Mike kick-started his career back in high school where he was Editor-In-Chief of the school newspaper. Now, with over 20 years of journalism experience under his belt, Mike is the Editor-In-Chief of CyberScoop.
While many people may see cybersecurity as an overwhelming and niche space, Mike embraces the challenge of helping the public better understand the landscape.
In this episode, Mike shares his insights on what drew him into tech reporting, how he likes to be pitched and what’s coming up for CyberScoop in the near future.
Tune into this episode or read the transcript for more from Mike on:
- Mike’s background in tech reporting
- CyberScoop’s hottest topics
- What to avoid when pitching Mike
- CyberScoop’s vision for 2023
- Who is watching White Lotus (Spoiler alert: It’s him!)
0:20 – Mike’s Background
4:48 – But Why Cybersecurity?
7:11 – Mike’s Role at CyberScoop
8:54 – CyberScoop’s Difference Factor
12:53 – Mike’s Most Memorable Story
14:44 – Recap of Standout Stories in 2022
16:40 – How to Get Mike’s Attention
23:34 – Mike Outside the Newsroom
24:29 – On the Horizon for CyberScoop
That’s all (for 2022), folks! Thank you to everyone who listened to Inside The Media Minds this year. Want to catch up on episodes before the new year? 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.
Hi, everyone. This is Christine Blake, the host of Inside the Media Minds. And I’m super excited today to be joined by Mike Farrell, Editor in Chief of CyberScoop. Hey there, Mike.
Mike Farrell (MF): Hi Christine, thanks for having me.
CB: Thank you for coming on. We really appreciate you taking the time. We’re excited to learn more about you and your role at CyberScoop.
MF: Sure, my pleasure.
CB: So you have a very extensive background in journalism. You worked with the Boston Globe, Politico, Passcode. Can you give us a quick overview of your background and what got you into journalism to start with?
MF: Sure. So yeah, I’ve been around. I’m old. And I started out in journalism, like, I mean, dating all the way back to my high school newspaper, where I was the Editor in Chief there.
MF: And studied journalism in grad school at Northwestern. But actually, I’ll back up a little bit before that. So after college, I started working in small newspapers in Virginia; I worked at a tiny newspaper in Emporia, Virginia, on the border of Virginia and North Carolina. Then I moved up the road to Petersburg, Virginia, where I was the local cops and courts reporter for a few years. And then I kind of got tired of doing the local journalism thing, even though it’s very important and I wanted to, I always sort of had this ambition to go report abroad and so I was really intrigued by this journalism program at Northwestern at the Medill School of Journalism, and they had an international program. So, I ended up going there, Chicago, went to Medill for a few years, then when I got out, I went to work at the Christian Science Monitor.
And one of the reasons that I went to work there is because they had a great reputation for international reporting. And I did that for a bit. At the, I was the Middle East editor at The Christian Science Monitor, I did end up going abroad occasionally to, uh, report and but I was primarily an editor for five years before going to San Francisco to be the San Francisco Bureau Chief for The Christian Science Monitor. And this was around the time when, you know, Twitter was just getting going and there’s, you know, a lot of excitement around what was happening in social media. So, that was that was sort of my entrée into tech reporting.
And did that for a bit then came back to Boston, which led me to the Boston Globe, I was the Boston Globe Tech reporter. And I did that for a bit. And then the Christian Science Monitor got back in touch because they were starting up a cybersecurity vertical and asked if I want to come back and run that. And I said, that sounds really exciting. You know, no one was really doing cybersecurity reporting, at least at a mainstream publication in a dedicated way, really. Maybe there were a few reporters, but nothing like we have now. And so that was a real opportunity to cover an emerging field, an emerging beat and run, run sort of a publication within sort of a larger publication. So we did that for a few years, until The Monitor decided to go in a different direction away from sort of verticals and niche publishing, which was, you know, a bit of an experiment for The Christian Science Monitor, which is a very old brand known for global reporting.
And that’s what I went to Politico. And wow, this is getting long. I don’t want to give you my entire résumé.
CB: I love it. It’s evolution.
MF: So anyway, this is evolution everywhere from like, you know, we’re reporting back and the 90s on like city council meetings, and, you know, things like that, to today, which I’m running CyberScoop, which is where I’m the Editor in Chief, and we have a team of cybersecurity reporters. And yeah, that’s, that’s where I’m at now.
CB: Wow. Yeah, quite a journey. So, what do you like about covering cybersecurity and sort of how, why did you end up sticking with that topic and that subject matter?
MF: I mean, it’s a fascinating subject. And not just, it’s not just that it’s really technically very interesting and it’s a difficult challenge and problem that I think that everyone is facing. Everyone is trying to figure out how we navigate and live online, in a secure, safe, private way as much as possible. And so the challenges of how, how we’re evolving, I think, as a society in general and sort of get used to digital lives and is really interesting, right, and it’s something we haven’t quite figured out yet. To strike the right balance between, you know, easy access to, you know, exciting new technology while making it as secure as possible. So, it just seemed like a really interesting challenge. The people within this space are also fascinating. The history, you know, from, you know, from hackers who are working on this issue, in the early days of InfoSec to today, where they become CEOs of, you know, the companies that are on the leading edge of cybersecurity and, you know, also how it has evolved within the government. So there’s just, like, a lot of great stories to be told. But it’s also a quite a, I think there’s a big public service that journalists can play in terms of helping readers, helping the public understand this space because it can feel overwhelming and confusing and opaque and daunting. So hopefully, we can kind of break down some of that, the barriers there and help to help our readers who tend to be, you know, in the space, but we also write for a broader audience, come to terms with some of these big issues.
CB: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, tell us a bit about your role as Editor in Chief, what is your day-to-day look like? I know, we’ve talked to a number of your team members, your reporters, and what a great group and very smart people. So, tell us about more about your role with CyberScoop.
MF: Yeah, it is, it’s a great group of reporters, doing some, I think, some really good work. And so day-to-day, I mean, you know, one of the great things about being in journalism is that every day is a little bit different. Sometimes you’re, you know, you’re planning stories that you’ve been working on for a while, but, you know, then things just come up out of the blue. And you’re in the pacing story. So day-to-day, I mean, you know, we’re, I’m talking to the reporters every day, talking to other colleagues in the newsroom who are covering other things, figuring out what we’re going to write, how we’re going to write it, how what we’re doing is different from our competitors, and just how we can kind of move the story forward. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s a mix of, you know, hands-on editing and also working with reporters to shape stories, but also then planning for what’s next, you know, longer term types of things we’re doing. So, yeah, I mean, and also just, you know, staying, staying on top of, you know, the news, which is, it sometimes feels like, that’s impossible to do. But, you know, just keeping track of everything that’s going on.
CB: You mentioned, you know, differentiating yourself from other competitive publications. How do you see CyberScoop as being different from others?
MF: That is a that’s a good question. That’s something that’s, you know, something we’re always trying to evaluate. Right? You know, and to be completely honest, sometimes it’s not going to be very much, very, there’s not going to be a lot of difference. If you’re, especially if you’re writing on a breaking news topic. What I try to do whenever we’re covering anything that’s a breaking news or a second day story or a piece of analysis is always be forward as forward looking as possible and think about bringing in, you know, possible solutions to big problems, thinking about what’s next, thinking about why things matter, what it means in the bigger picture and what’s the context, so trying to add as much context is really important. And then, I mean, I think, you know, in terms of, you know, where we try to stand out is especially around policy reporting. I mean, we are based in Washington. We have a special focus on what’s going on inside the federal government, you know, what the agencies are doing. So, anytime we can kind of illuminate how the news of the day impacts certain policy decisions or might be influencing policymakers, that’s where I think we we really stand out.
CB: And another thing, I know, you all have CyberWeek that happened this past [October] have had that a couple years now, that’s kind of taken on a life of its own as well with CyberTalks too.
MF: Yeah, CyberWeek and CyberTalks has become quite an institution in Washington. It’s a great chance to not just put on our own event, which is CyberTalks where we bring together, you know, all the key people in the industry and in government and academia who care about this stuff, or a day of, you know, in a really interesting discussion. And within that is CyberWeek, which is a way that we can promote other things that are going on across the cyber ecosystem that are also really interesting and valuable.
CB: How did that event come to be? Like, how did you all think of that idea?
MF: I wish I knew the answer to that. I mean, I know that, you know, cyber. So the CyberTalks sort of grew out of FedTalks. So, our sister publication within the Scoop News Group, is, you know, there’s CyberTalks, there’s FEDTalks, and each publication kind of has its own signature event, if you will. Scoop News Group just launched DefenseScoop, so there’s also DefenseTalks, right? And I think it’s just you know, it’s an evolution of the Scoop News Group events platform. And, I mean, it’s really a way that I think that our publication may also stand out among others, because there is a big focus on bringing together people in person for for live events and conversation.
CB: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a huge differentiator for a publication to be doing something like that and hosting events. So, I think that’s really cool.
MF: Yeah, and especially now, after, you know, so many years of quarantine, lockdown, people sort of staying away. We’ve seen just a lot of people are just eager and excited to come back together and meet and talk in person.
CB: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. So, looking back at a lot of your experience, what do you think has been one of the most memorable stories that you were in or contributed to?
MF: Wow. So as I articulated at the beginning, I’ve been doing this for a bit. And, you know, I’ve covered a lot of tech stories, I’ve covered a lot of non-tech stories, I mean, probably some of the most, more meaningful ones are kind of when you can blend the two. I mean, we, when I was at the Boston Globe, right, it was around, I was covering tech during the time of the Boston bombing. And one of the big storylines there, right, was the way that technology was being used by, you know, investigations, how the role it played and the aftermath of the bombing. So that those are really always very fascinating stories.
But, you know, I think maybe thinking back into the, the early days of reporting, when I was really sort of doing a lot of do leather reporting, knocking on doors, you know, this was before every reporter had access to the internet, before all the stuff was on the internet. But, you know, it just forced you out. To always be talking to your sources. And, you know, I covered some, you know, I covered trials that were not very pleasant, but there was one in particular one where it was a, it was a pretty horrible case, but I ended up following up later with additional stories on the family members and how they were affected. So those are ones that sort of really stuck with me.
CB: Yeah, I can imagine. Then, looking back at this past year – 2022 – what do you think were some of the big standout stories or industry trends were in the cybersecurity space?
MF: I mean, uh, there are a few that are really interesting, and I think will be stories that we’ll be tracking for the years to come. But one is the really interesting storyline involving spyware, which has been getting a lot of attention over the past year, there’s been a lot of really important investigations into its use, and how governments around the world are sort of deploying the surveillance technology to track people and the effects of of that kind of surveillance. And that’s something that’s going to be increasingly important. I, the stories around crypto fraud are also, you know, you know, today, in fact, there was another case that came to light involving a crypto scams and things like that, and it’s going to be coming, that’s going to be an ongoing issue. Of course, the, Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter is, I think, gonna have a profound impact on the security community. We had a great story last week just about what that means for, you know, professionals working in cyber because it has become such a valuable and important communication tool for this community. And, I mean, those are a couple of the big ones that I come to mind.
CB: Yeah, definitely. I think we’ll continue to continue to see a lot of those storylines unfold in 2023, and as the industry continues to evolve.
MF: Yeah, for sure.
CB: Um, and then I know, you probably just see so much in the industry, you know, all kinds of vendors with the next best solution. How do you think companies should differentiate themselves in such a noisy industry right now?
MF: Right. So, you know, the other part of my résumé, which I guess I didn’t mention is I did, I worked for a vendor for a bit. So, I made that step onto the other side and I saw a little bit about how the sausage is made. Which is, you know, revealing and eye-opening, and I think informative. I would say that vendors need to be, um, so that’s, you know, here’s my advice to vendors. One, I would love to see an absolute end to anybody pitching predictions. So for anybody who’s listening to this, like and thinking about what the predictions are for 2023. And if you work in PR, just tell people, no, just say no. It’s not going to work, it’s not going to get coverage. It’s just not interesting.
So, there’s that, because, and the thing is not not to be mean, but or dump on on vendors, and who wants to do this. I mean, I understand the inclination to do it. But these are things that we worry, we already know. And like, the prediction game is just not, never really that interesting. So there’s that.
And ambulance chasing is always bad, right? So that, you know, a major hack happens, we don’t really need to know what that your vendor’s solution is for it. These, these are just, it’s not reporters aren’t going to, are rarely going to cover that. And oftentimes, it’s so hard to respond in a more meaningful way, in a really meaningful way quickly enough to really grab a reporter’s attention.
So, I will say like, I think, you know, forward looking, again, you know, going back to, you know, thinking about what’s coming or what, what are the big issues today, and how, what a vendor is doing an interesting, meaningful way can can really have a have an impact. Those are key things. I think, you know, research is always great. Research that moves the needle and, you know, exposes something interesting or exposes a new threat group or exposes, you know, some bulk piece of vulnerable software or something that’s, that’s new and novel. I think, you know, also the personalities and, you know, are always interesting stories and provide fodder for good profiles. And I would just, you know, think differently about the way you pitch and and don’t don’t spend too much time crafting the perfect, perfect pitch line because it’s really, at the end of the day, it really comes down to like, connecting with journalists, and, you know, being as transparent and honest as possible.
CB: Uh huh. That is fantastic advice on all accounts. That was actually one of the questions too about how do you prefer to be pitched and I think you summed it up really well, that it’s more about making those meaningful connections to resources and companies that are actually, you know, solving problems and not just commenting on the latest attack.
MF: Yeah, and it becomes, I mean, there, there are going to be so many, there are so many attacks, right, there are so many hacks, and you know, journalists’ inboxes just are overwhelmed already. It’s very hard to stand out when you’re sending an email pitch. So I think that the the, there is value, I mean, don’t get me wrong, I mean, you know, as a reporting on the space, and being an editor in this space for a very long time, I see the tremendous value of what vendors do and working within with cybersecurity companies and the researchers there and the people who are working in communications and PR, like, we need that you’re, what you know, right? Because, I mean, that’s what, it’s such valuable information. But I just think you have to, you know, pick, pick when you really want to make an impact, and then, you know, go for that as opposed to trying to just get a large share of voice by flooding the gates.
CB: That makes a lot of sense. It’s great hearing that, that great advice from you. Did you I’m sure. You got
MF: Hopefully, yeah. Hopefully that helps you fight your battles sometimes. Because I know it’s tough. It’s tough.
CB: You know, it’s interesting, you bring up predictions another kind of a hot take we hear from vendors, and also reporters, is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. And someone actually asked for your insight on that, like, have you, what are your thoughts on receiving pitches related to that awareness month? And did you get a lot of that this year? Do you see that sort of calming down of it?
MF: Yeah, I think it’s calmed down a little bit, actually.
MF: For sure, we still get it and it is still a thing. I mean, listen, CyberTalks and, you know, CyberWeek happens in October. It is something that’s the, you know, that, you know, clearly like we, I mean, we wrote a whole story about how during Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the NSA was using all these memes to get attention for what it’s doing in cybersecurity and, um, CISA was doing the same thing. So, you know, it’s something that people do pay attention to, it’s a moment to think about, you know, what’s going on in the industry. Is it overblown? Yes. Does it, does it get a lot of eyerolls from reporters? Yes. But, I do think that we have seen maybe fewer pitches that just don’t, that are sort of, I’m trying to be pleasant. You know, that just aren’t hitting the mark, I guess.
CB: Sure, yeah. That that makes sense. Great insight. Um, and then just a couple more things before we wrap up, just like personal level, what are you interested in outside of work? Or what types of shows are you watching anything to share of that nature?
MF: Well, let’s see. I tried to go I try to bike as much as I can. And I have a family so I’m spending time with them. We have a dog. And shows I’m watching now? Um, we have been walking, we just started White Lotus again, which is nice. And what else? That’s probably about that’s probably the most recent show, new show we started watching.
CB: I just started that myself. I need to catch up though. But um, it’s good so far.
MF: Yeah. That’s great.
CB: Anything else you want to share about what CyberScoop has on the horizon?
MF: Um, yeah, I mean, we are the team is growing. We’ve hired two new reporters recently, Elias Groll and Christian Vasquez. And I think that, you know, there are more things, more exciting things to come. We will be, you know, exploring more multimedia projects. I think that we’re also building up a group of columnists to be doing more commentary and opinions. I think you can expect that to be your really want, we really want to build CyberScoop, which has a great tradition, had so many really good reporters who have come through the doors there, to also be a place for really the smartest opinion and commentary and analysis in cybersecurity. We are looking to launch our own podcast, probably in the first quarter of next year. So look for that. Yeah. And yeah, I guess that those are the highlights.
CB: That’s awesome. Yeah. Sounds like a lot of really exciting stuff. Very cool.
MF: I hope so.
CB: Yeah. Well, Mike, thank you so much for coming on our podcast to tell us more about CyberScoop.
MF: My pleasure.
CB: Your experiences. It’s really great to hear some of those insights from you.
MF: Yeah, my pleasure. Hopefully it was helpful.
CB: Yeah, and for everyone listening thank you so much for tuning into this episode of Inside the Media Minds. Thank you for joining us on today’s episode of Inside the Media Minds. To learn more about our podcasts and hear all of our episodes please visit us at w2comm.com/podcast and follow us on Twitter at @MediaMindsShow and you can subscribe anywhere podcasts are found.