics she covers
2:44 – Alexandra’s audience and how she writes for them
4:17 – How Alexandra approaches the learning aspect of her job
6:04 – Most memorable story
7:48 – The biggest tech issues facing the industry today
12:48 – Types of resources Alexandra wants and how she finds them
14:30 – Best practices for PR pitches
17:27 – Most interesting “Hot Take” from a spokesperson
19:30 – Interests outside of work
22:26 – What’s on the horizon for Nextgov
Want to hear more from Inside the Media Minds? Check out the full repository of episodes here.
Christine Blake (CB): Welcome to Inside The Media Minds, this is your host, Christine Blake. This show features in depth interviews with tech reporters who share everything from their biggest pet peeves to their favorite stories. From our studio at W2 Communications. Let’s go Inside the Media Minds.
Hi everyone, this is Christine Blake, the host of Inside the Media Minds, and I’m excited today to be joined by Alexandra Kelly. She is a Tech Reporter at Nextgov. Hey there, Alexandra, how are you?
Alexandra Kelley (AK): Hi, I’m good. Thank you for having me.
CB: Good. Thanks for coming on. Um so Alexandra focuses on emerging emerging technology at Nextgov. So, can you give us a quick overview of your background? I know you previously reported for The Hill and have um also covered the tech space for a while now.
AK: Yeah, I have, um, I actually, I think I’ve had a little bit more of a non-conventional, unconventional background than many other journalists I work with and know. I began, you know, working for more private sector tech companies. Um I worked at Tenable and at GEICO, actually, prior to transitioning into journalism, which is kind of funny, right?
I never, I truly did not really have journalism as a profession in my mind for a while. And eventually, I kind of kept writing about a lot of the technology I worked around in the private sector with private companies. And I kind of enjoyed that part of my job so much that I began to kind of look at other career options, a bit more related to it. And eventually, I did a lot of like volunteer journalism to really build that portfolio, landed at The Hill, and that opened a lot of doors because it’s The Hill. And here we are covering tech for Nextgov.
CB: Yeah, that’s, that’s interesting, quite a journey to it. So, tell us about your role at Nextgov, what types of topics you cover and that sort of thing.
AK: I cover emerging technology. And for people who may not be aware of what that is, it is a lot of more new generation kinds of technology, ranging from artificial intelligence to machine learning, quantum technology, data analytics, and privacy, cloud applications, modernization, you know, a lot of like anything vaguely new tech oriented is kind of where I fall. I’ve been working a lot on crypto too. Um, so a bit of a nebulous turn term, but I’ve really, I’ve really kind of defined it for me as a lot of quantum AI, ML, data, analytics, and crypto lately. I tend to focus on on those.
CB: Okay, so yeah, these are pretty, yeah, very technical topics. Who are you writing for? Like, who is your audience, and how do you write for that type of audience?
AK: So with Nextgov, one reason I love working with them is we have a very, we do have a more of a niche readership. And they are pretty engaged with the technical landscape, which is, I think, where my private sector background can kind of come into play a bit more. You know, I can really drill into the details of what we’re talking of a technological application of a new type of technology. And I don’t have to, you know, I I both don’t have to define too much, and I don’t have to spare a lot of detail at the same time ever.
My readership is really, really working in the government and industry side. So they’re really aware of, you know, what we’re talking about. And I get to play to more of an advanced ear, if that makes sense, right. And um, and I really, I really enjoy that part of my job because it is a, I don’t want to say superficial, I don’t really think any reporting is too superficial in the tech sphere. But I can get very, very technical and a bit more quantitative. And I really, I and I learn a lot on the job, which I love. So you know, it’s definitely more of an industry kind of publication. And it’s one of my favorite things about it.
CB: Yeah, it’s interesting, I bet you have to learn so much new stuff every day, especially covering the emerging technology beat. How do you approach it? Like, how do you just, you know, dig in and learn so much about these technologies?
AK: Oh, we Google a lot, and we read books, and I have a lot of um background discussions with experts, which I don’t I don’t even write about necessarily I just need to get literature truly that background information right. Luckily, again, I I have that the aptitude I think that I came in with it really did help me a lot. And between my work experience, education and my dad being a software programmer and engineer, I did have like a good kind of grasp I think initially.
But no, I mean, I will not lie to you like when I don’t know something, I look it up and I figure it out. I’ve had, I think it really, if I need to learn anything in a pinch, it will kind of come down to Google. But I really try to talk to my co-workers who are so intelligent and a lot of them had been working this beat and here at Nextgov for such a long time, that they’re able to really help me like hold my hand through it, teach me everything, God bless them all for like really fine.
But a lot of the conversations that I’ve had to which have been pretty off the record and haven’t manifested into an article, were simply with industry experts and insiders. And when you’re a journalist, luckily, people are willing to kind of engage normally, and they like to let you know that they know what they’re talking about. So I’m never at a loss for how to cover or how to learn about a topic.
CB: Hm yeah, that’s interesting. What is the most, like memorable or interesting story that you’ve written or been a part of?
AK: Ay ay ay. Um, I, hopefully forthcoming, right? Like you don’t ever want to peek. I, every time I’ve really gotten into quantum any, oh actually, you know what I think it might have been being on the the National Security Council briefing when President Biden laid out a kind of cryptocurrency national framework. Anytime I get to cover like a national framework or that kind of launch, I really enjoy doing that. I love, uh, I mean, the breaking, I came from the breaking news background. And so I love a good scoop and original kind of story like that. But I like to listen to all of the questions my peers ask as well. And it’s just like a such a adrenaline rush of okay, what are we talking about?
AK: It is 6pm on Sunday night, and I have to be here.
But anything like that. I don’t know. I mean, good stuff is yet to come. But I really appreciate um this administration, and even the Trump administration’s investment and, you know, attention paid to emerging technology. And it’s definitely been a hot topic for, you know, a good five years or so now at least, that I’ve been paying attention to it.
CB: Yeah, absolutely. I think we’re seeing it more and more becoming mainstream. You know, people are out and it impacts them, affects them. So what do you think are some of the biggest tech issues facing the industry right now?
AK: Oh, God. I don’t know. Oh, yeah, I do know. I completely know. And you don’t even need to edit this by the way, like, I’m totally fine coming off as um, no, I mean, I this is kind of what that question alone is what kind of got me into journalism. Wait, like, a long time ago, and not, you know, I didn’t realize it back then at the time, but eventually, I kind of came full circle. And it was when my dad and I I began working at Tenable in college. And I talked to my dad about that. And him, you know, working as a programmer, he kind of looked at me and he goes like, “Yeah, you know, Alexa (my nickname), data, like data security and privacy, that will be the next frontier. And he told me that near a decade ago, and he’s been very correct about it. And I’ve held that in my mind, throughout my entire professional career, right, working with any type of technology, any application, whatever it is, having to think about that security component, as, I mean, paramount to its development.
And I would, I would argue that yeah, cybersecurity, post quantum cryptography for industry, for government, any digital network, those are gonna be like, that will be the battle of the next hundreds of years, probably. I mean, that’s just like the way how, how war has shifted to more of a digital offensive and defense and we see it a lot with Russia and Ukraine, targeting critical sectors and supply chain. It’s been it’s been pretty if you really pay attention to that kind of thing the the potential for disruption is, you know, insane. So I mean, that would be, you know, I’d immediately just say like, yeah, cybersecurity that yeah, big problem. Data privacy. Oh, my God. That kind of thing. I mean, which is a pretty obvious answer, but I I believe it completely.
CB: Mhm. Yeah.
AK: After that, you know, who knows? But I mean, there are other, there are plenty of other problems right with every new cool emerging tech, you know, there is that like downside of okay, what will it, what can it potentially cost us, what can it potentially exploit? So
CB: Mhm. Yeah, I was going to ask you what will some of the hottest topics be in the in the in the new year of 2023? And I think you really just answered it. It’s data privacy, security, cybersecurity, all those things. Absolutely.
AK: Yeah, yeah. I’ll be doing a lot of quant- I can, I I mean, even in God, I like 2023 plan itself, I’m going to be doing a lot of quantum work. Um I think that might be the theme and who knows where that will, every time I talk to one expert or another about it, they keep telling me like, and I feel like a because quantum is, and when I say quantum, I mean quantum computing, quantum technology, the quantum sciences in general are so complex and difficult to learn that I feel like they haven’t gotten their due until quite recently. And if you go talk to any expert working in quantum, they are incredibly forthcoming. They want to talk, and they want to tell people how important it is to transition to post quantum cryptography, how it will change everything from going from standard computing to quantum computing.
I can guarantee I’ll be doing a lot of that in 2023. And, um, I don’t know I mean, after that, you know, everyone is kind of talking about crypto but more of a market impact rather than the emerging tech component of it. However, as a tech reporter, I will be paying attention to it. Come 2023. But yeah, for everything. I mean, none of it is going to slow down. One thing that I’m working on, and that I’m, I’m kind of interested in is examining biotechnology and biosecurity as potential critical infrastructure.
CB: Mhm. Oh, interesting.
AK: Yeah, yeah. I think that and again, like, you have to look like our definition for critical infrastructure is going to expand, right, as everything has shifted become more digital, are, I mean, eventually, just everything will be some kind of fundamental critical infrastructure. Whether it’s the utility company, hospital records, I mean, even in New York, it was like the Queens or Brooklyn hospital, which had just had suffered some kind of offline potential data breach. So that kind of angle I think, will be really sharp and hit hard by not just me, but everybody in my field in 2023 for sure.
CB: Mhm. That’s definitely a good one, critical infrastructure. I think we’ve seen that become super relevant in the past couple years.
AK: Totally. Yep.
CB: You mentioned talking to you know, experts about these topics, interviewing that type of a thing. How do you typically find your resources? What types of resources are you looking for when it comes to covering these topics?
AK: Again, I I’m lucky that I have a big pool of um coworkers with much more experience than I do to kind of draw from, but it you know, my goal, I and I think any reporter, their goals are to become more and more well sourced, and so between. You know, the occasional PR outreach, which can yield helpful results to tapping my coworker on the shoulder via Slack and asking, who should I be talking to? Who should I reach out to? That would be my like, go to approach.
Um but you know, being a DC girl, I’m very aware of the power and accessibility of think tanks. So their not really that difficult to find looking for advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations, anyone like that, who doesn’t have, who, and affiliation isn’t a bad thing, per se, but um certainly maybe trying to find a a more, I don’t know, like, I don’t want to say centrist, but just a very um I don’t know, rudimentary, ground level organization, entity or expert kind of going into the policy and real world impacts of whatever technology I’m trying to figure out. It’s not too difficult. There are a lot of people who have a lot of opinions. And yeah, it’s not too, it really isn’t hard. I’m sure you know that in DC, in hosting a podcast. It’s not too hard to find people willing to talk.
CB: Yes, definitely. Um, and one of the listener questions I wanted to transition to you is, how do you prefer to be pitched, and do you have any best practices for organizations or PR folks to, when they’re looking to work with you?
AK: Oh, yeah, I mean, I actually got that, that’s funny. Um, I, I remember we, at Nextgov, we had a nice little kind of meet and greet with a few different PR firms and um, and contact people. Right. And jokingly, I mean, I told them, and not even jokingly, but, um you know, phrasing it very kindly, it was like, you guys have to please like, kind of simplify the brevity, the verbiage in the email. And- Make it really like, distilled to me, I and I and to be actually that might be, I think any PR people really should try to do kind of a little Meet and Greet organic outreach. Um and that we you can get to know reporters’ beat, what they’re into right now, and you can just take it up to that next, like personal level a little bit.
Um. But really, um if you, you know, pitching me really drill it down to, you know, what you’re going to talk about, and don’t, I don’t really like a lot of fanfare and certainly in the subject line, like, make it, I just, I don’t know, I I I prefer kind of a, like, you want to talk about quantum? You want to talk about AI? Here’s the person. That, you know, very, very cut and dry, I think is kind of the way to go. Cut and dry. Um. And don’t take it personally, if we don’t email you back or delete an email. Keep pitching I guess.
CB: Mhm. Mhm.
AK: I, that’s happened before where um I’ve, you know, after maybe three pitches, someone from one of our little affiliate firms sent me a really cool pitch and I jumped on it quickly. So you know, don’t give up, don’t take it personally, would be probably a good, good piece of advice. But yeah, simplicity I think and being just like, kind of bullet point about what you’re offering and how it might be relevant to the reporter.
CB: Yeah, I love that. That’s great insight. You know, building relationships, understanding the beat and then being concise with what you’re offering. I think that makes a lot of sense.
AK: It definitely, it it did like, it made me much more I I will, doing that little roundtable, my Editor-in-Chief put it together, but doing that virtual roundtable and Meet and Greet introduction thing really did, um like it helped a lot. You know, like even just watching some people write down my name and what I like to cover, that does make me a lot more, like when I see your name in my inbox, I’ll pay attention to it. You won’t be wanting to know. Right. So doing that little extra step in my opinion does help.
CB: Yeah, that’s that’s great insight. Um. What’s the most interesting hot take or opinion that you’ve heard about the industry or tech lately from a spokesperson?
AK: Oh, my God. A hot take? Um.
CB: Ha ha ha ha.
AK: Oh, um, let me think. I don’t know I might have to, might have to get back to you on that. That’s that’s kind of like asking me, what’s your favorite movie? You never know in the moment, but-
CB: I know it changes.
AK: Alright, but, um, I don’t know. A hot take. I think that it was either NIST or CISA, they wrote, my coworker covered this, and she did such a good job with it. Mariam Baksh, she got an exclusive about um the federal um federal regulatory um opinion to consider biomanufacturing and um space, right, digital networks in both of those fields to be critical infrastructure and to be subject to all of the cybersecurity um protocols and defense measures other industries are getting. Um, and I’d I don’t know if you’d call that a hot take. But it isn’t policy. It’s more of a proposed, hey, I think this should happen from-
AK: The regulatory body. And it caught everyone’s attention. Um, and I think that uh, you know, that is kind of something that a lot of professionals we’ve heard talking about for a while. Um, space/satellite hacking, that kind of thing, but to incorporate biotechnology, biomanufacturing in there as well. I mean, it really, everyone did pay attention to that. So, I would call that a hot take. I guess.
CB: Yeah, I think, no I think that’s absolutely a hot take, and something that people are paying attention to and a little bit different.
AK: Right. And, um, and I I alluded to that in like a previous question, what am I going to be working on in 2023? I mean, I’m paying attention to that. So yeah.
AK: Ultimate, ultimate hot take. Reporters are paying attention now.
CB: Definitely. Um, and then before we wrap up, what are some things that you’re maybe interested in outside of work that people wouldn’t know about you?
AK: Oh, I cannot tell any. Like, why would I tell you that?
CB: Ha ha ha.
AK: I want a career, Christine. Um.
CB: Ha ha ha ha.
AK: Um, no, I actually, I’m based in South Carolina right now. And um it’s like a second home to me.
CB: Oh cool.
AK: The low country. I really love water activities. And I like being by the water, which again like this is very banal, like, I’m not gonna actually give you anything fun or cool, but-
CB: Ha ha ha ha.
AK: Uh, no, but I I yeah, I’ve been in the water a lot lately. I don’t know when I’m not. If I don’t get back to an email, it’s because I’m just not at my desk like um-
AK: But yeah.
CB: I mean it’s cold and it’s cold and dark up here in the DC area. So-
AK: I have a wet suit like it’s still a bit chilly here, you know, but I I kind of appreciate it. I I spend time in the tropics as well. And, you know, you do miss seasons. Like, you really-
AK: Um it’s, I don’t know, it’s good for good for you to watch the change in nature. But, oh my God, I hope you edit that out. Oh, my God, like, seem like I’m, I’m completely, I sound insane like-
CB: No, I like it.
AK: Ha ha ha ha.
CB: Hey, that’s a very valid point. I think it is good to have different seasons, different perspectives. Absolutely. That’s, that’s great.
AK: That’s a hot take. You wanted a hot take. That’s a hot take.
CB: I agree. I’m originally from New England. And yeah, it was all about the seasons, you know.
AK: Oh ay ay ay. But um, but yeah. I mean, a good a good part of my work right now, you know, is um, the remote thing has actually been pretty revolutionary. And it’s really touched a lot of how journalists, everyone in DC, is working. I came home for a while, and I gotta tell you, like not a lot changed. I really didn’t have too many in-person events to go to.
AK: I probably should like be, and I will be, I plan on being around a little bit more and like next fall, and into the 2023 spring. But, um, I I do appreciate a lot of the livability that remote work can offer. I don’t know if you feel the same way. But you know.
CB: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I think there was an increase of in-person networking events and activities this year. And, it definitely brought about a different feeling of fatigue that I wasn’t ready for. So, it’s, I was like, oh man, I have to go to a networking event. I’m exhausted from driving and commuting and all that stuff. So, I absolutely agree that remote work brought a a lot of different options for flexibility and work life balance.
AK: Oh my god. The um, yeah, the like the commuting alone. Oh, my God.
CB: Oh yeah.
AK: Spare me. Oh, um but yeah, any any other anything you’d like to ask any more questions?
CB: I think that was it. Anything else that Nextgov has on the horizon for the next year, in terms of events or multimedia or anything that that publication is working toward?
AK: Yeah, I saw that question. And I think I’m gonna I’m gonna get in trouble because I don’t know. Oh, actually, I do know I do. I’m like, not on the event side too much. And to be honest, my, my head really has been in the sand um about that kind of thing. I I really I want everyone to like, leave me alone. And don’t interview me. I want to write. Leave me alone.
AK: But actually, on Friday, we’re going to close out our podcast for the time being and do a nice little reporter roundtable, which will go, um, similarly to this, and so anyone listening, tune in on, I mean, we’re doing it on Friday, it’ll probably be available like mid next week. But that is coming up. And we’re just pretty much gonna talk about 2023 I think. We might do a little bit of a retrospective. But yeah, we’re, um, yeah, we’re gonna we’re we’re gonna do a little bit of chatting before we wind down, but we have, we always have a ton of events, um, coming down the pipeline. And again, I’m not on the event side. I’m sorry. But uh just, you know, keep reading everybody.
AK: I appreciate it.
CB: I think that roundtable sounds really interesting and informative. So I think we’ll encourage everyone to listen into that.
AK: Oh, great, great. I I’ll actually I’ll like think of um hot takes for everyone. I’ll like, if we get if we get a good chunk of people and not just my parents listening.
CB: I love it. That’s great. Well, Alexandra, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. Really appreciate it.
AK: Thank you.
CB: Looking forward to hear more about the things that you’re covering.
AK: Yeah, I’m I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for reaching out, and I will be in touch. See you later.
CB: Yeah, thanks for everyone who tuned into this episode of Inside the Media Minds. Thank you.
CB: Thank you for joining us on today’s episode of Inside the Media Minds. To learn more about our podcast and hear all of our episodes, please visit us at W2Comm.com/podcast and follow us on Twitter at Media Minds Show, and you can subscribe anywhere podcasts are found.