With a family history of journalistic talent, Colin set forth to pursue a degree in journalism. He closely covered the 2016 Presidential campaign for the AP during his senior year of college, which spurred his interest in government and politics. After college, he worked at the Aiken Standard, the local newspaper for Aikens, South Carolina, where he developed his interest in defense, policy and national security. He now blends those two interests in his reporting at C4ISRNET where he focuses on topic areas such as military IT and software, zero trust, electronic warfare and more.
Outside of journalism, Colin is an avid photographer and integrates his passion for photography and reporting interests whenever an opportunity arises.
Join us for this episode or read the transcript to discover more about Colin’s career including:
- His focus areas C4ISRNET
- How he integrates photography and reporting
- His approach to learning new topics and technologies
- How to best pitch Colin (Hint: Twitter or Text)
- Approaching social media as a reporter
- How C4ISRNET works with its sister publications
- Colin’s love of his “Dog”taughers, Formula 1 and video games
0:44 – Colin’s Career Journey
2:20- Colin’s Current Position
3:43- Photography in the Field
4:50 – C4ISRNET’s Audience
6:12 – Most Memorable Story
7:21- Key Topics of Focus
9:26 – Evolution of Government Technology
10:57 – Learning New Topics
12:37 – How To Pitch Colin
14:35- Social Media & Reporters
16:04 – C4ISRNET Differentiators
18:19 – Industry Hot Takes
19:58 – Colin Outside of Work
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Christine Blake (Christine): 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 today I am joined by Colin Demarest, reporter at C4ISRNET and Defense News. Hey there, Colin. So great to have you.
Colin Demarest (Colin): Hey, thanks for having me. Hope you’re doing well.
Christine: Yeah, so great to have you on the podcast today. We’re excited to learn more about you and your role. So, I know you have an extensive background in journalism, reporting both on military and government topics. How did you get into this industry and what keeps you engaged?
Colin: So, I like to think I got into journalism just because I liked writing and photography. Um, I’ve been doing it for a while since I was kid, since I was a kid. Um, both of them writing photography. And they pair nicely, I think. My grandfather on my dad’s side was a senior writer at Time Magazine and an editor at Playboy in the 1970s. So, my dad always told me talent, skipped a generation, so it skipped him and landed on me, so maybe that has something to do with it.
Christine: Haha, oh no!
Colin: But I went to I went to, I went to college in South Carolina. I think my interest in government and politics and that sort of field stemmed from covering the the 2016 presidential election, my senior year of college and South Carolina, is known as sort of the first in the south. So that a lot of a lot of the presidential contenders come down and really spend a lot of time in the Palmetto State, so I got a lot of access and, and practice back then. And then my my interest in defense and policy and national security and that sort of stuff, I think is an outgrowth of my time that I spent working at my last job in South Carolina, which was at the Aiken Standard, where I sort of stumbled my way into covering nuclear weapons development and Cold War cleanup in the Department of Energy, um, more broadly for about four and a half years.
Christine: Okay, interesting. Cool. And then what is your role now at C4ISRNET and Defense News? And what are the some of the key topics that you cover?
Colin: So, you introduced me as a reporter. And I think that’s like the cleanest way to really say my title or what I do because I cover a lot. The only other quick way to describe what I do is I’m a networks reporter. And that kind of encompasses everything from military IT and software to zero trust and electronic warfare and some AI here and there. So I, I do I do a lot. But it all kind of ends up in that network area. The other way of looking at is the Joint All-Domain Command and Control reporter, JADC2 to it’s the big buzzword that’s out there right now. But explaining that kind of opens up a whole other kind of needed explanation. So, I write a lot about connectivity in the military, protecting that connectivity, and what companies or the defense industrial base is providing to increase that connectivity on the battlefield, in the future.
And then, as almost a small asterisk, I’m a, I’m also photographer when and where it’s needed. Um, I minored in that in college, and I’ve done that professionally for years now. But defense reporting, defense technology reporting doesn’t really have a lot of room for photography. So, when when I can get I’ll I will always try to do it.
Christine: Okay, that’s, that’s really cool. What have been some of, like um, some memorable photographs that you’ve taken, I’ve been like, relevant for some of your stories?
Colin: So, I think, um, I did a lot of local news in years past and so that that provides you a lot of chances for photography, especially breaking news and politics. And that is always fun to me going and shooting political rallies, or seeing firefighters or police in action. That stuff is always really exciting to photograph because you don’t really know what you’re walking into necessarily. And then there’s some, there’s always a little hit of adrenaline when, when something big happens or when you’re photographing, you know, a really important person like I’ve photographed the Vice President, the President, senators, all sort of people and it’s always fun, no matter no matter where that setting is.
Christine: Yeah, that’s really cool, actually. Um, the you know, the topics that you mentioned, you write about it’s very niche and somewhat technical. How do you define the audience that you write for?
Colin: So, at the, at the heart of it, I think are people who really have a stake in the business of defense. And I think that includes officials at the Pentagon, military leadership, defense contractors, lawmakers, their staff, lawyers, and maybe even lobbyists. But we also try to strike a balance between insider and outsider there. So you can you can write something and respect the super technical, very proficient people working in the Pentagon or the subject matter experts on electronic warfare, but you still have to explain maybe to like my mom when she clicks the article…
Colin: …she has to under-, I try to make sure I write to make sure she can understand it, too.
Christine: That’s a good, that’s a really good point. Yeah, you want to make it accessible for everyone, but also catering to that very specific audience at the same time.
Colin: Exactly. Yeah. And that’s, that’s a that’s a tough balance to strike. Um, I’ve been in this job – February will be a year. And I think I get better at it each day, but it’s certainly no easy task.
Christine: Yeah, I’m sure. And I asked her a bit ago about a memorable photograph that you’ve taken. But the same question goes for an article or story that you’ve written…[Inaudible}…one memorable story that you’ve been a part of?
Colin: So, at my last job at the Aiken Standard, I followed this story for years, honestly. It was regarding the the storage of plutonium at a Department of Energy site known as the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. And it was a years long saga, I kind of came on to the tail end of it, but basically, I got a scoop that the federal government and the state would, we’re going to reach a $600 billion settlement on that storage. And the federal government’s plan to remove that plutonium, which is used for nuclear weapons from the state. And that was, I think that was my biggest hit I’m, I’m super proud of it. And to this day, I still brag about it to anyone who asks.
Christine: Yeah, that sounds really interesting. That’s something that you don’t always have to, you know, obviously cover and hear about that often. So definitely a really interesting take.
Christine: What have been some of like, the key topics that you looked at covering so far this year, since you started there?
Colin: So, um, I personally have taken a really big interest in electronic warfare, um, and just kind of communications and conductivity in general. I think that’s partly because of what’s happening in Ukraine and in Eastern Europe, there’s a lot of focus on protected communications, making sure the right info gets to the right person, how to get that right info to the right person. And the sort of artificial intelligence as well as has really sorry, that’s my dog one second.
Christine: All good, we can’t actually hear him, so that’s okay. [laughs] It’s not working from home if… [laughs]
Colin: [Laughs] Yeah, I was gonna say you can’t you can’t work from home without being interrupted a lot by two dogs. But yeah, as I was saying artificial intelligence, electronic warfare and kind of communications in general has has really piqued my interest. And I’m trying to write more about those three, um, as much as I can.
Christine: Mm hmm. Do you see those three remaining kind of big, hot topics as we get into 2023 here?
Colin: I think so. And maybe that’s, you know, selfish coming from me because that’s what I’m interested in. But with with the with the with DoD, really pushing, Joint All-Domain Command and Control, that really kind of brings those three topics together, you know, the issue of connectivity connecting everyone across the land, air, sea, space and cyber; the electronic warfare and making sure that you can protect your communications. And then you have artificial intelligence, which will be a critical part of that because the military in general just consumes a ton of data, probably too much data. And to sort through that at a good pace, you need some help from machines and software, so I see both, those three staying around for a while for sure.
Christine: Yeah, definitely. And these are like, I mean, somewhat, we’ve heard about these in the past couple of years, but I’m sure you’ve seen such an evolution of government slash military technology over the years. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how you’ve seen, you know, the industry evolving?
Colin: So, I do have to say sometimes it feels like I’m writing about the same stuff in circles and just kind of repeating myself every week, but then there definitely are those flashes of improvement of serious, big upgrades and we try to write about those upgrades as much as we can. And those changes, I think maybe the most significant is probably coming out of COVID coming out of the pandemic, and that huge shift to remote work, doing everything over Zoom or Teams, sort of like we’re doing right now. I think that was the real massive change. Uh, but more broadly, I guess I was I was born in 1994. So, I grew up, I think, as technology seriously matured. My, my dad was always very computer forward, tech forward. So, I think it’s almost a privilege to have been born when I was. And then to go from I don’t know, my first one was a Motorola Razr. And now I have iPhone Pro Max. So, it’s crazy to see it in that lens as well.
Christine: Yeah, definitely. It’s wild and I think, only going to continue to grow and evolve. I’m sure I’m sure with that, too, like, you have to learn so much about these topics, as you’re covering them. How did you approach that? Is it you know, talking to resources, reading a lot of other things going, how do you approach that, that topic?
Colin: So, when I first took this job, I warned my future bosses that this would have a really steep learning curve and they were totally cool with that, and they’ve been super helpful. But to learn really quickly, and kind of play that catch up to join the rest of this industry, it was reading a lot of competition just to, you know, see what’s interesting; see, see how did people define different things, what is actually important and what might not be. And then in terms of, real, like, in terms of real people resources, I really look for people that can provide context or real world examples or maybe some color that, you know, shows some humanity in these stories that are about software or about IT. There’s always people behind these things, and resources that can explain how something is connected to a bigger issue or sits within a web of ideas. And I don’t like when people take themselves too seriously. I, uh, if, if I’m if I’m reaching out to someone, and they seem way too serious that’s, that’s kind of a turnoff as a journalist.
Christine: And I mean, the topic area enough is pretty serious, right? So, it’s hard…
Colin: You need some levity. Yeah.
Christine: Yeah exactly. That’s so interesting. That’s a good perspective. And one of the listener questions that came in actually is sort of relevant to this topic. How do you prefer to be pitched? And I’m sure you get tons of emails all the time from, you know, people looking to be resources for you, but how do you prefer to be pitched? And do you have any best practices for an organization or PR folks to best work with you?
Colin: Yeah, um, I do get a ton of emails. And I do admit to having a bit of a itchy trigger finger to hitting the delete key. But anyone listening to this, feel free to email me it’s CDemarest@c4isrnet.com. Um, I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me over Twitter, and that’s at @Demarest_Colin, I feel sometimes that people reaching out over Twitter, or if someone finds my cell phone number and they text me or just give me a call, that sometimes feels a lot more personable than just sending an email that might have also gone out to 30 other people. But if, if someone does pitch something via email, I like it when my name is spelled right – there’s one L in my name. And as I joke, that’s the correct way to spell Colin. And I, I don’t like when email pitches are really fluffy. I, I want to know what you’re pitching, why it’s important and how I can call you back if I’m interested. I don’t I don’t need prose or you know, I don’t need I don’t need a an email pitch from Shakespeare, basically.
Christine: Yeah, that’s great insight that, you know, that’s a common thing that we hear a lot is about, like being concise, stay to the point you don’t need a whole bunch of fluff in and [inaudible] in there just kind of get to the point.
Colin: And if your if your topic or your product that you want covered is that interesting and it does garner coverage, that’s when that that sort of fluff and that color can come out. In the in the end and the product story. That’s where I think it should be.
Christine: Mmm hmm, that makes sense. Um, you mentioned Twitter and social media and stuff like that. When we were preparing questions for you, we did look over your Twitter and you’re very active and that’s how you share a lot of your your articles and things. Do you, how do you how do you approach that as a journalist. I know we kind of see varying levels of Twitter activity, depending on the journalist but it seems like you’re pretty active. Do you find it useful?
Colin: So, I I think Twitter is like my one true vise. Some people, some people drink too much some people speed. Some people gamble. I just spend ungodly amounts of time on Twitter. But I think it’s I think it’s useful to one, get people to click on my articles or spread the word about C4 and Defense News. But two, it’s really nice to almost as a less serious networking tool than LinkedIn. I, I’ve met a lot of cool people just through Twitter and a lot of other cool journalists through Twitter. And I’m, I have to partially thank Twitter for this job I’m currently in because I got this job through a recommendation through Twitter through another reporter…
Christine: Oh cool!
Colin: …I knew so I I owe a debt of gratitude to Twitter and I will I will sing its praises as a reporter I think it’s incredibly useful to crowdsource and share your work.
Christine: Yeah, that’s interesting. I love that you actually have um, got, you know, a job referral through it. And that’s really cool.
Christine: Um, you know, looking at publications across the industry, how do you think that C4ISRNET and Defense News…How do how are they different than others and reporting styles?
Colin: I think what sets us apart, and I mentioned this before, is kind of straddling that insider and outsider conundrum, making sure Joe Schmo who clicks a link will be like, “oh, I can completely understand this,” while also making sure you give your due respect to that subject matter expert who has spent 30 years of their life in, let’s say, cybersecurity, and you’re explaining it correctly, and using the right terms and explaining it to the reader correctly.
But also, I think, our flexibility and breadth of coverage without sacrificing depth is really important. So across the company, we have C4, Defense News, Military Times, and its children, like Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times, etc. and we’ll often we’ll often collaborate, which I think really extends our reach and our analysis and context. So I’ve worked often with my colleague, Davis Winkie, he’s with Army Times, we’ve broken a lot of news together and I can bring the tech cyber sort of industry angle. And Davis with Army Times can bring the soldier experience, how this might affect someone that’s deployed. And we can kind of throw those two topics together and come out with a much better story.
Christine: That’s really cool. That’s a really interesting way to look at it. I like that because it just sort of expands the perspectives and it’s caters to different audiences.
Colin: Yeah. And it ends up opening the door to a lot more readers, I think, because you, you might be a mother or father with a son or a daughter in the Army and you’re not necessarily interested in the actual defense industry. But then if you put Davis and I’s work together, um, you you come up with a product that that mother or father might actually be interested in reading and might direct them to read more on the defense industry. So, it’s a win-win. As far as I’m concerned.
Christine: No, that that makes sense. Another listener question is what’s the most interesting hot take or opinion that you’ve heard recently about the industry from a spokesperson?
Colin: Um, I? That’s a good question. And I was I was thinking about this before I hopped on. I’ve heard from a good number of people uh that a lot of the defense tech industry is just kind of bluffing themselves, right? It’s a lot about promotion. It’s a lot about it’s a lot about my product, my product, it’s a, they call it a solution, people call it a solution for it’s, instead of like, a good. And that’s I think that’s been, it’s taken some adjustment on my end because I did a lot of local news, where it was, you know, like politics or crime or something like that. Whereas I think the defense industry is pretty insular and you have to sometimes know the right people to get what you’re getting after. And then, I think another thing is, a hot take I’ve gotten from a spokesperson is off the record, no comment, which I don’t I don’t I don’t really know where to go with that.
Colin: That’s a new one for me. So, I think I think that might be the hottest one.
Christine: Yeah, definitely. How do you approach that when they’re like, Okay, no comment.
Colin: I, I’m just I’ll just, I’ll let the email kind of just sit in my inbox. I, I haven’t come up with a good response to that one yet.
Christine: Oh okay. Yeah. No, that makes sense. There’s not much else you can say it’s like, alright, and nevermind then, that’s it.
Colin: Yeah, exactly.
Christine: Um, so you mentioned that you mentioned your dogs and photography. What else are you interested in and outside of work and reporting something that our listeners wouldn’t know about you?
Colin: So yeah, I spend a lot of time with my two German Shepherds, Piper and Bertie. They, uh, I make a joke that they’re my “dog”ters. I don’t, I don’t have any children. But these two dogs might as well be my children. I play a lot of video games, I don’t think that’s necessarily a secret to the people that know me, but people listening probably don’t know that. And I’ve gotten really into Formula 1 in the last few years, as well as motorsports in general. I’m not a big…I’m not a big football guy. Not a golf guy. Not a not really baseball person at all. But, motorsports has really interested me as of late and it’s been fun to learn a lot about it.
Christine: Yeah, you know, it’s funny, you mentioned that I also recently got into Formula 1 a bit. I think I was watching that Netflix series.
Colin: A lot of people I’ve talked to, it’s because of Drive to Survive.
Christine: Yeah! Which..
Colin: I’m totally cool with that. I mean, it’s cool. I I’m totally here for it. Some people don’t. I’m not just like talking into the wind when I talk about it so other people can be interested in.
Christine: Yeah, I think it did a good job spreading, um, awareness into for the sport and kind of the ins and outs of all the drivers and how it works. So, I too, have followed it a little bit more after watching that.
Colin: It’s fun. It’s fun. It’s also something to do on a Saturday and Sunday morning.
Colin: …it’s, I look forward to it.
Christine: Mmm hmm, definitely. And then anything else interesting that that C4ISRNET or Defense News has on the horizon for the next year or so?
Colin: I think we have a lot of interesting things coming up, but I I don’t want to spoil them. And I, that sounds like that sounds like a complete cop out. But I promise I’m not just bluffing here, but I think we have a lot of cool things coming in the new year. And people will just have to wait and see. I think that’s above my paygrade to spoil them too.
Christine: Okay, that’s exciting. I like the suspense.
Colin: Yeah, we can we can we can leave the listeners with a with a good cliffhanger there.
Christine: I like that. I like it. Well, Colin, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, learned a lot about you and the topics that you’re covering. So, thanks for your time.
Colin: Yes, of course. Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation and hopefully, hopefully the dog interruption wasn’t too obnoxious.
Christine: No, and thank you so much for everyone who tuned into this episode.
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