In this episode of Inside the Media Minds, our host Christine Blake sat down with Jessie Bur, Managing Editor at Nextgov.
Jessie joined Nextgov in January 2022, but has been covering the FedTech space for about seven years. Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area with a dad who worked in computer science meant that Jessie was accustomed to technology talk at the dinner table, and she knew it would be fitting to eventually cover the intersection of technology and government.
As Managing Editor at Nextgov, Jessie oversees the progress her team makes on various projects such as editing articles, tracking stories among Nextgov‘s sister publications to avoid overlap and fielding contributed columns. She notes that Nextgov’s focus is different from other publications in the FedTech space for its fascination with “the new, the upcoming and the weird” as it relates to how technology is used.
Jessie shares more insights about how Nextgov adapted to GovExec’s recent consolidation of publications, emerging topics like AI and quantum computing, what may be on the horizon in the next few years and how to craft an attention-grabbing pitch for editors.
Listen to the full episode or read the transcript to hear more about:
- Nextgov’s target audience
- The advantages of coordinating with Nextgov’s sister publications
- Jessie’s fascination with space and opportunity to work with NASA
- How to be prepared for Nextgov’s editorial interests in 2023
- Jessie’s love for fantasy-perspective novels and sewing her own clothing
0:20 – Jessie’s background in the FedTech space
1:55 – Day-to-day as Managing Editor at Nextgov
2:55 – Why Nextgov is different from other publications
3:33 – Defining and targeting Nextgov’s audience
4:30 – Vision for the future of Nextgov
6:53 – The most memorable topic Jessie covered
10:44 – Tech and government topics on the horizon
13:30 – Advice for pitching Nextgov
18:50 – Preparing for Nextgov’s editorial interests in 2023
20:30 – Jessie’s interests outside of work
Missed an episode and want to catch up? Check out the full repository of Inside the Media Minds 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.
Hey everyone, this is Christine Blake and the host of inside the media minds. And I am joined today by Jesse Bur, Managing Editor at Nexgov. Welcome, Jessie.
Jessie Bur (JB): Thank you so much for having me.
CB: Yeah. Thanks for coming on. I’m excited to talk to you today.
JB: Yeah, same.
CB: Let’s go ahead and get started with a quick overview of your background. I know you’ve written, you know, in this space for a little while, and then recently joined Nextgov. So, we’d love to kind of hear about your role and your background.
JB: Yeah, so I’ve been covering the federal technology space for about seven years now. And I joined Nextgov in January of this year, so almost a year there. I originally and I majored in journalism, and my first job out of college was editing a book about data analytics. And so I knew I wanted to cover government, you know, I’m from the DC area, so that was kind of always top of mind to me. And my dad is actually, you know, he’s in computer science so I grew up with technology talk at the dinner table. So it just felt kind of like a natural fit to go into covering government technology. And that’s pretty much been my career so far.
CB: Well, that’s interesting. Often we hear, you know, from media that just kind of end up there by accident almost, and that sounds like it was sort of part of your life even beforehand. So that’s, that’s interesting.
JB: And even like, I think there is an element of accidental, to, to almost any person’s development of their beat. But when you look back, you kind of see the building blocks that enabled you to be a good journalist on a particular topic.
CB: Yeah, that makes sense. Tell us a little bit about your role at Nextgov. As a managing editor, what does that look like on a day-to-day basis?
JB: So, a lot of my job is making sure that all the things that we said we were gonna get done, get done in a particular day. So that’s everything from editing stories that reporters submit to kind of keeping track of which stories we’re covering in comparison to our sister publications. Nextgov is owned by Government Executive Media Group. And so, Government Executive, Federal Computer Week and a couple of other publications, we’re all part of the same organization. And so there’s a lot of coordinating to make sure that we’re not overlapping or that we’re sharing resources and talking with each other about important topics. And then also some of the stuff like fielding contributed columns and working on any of the eBooks and such that we publish on the website.
CB: Okay, that sounds interesting. So how do you sort of explain how Nextgov is different than other publications in this space?
JB: I think next Nextgov’s biggest thing is that we’re always fascinated by the new, the upcoming, the weird. Anytime that we get the opportunity to write about technology that people maybe have never heard of, or they have heard of it, but it’s being used in a really unusual way. That’s going to be our sweet spot and some of our favorite areas to cover.
CB: Okay, and then how do you define the audience for Nextgov and how do you sort of make sure that the articles and the coverages are written for that specific audience in mind?
JB: Yeah, so I would say that a majority of our audience are going to be at a government employees or contractors that are working for the government. And a lot of sort of the sweet spot of what we’re looking for are things that would be of interest to a Chief Data Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, some of the people that are leading those unusual or interesting projects in government, or may be the acquisition people that are looking for information about what kinds of technology options they maybe should be looking into or pursuing or what their colleagues at other agencies have been doing.
CB: Hmm, yeah, no, that makes sense. I know in the past, geez, year or so there’s been a lot of combining and consolidating Public Sector 360, you know, Gov Exec acquiring 1105 Media, things of that nature. Now that the dust has sort of settled with each media brand vertical, getting its renewed footing, what do you sort of envision for the future of Nextgov kind of looking ahead?
JB: I think that and you’re right, we’ve we’ve now kind of gotten to the point where the dust has settled and we’re on sort of a standard footing for how we interact with each other. And I think that the real promise that that holds for the future is enabling us to not get buried under the day-to-day news. And, and just trying to like keep up with everything that’s happening, and instead getting an opportunity to say, okay, there’s a hearing about FedRAMP, let’s say, and maybe FCW’s perspective might be on the the status of the program and what members of Congress are wanting the program to be. And Nextgov’s perspective might have something more on, like how is FedRAMP addressing new cloud capabilities that don’t necessarily fit into the normal understanding of what FedRAMP originally started looking at.
So, I think that having all these different publications together gives us a lot of resources to be able to work with each other, to be able to almost provide conversations with each other, so that our readers have a really comprehensive basis for understanding all of these different topics.
CB: But that’s a definitely a good perspective. Because I mean, there’s a select number of publications covering similar topic areas, right. So it’s important to kind of differentiate what those look like and that perspective looks like.
JB: Exactly. And also, I think that it evolves with each new reporter that we bring on. I think everyone is going to have their passion projects and the things that they either already have expertise in or really want to develop expertise. And that certainly impacts what the coverage of the publication is going to look like.
CB: Sure. And then as someone who’s been in the government technology space for a little bit what has been one of like your favorite topics or most memorable topics to cover or, you know, that you were a part of.
JB: So, we recently did our own podcast, and the topic for the most recent couple of episodes was space. And I actually worked at the Udvar-Hazey Air and Space Museum back in high school and the beginning.
CB: Oh cool!
JB: Yeah, I did. They have, they have an education program there that basically has these carts that teach scientific principles to kids who are at the museum. And so I’d been doing that for years, and I just have this like deep love of all things space. And I got to interview a couple of guys from NASA who were doing or talking about the ways that technology from space has sort of infiltrated the common products that people use every day. And for me, it was just hitting the right spot of me getting to nerd out and and talk to some people who are doing very cool things at an agency that I’ve always been really excited to interact with and learn about. And, unabashedly be excited about all the things that space has done in the world.
I think that of course, every journalist is going to have their, ‘this was my big story that had this huge impact and I uncovered all of this information that was you know, a secret or that nobody knew about’ and those are absolutely critical to our job. But it’s also really, really nice to have those moments where you get to talk to people who love what they do, who are doing really cool things. And you just get to be a part of discovering that and sharing that with other people.
CB: Yeah, that’s amazing. And it’s really cool to cover topics that you’re passionate about and talk to those people and really kind of help shape that it’s really cool.
JB: Yes. Especially too, because it gives me an opportunity to almost like let go of all of the professional stresses in an interview because my natural inclination to just want to ask all the questions because I think the topic is cool is what makes the information come out on its own.
CB: Yeah, and that’s so like super genuine, right? It’s like I’m interested about this topic. You know, and I know in this, in the government technology space, some of the topics are so niche and wonky and can be not as interesting as something like talking to NASA. But, you know.
JB: I think things are more interesting than people give them credit for. You’re always gonna have the very, very dry technical stuff in the government tech space. That’s just sort of part of the beast. But I think that more technologies have a shiny, cool aspect to them than people realize, and it’s all about finding the right person who knows about that stuff, who is themselves excited about it to let that color our understanding of the topic.
CB: Yeah, that’s a good point. Because sometimes you can get a spokesperson or a resource who’s super passionate and just knows everything about it. And it’s definitely transformative and that can come through an interview article. So yeah, that definitely makes sense.
JB: Yeah, my favorite moment in interview is if an interviewee says, “Oh, I’m sorry, if this is too much. I’m just very excited about the topic.” Because that, then I’m gonna say, “No, it’s not too much. Give me everything.”
CB: Yeah, keep going, right? That’s great. I love that too. And kind of looking ahead, I know we’re recording this on the last day of the fiscal year, September 30. But curious what’s on the horizon for some core media, core topics for Nextgov like things that you’re looking at the publication to cover, big things in the government technology space the next couple of quarters.
JB: Very interesting to see how quantum computing shakes out. I think that might not even be the next couple of quarters, that’s going to be several years before we really have true quantum technology. But it almost seems like a magic premise because it’s ones and zeros, but also everything in between, at the same time. And I can barely wrap my brain around the physics of that. And so the people who have done so and then are also working to develop quantum computers and make them a reality just fascinates me. And I’m really interested to see where that’s going to go.
I also think the evolution of artificial intelligence. A lot of people when they hear artificial intelligence, they kind of automatically think of Skynet and the sort of self-aware technology and from my understanding, we’re not really anywhere near that level of AI. But figuring out how to teach technology and the fact that I know there are some scientists who are trying to use like psychology principles to try to teach AI because you’re treating it like almost like an infant that you’re teaching to be a person.
JB: So those in terms of like the cool technology space. I think in terms of governments specifically, I’m interested to see how much staying power the investment in certain IT movements has in Congress, because I think a lot of agencies’ ability to invest in things can be dependent on how much of an appetite Congress has to keep spending money on it. And so, figuring out how how that intersection is going to shake out, you know, if we get any new members of Congress in the upcoming election who are particularly tech-focused people and what their priorities are going to be, that’s certainly a big thought for next year.
CB: Okay, that’s interesting. I’m sure you get a lot of pitches from whether it’s PR professionals or vendors or, you know, people of that nature, who are trying to get conversation included in some of your coverage at Nextgov. I guess, what is some of your advice for those people? And also, how do you kind of look for your resources and people to interview about some of these topics?
JB: Yeah, so I would say that I get, because I manage our submissions inbox, I get dozens, if not hundreds of emails a day from entirely irrelevant sources. Someone who wants me to review a toaster oven or I think I get a bunch of them that are about like business management classes or whatever. And so, for me, the important thing is making it really obvious from the get-go, that you are intentionally talking to me, that you’ve done your research, you know what Nextgov is, what kind of stuff we tend to publish, and that you have a really clear and concise statement of like what it is you’re trying to talk to me about.
So you know, something that says like, “Op Ed pitch, Zero Trust” and maybe like, a quick blurb of like, what sort of the approach to zero trust is too because I think that, you know, anytime there’s a big White House initiative or news item, everyone wants to submit something that’s kind of the generic on that thing or their perspective on the White House’s approach. And that’s great for one or two pieces. And then eventually, like, I have to say no, because I can’t run the same piece just from a different person over and over again. So, I’m always really drawn to people who have kind of a unique take or really specific take. Or they might say, like, “Hey, the White House put out this executive order about x.” And that’s great. Here’s a consideration that agencies might run into several months or a year down the road that they might want to prepare for in advance.” And that kind of gives us a unique perspective, it also differentiates that particular submission from anything else that we’re going to be getting.
In terms of sourcing, so most of that is going to end up getting forwarded out to the reporters, I don’t do a ton of reporting myself these days. But I do think that even on top of having some executive or former government official or whomever that wants to comment on the news of the day, sometimes it’s helpful too to say, “Hey, I have this person here, this is their contact information, here’s like a little bit of their bio, and the specific topics that they feel like they are really expert in and have a really strong voice.” And if I have that sort of source card, almost, I could push that to a relevant reporter and say, “Hey, next time, you’ve got a story about this, and you’re looking for an additional perspective, here’s a resource.”
CB: That’s really good insight because I’m sure as much as you, you know, love to cover toaster ovens and these broad topic. It’s, you know, essential to be specific. And it kind of makes me think about one of the other questions I was going to ask about how companies should differentiate themselves in a crowded space and it sounds like it may be just that, to be like, specific about, you know, these topic areas and your perspective and what you actually think about them and kind of more specific thought leadership instead of just a blanket, you know, blanket commentary on a general topic right now in the media.
JB: Yeah, and I was actually, I was joking with someone yesterday. We’d been talking about recipes that we wanted to try because we both enjoy cooking. And I was like, if you want to lie to me and pretend that you have a recipe, but actually there’s a pitch in there, that’s fine. That will, that will at the very least get my attention within my inbox, make my life easier in terms of just making sure that I see a particular person’s pitch who I know knows who I am and has talked to me. And it’s kind of a funny, silly way that we can interpersonally make sure that we’re doing our jobs.
CB: Yeah, that’s, that’s true. And I think it’s all about that building rapport and trust and mutual, you know, relationships that can benefit each other in this type of environment, so yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. And definitely, really good insight and advice on that. Let’s see. A couple others here, just is there any way that listeners can best prepare for your editorial interest over the next year ahead?
JB: So, I know that we are currently working on finalizing kind of our editorial calendar and our plans for next year. But also, that’s I think, with any element of news, there’s certainly some guesswork in that because obviously, we don’t know what the news is going to be one year out. If we did, they’d pay us a lot more money.
So, I think there’s a lot of good to be had in just sort of prep work, having those conversations early and saying like, “Hey, I’m aware that there isn’t news about this particular topic right now and we’re not expecting you to just interview us and write something about our perspective without any news hook. But we want to sort of make you aware that we have interest in either submitting an op-ed about this or being a resource about this.” And let’s do some of that baseline prep work in advance so that when the news item does happen, it’s a lot faster to say, “Oh, remember that thing? Here you go.” Because obviously news happens at a very fast pace. And so, the more steps you can cut out the better.
CB: Yeah, nope, that definitely makes a lot of sense as well. And then let’s see, before we wrap up, just another kind of fun question for you. I know we talked earlier about cooking and recipes. And I also noticed on your Twitter bio that you’re an avid reader. What books you’re reading right now, if you don’t mind sharing.
JB: Right now, I am listening to “Bable” by R.F. Kuang, which is sort of a 19th century fantasy perspective on colonialism and academia and the ways that usually, European academia has taken advantage of the knowledge and expertise of communities that it has colonized. So still pretty early in the book, but it’s really interesting so far. I’m generally a big fantasy person and so I love when my fantasy can also tell me something about the world that I’m living in.
CB: Wow, that’s interesting. Anything else? You know, outside of work and your your role at NextGov that you like, enjoy doing that our listeners maybe don’t know about you?
JB: I’ve been sewing a lot of my own clothes lately.
CB: Oh, wow. That’s cool.
JB: Yeah, I over the pandemic, just like happened to start watching a bunch of YouTube creators who are dress historians, and them talking about the different ways that people dressed, why they dress that way, why and how close were constructed in the past. And it coincided with my mom getting a new sewing machine and me being able to steal her old one. And just because we were home all the time, it took me on this adventure of learning how to make clothes and what kind of fabrics are best for certain applications and most sustainable and all that. And it’s been a really fun passion project over the last couple of years.
CB: Yeah, sounds like it. What a cool hobby. That’s so interesting. I love that.
CB: Great. Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, Jessie, and learning more about your role at Nextgov and some good insight for our listeners about what Nextgov is covering in this space and how to work best with you and your team. Anything else? Any last comments to share or anything?
JB: I think covered pretty much all the details. But thank you for talking to me and getting to the heart of sort of what we do at Nextgov.
CB: Yeah, no, thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it. And if you’re listening, thanks for tuning in. This has been Christine Blake, the host of Inside the Media Minds.
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