On this week’s episode of Inside the Media Minds, our host Christine Blake spoke with Chris Teale, Staff Reporter at GCN covering state & local government technology.
Chris has been in journalism for about as long as he has lived in the United States – almost a decade. What started as a career covering local news for communities outside of Washington, D.C. eventually evolved into a career reporting on technology, first with Industry Dive and now for GCN.
These days, Chris covers cybersecurity and infrastructure, with a personal interest in ransomware attacks as well as the interplay between the federal government’s grant money and how state/local governments will be using it.
Listen to the full podcast or read the transcript to hear more insights from Chris on:
- GCN’s target audience
- The most interesting topics for his readers in 2022
- How government technology has changed over the years
- What makes an irritating vs. an interesting PR pitch
- Chris’ thoughts on the World Cup
0:29 – Overview of Chris’ Background
1:15 – Chris’ Role at GCN
2:29 – How GCN Differs from Other Publications
3:17 – Top Trends Chris Covered in 2022
5:16 – Most Memorable Story at GCN
7:37 – Government Technology’s Evolution
9:25 – Advice for PR pitches
12:33 – What’s On the Horizon for GCN
15:26 – Most Interesting SME Hot Take
17:24 – Cutting Through Cyber Noise for PR
18:48 – Chris’ Current TV Shows
20:40 – More on Government Executive Media Group’s Publications
Curious what other interesting media minds have to say? 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, the host of Inside the Media Minds, and I’m super excited today to be joined by Chris Teale. Chris is a staff reporter for GCN, where he covers state and local government technology. Hey, Chris.
Chris Teale (CT): Hey, Christine. How are you?
CB: Good. Thanks for coming on today. We’re excited to learn more about you and what you cover at GCN.
CT: Yeah, I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
CB: Awesome. Thank you. So, can you give us a quick overview of your background and your role at GCN to start?
CT: Sure, so I’ve been in journalism for, um, nine, nine and a half years now, which is as long as I’ve lived in the US, as you’ll probably note from the accent. Um, I started my journalism career in local news. I was covering some of the communities just outside of Washington, D.C., where I still live, and then moved into the tech space about four years ago now. I covered Smart Cities for Industry Dive, the business journalism publication, and have been covering tech ever since. I went to Morning Consult last year, and then this year, I was moved over to to GCN.
CB: That’s awesome. So, what is your role covering? I was on your page earlier – at GCN you cover everything from cybersecurity to the cloud, even hiring, all kinds of different topics. Give us a quick overview of kind of the main things that you look to cover, and then who your audience is.
CT: Sure, I mean, so for me, personally, I cover as you say, a lot of cybersecurity, ransomware and all that sort of stuff. I also cover a lot of infrastructure, which is broadband, internet, 5G, cloud migration, data centers, and that sort of thing. And then I have a bit of a catch all as well, in that I really like to cover some of the offbeat stuff, things that people don’t necessarily um write about very much. And that’s kind of ad hoc, as and when basis. You know, GCN’s audience is the state and local government IT Manager, essentially, you know, Chief Information Officer, the Chief Information Security Officer, those kinds of roles. So, we always write with with those people in mind when we’re producing articles.
CB: Okay, and then what – and maybe you just said it too – but, I know GCN as part of the GovExec brand. What makes GCN different from other publications in the industry covering a similar space?
CT: Well, other than the fact that they have me, which I think makes them very different.
CB: Of course.
CT: I would say that we’re actually we’re very specific in the terms of the topics that we cover. We only have, I’d say three or four topics in our, in our wheelhouse. You go to some other publications, they’re covering hirings and firings, and all sorts of various things, um you know, within the tech space. We have a very specific lane that we’re in and a very specific audience that we write for. And I think that really makes us stand out and means that we have quite specialized knowledge and expertise.
CB: Absolutely. Um, so, what are, what have been like some of the top topics and trends that you’ve covered so far in 2022 in this space?
CT: I think the biggest topic, the certainly be most interesting to our readers has been the influx of federal money that’s expected to come in. You’ve got a billion dollars coming in from, um, the Department of Homeland Security to help with state and local cybersecurity. And you’ve also got tens of billions of dollars coming down from the federal government to invest in broadband internet deployment as well. Those are things that a lot of our readers are really interested in because who doesn’t want money from the federal government to help advance their goals? Right? So those are two topics that I think will continue to be really interesting to our readers, especially as more information comes out and there’s a whole round of maps due out for further broadband, as we kind of speak. So those are the two topics I think are most interesting to our readers.
Um, beyond that, the big one I’m always interested in is the cybersecurity side of things, the ransomware attacks, um, you know. Just since I’ve been at GCN, since August, and just in that time, you’ve had a rural county in Colorado be attacked and you’ve had the Los Angeles Unified School Districts be attacked. That’s kind of two ends of the spectrum there in terms of density in terms of scale in terms of size, but I think it really shows that people should be still concerned about being hacked by bad actors.
CB: Uh huh. Absolutely. I think we’re gonna be seeing a lot more of that when it comes to critical infrastructure and things of that nature in cybersecurity as we get into 2023. Absolutely. Um, and then I know that, um you know, you’ve had a couple other, as you mentioned, a couple other roles out at Industry Dive and Morning Consult. You know, over the years, and even the past few months at GCN, what has been one of the most memorable stories that you’ve been a part of?
CT: Oh, wow. Looking back over several years, I mean, God there’s been all sorts of things. One that I think about a lot that I wrote for GCN was about Virginia’s effort to rollout broadband internet throughout the entire state. They’re leaning on the electric cooperatives, which back in the 1930s when we were electrifying America were the ones who, who did the work in these kind of fairly remote parts of the country because the the big companies didn’t want to go in there because they couldn’t make a business case. Now, you’re seeing these co-ops do basically the same thing but for broadband internet. They’re the ones going out there and putting fiber in the ground or in the skies or that sort of thing. I find that really interesting. And they say they’re gonna get it done within four years, which is quite the promise to be making. But, you know, who would bet against them given that they have this history of doing it?
CB: Wow. Yeah. No, that’s, that’s definitely an aggressive timeline for something of that nature.
CT: Very. Um it’s not really been done anyway yet in a kind of a big state sense. You know, Virginia, I live in Virginia right now and it’s huge. Blows my mind that they think they can get it done. And, you know, good luck to ‘em.
CB: Yeah, it kind of reminds me of a different topic. But I live in Virginia also and saw all the news this week about the Metro opening in Loudoun County, and everyone said the same thing like, “Oh, this is gonna take forever and ever.” It did take a very long time, but I think some people were surprised that it actually did happen this week.
CT: Oh, I mean, I definitely was. I’ve lived here as I said for, nine and a bit years, and I think the Silver Line has been promised in some form, for you know, far longer than I’ve been around. So no, it’s great to have it as an option now. You know, it just goes to show you you have to be a little bit patient with these things sometimes and they do eventually get done.
CB: Absolutely. Um, so how have you seen technology in the government space evolve over the years?
CT: That’s a really interesting question. I think – and I go back to when I was covering Smart Cities for for Industry Dive – and I go to trade shows and conferences. And it was as if you had all these people looking at all this technology and thinking, “Well, we should have some of this,” and they weren’t really sure what to do with it I think in a lot of ways. They would make these investments in whatever sensors, collect all this data, and then go, “Well, hold on a second, we have all this data. What do we do with it now?” I think what I’ve seen in the past few years, and as the pandemic has only made this more apparent, is that now I think a lot of governments are looking at technology thinking “Yeah, this is great, but how can we do this in such a way that it benefits residents?” You know, “How do we take advantage of all the data that we are collecting and have outcomes, you know, that we want,” which is good, I think. But so that same token – and this is me getting very off piste here – I think the procurement process hasn’t quite evolved as quickly is, one of the things I’m hearing from a lot of people is it’s hard to write an RFP or an RFI for some of this technology still, even as it’s become more and more widespread. So, it says kind of that interesting push and pull going on.
CB: Sure. Yeah, that’s interesting. And then, you know, switching kind of gears to another fun topic is, I’m sure you’ve gotten over the years and even now, to this day, a lot of PR pitches. You know, people trying to get to talk to you to get included in some of your stories, especially with cybersecurity. How do you handle that and what advice would you give to PR professionals or companies trying to talk to you?
CT: Yeah. Look, I have a lot of friends in PR. I have a lot of respect for that particular side of the fence. Nothing irritates me more than when someone emails me and then follows up with a phone call. You don’t, you don’t need to do that. Just email me, I promise I’ve seen it. And if I’m going to respond, I’ll respond I promise. That’s kind of my first thing.
In terms of what do I look for from pitches? I want to, if you’re offering me a conversation with, you know, a client, tell me how they have expertise in a certain area. You know, I’m not going to write about somebody’s startup, I’m just not. My readers aren’t interested in it. In the same way, I’m not going to write about a client who just raised $300 million in a Series A funding round. Yeah, congratulations. But I don’t know that my readers are that interested. What I want to know is, okay, maybe there’s a news hook, maybe there’s a trend that they’re seeing, you know. What can you tell me about it based on your experiences? What kind of expertise can you share? How can we help shape our readers’ understanding of this topic? That’s really what I’m interested in. So yeah, that’s what I’m looking for really.
CB: Yeah, that makes sense. I think it’s important to understand who the audience is that you’re writing for, and, you know, cater that resource to how they solve the problem that your audience is looking to solve. I think that’s kind of what it comes down to, right?
CT: Absolutely. I mean, I had an interesting conversation with my editor last week. And she said, “Look, what we want is for people, for the either state and local IT professionals to read our work and go, ‘I hadn’t thought of that.’” And that’s really stuck with me, because, offer me some insight, offer me some expertise, offer me some things I hadn’t thought about. You know, I’m no expert in this field, despite my demeanor. You know, I want to learn as well. And that’s I think, that’s why I love this kind of journalism is because we’re all just trying to learn and get better.
CB: Absolutely, yeah. I think everyone has to learn as they go, especially in a field like technology where things are always changing, new innovation is constantly happening.
CT: Yeah. Some of the technology things that I’ve seen and that I write about blows my mind. You know, it was a proof of concept a few years ago and now it’s coming to fruition, and it’s, it’s only gonna keep changing and keep growing. And it’s kind of scary sometimes. But, it’s good fun.
CB: Definitely. So, what are some other things that like GCN has on the horizon, maybe looking ahead, the next couple of months or so?
CT: Well, we will continue to do lots of events. We do a lot of webinars at the moment, interviews with interesting people. Um, I’m looking forward to moderating a few more of those. And there’s talk of us, you know, obviously next year is a new year and I’ll be interested to see where we go with that. In terms of my own articles and things like that, I’m going to continue to be interested in the kind of interplay between the federal government and that grant money, and how state and local governments will be using it. The cyber grants, the broadband grants, this is a lot of money that is going to be coming into state and local governments, and I’m really interested in how they will be making use of it to try and make people’s lives better and keep us safe.
CB: Yeah, that’s gonna be really fascinating to follow as that kind of gets worked out and everything.
CT: Yeah, it’s funny, because you see the Notice of Funding Opportunity come through from the federal government, particularly the cyber grants, and you kind of read it, and you think that’s interesting. That could be good. And it’s becoming a reality. And look, by no means is anyone saying that, you know, the billion dollars for cybersecurity is going to solve all the problems in the world. I think they would have wanted a couple of extra zeros on that.
CB: Haha, yeah.
CT: But it’s a start. And so I think it’s an exciting time. This is the first time we’ve had cybersecurity grants for state and local governments from the feds. So, there’s a lot out there to be interested, to be excited for.
CB: Yeah, and I think, as you mentioned earlier, like that spotlight that attackers have on cities, critical infrastructure, smart cities, things like that, its definitely going to be needed, right, as attackers getting more advanced and sophisticated.
CT: Yeah, it’s funny. I got an email a few days ago. Apparently, we’re maybe just past or we’re bringing up the one-year anniversary of that water treatment facility in Florida being hacked. Where that that could have been really dangerous if those attackers had actually achieved their aims. So, and it’s the things that affect us every day. I mean, you know, if if the local power authority gets hacked in Virginia, we’re not gonna be able to finish this Zoom call, or you know, I’m not gonna be able to cook my dinner late. So, it has very real world consequences.
CB: Yeah, it definitely does. And people are starting to realize that more and more and I think, you know, reporting like yours and others helps bring light to that as well.
CT: I mean, I hope so. I try my best.
CB: So, pivoting a bit to some of the listener questions that came in. The first one is what is the most interesting hot take or opinion you’ve heard about, you know, the industry or technology lately from a spokesperson or subject matter expert?
CT: Yeah, this was a really interesting question. And I’ve been mulling it over for a while, and I’m going to stay in the cybersecurity field. Someone said to me recently that the only way that we will see regulations or rules or government mandates on something like this is if something really, really bad happens, and then we have to kind of dig ourselves out of it. And I’m thinking about that for a while, because in some areas, we’re just kind of bumbling along, not really worried about being attacked. And if we do get attacked, then it’s going to force people to go, “Oh, wait a second, we need to strengthen this.” And I thought that was just a really interesting opinion to have. Because it’s always, it’s similar to a lot of things in life, right? I mean, you know, you think you’re gonna be okay. And then something happens. And it turns out that you’re not, and you have to spend money, you know. I could think I’m gonna cross the road just fine and I get hit by a bus, and then I have to spend several thousand dollars on medical expenses. It’s kind of the same principle. And I just found that a really interesting kind of thing to think about in a slightly morbid analogy. I just, I apologize.
CB: No, that definitely makes sense. I think that’s an interesting take.
CT: Yeah, I mean, it’s, yeah, definitely. It will be the same as we continue becoming more interconnected. It’s something that we’ll have to keep thinking about.
CB: Yeah. And then I think we sort of addressed this, I hit one earlier about how you prefer to be pitched. And you said, you know, don’t bother calling, send an email. You’ll most likely read the email and then decide what to do with it. But any other best practices, even when it comes to cutting through some of the noise in the industry, especially in the cybersecurity space right now? It’s a very noisy space.
CT: Yeah, I mean, the advice I always give people is if you’re going to pitch me something, don’t make it too jargony. You know, a quick short subject line that’s to the point and tells you what I need, why I need, why I need to be opening this email. And then I like pitches to be three, four paragraphs long. And you know, not with big run on sentences full of acronyms and this, that and the other. Tell it, tell me. Just just tell me why I need to care about this. Why is this important? And yeah, as I say, save all the buzzwords and the terminology and everything else for uh for somebody else.
CB: That’s great advice. And even just for differentiating companies from each other, you go on some of these websites, and it’s the same kind of words. It’s like, what do you actually do? And how is it different? I think that advice can lend itself to a lot of different scenarios in the space right now.
CT: No, yeah, I mean, we can all cloak ourselves in as much jargon as we want. But yeah, you have to kind of cut away all of that and, you know, be real with me for a second. We’re all human beings. We’re all trying to figure this out.
CB: Uh huh.
CT: Help me out, you know?
CB: Yes. I love that. That’s refreshing. Lastly, what show are you watching right now?
CT: So I’m actually, so I should confess I’m a lunatic soccer fan. As we speak, we’re a few days out from the start of the World Cup and I’m so excited and I have been watching a, it’s a four-part miniseries on Netflix about corruption in FIFA, the world governing body. And it is, it is part soccer story, part, it’s almost like a mob story. You know, these guys are peddling influence and selling votes. And there’s all kinds of skimming off the top, and there’s this whole cast of characters, some of whom I recognize from books and some of whom I hadn’t really run into before. It’s really interesting. And so that’s a big one that I’m thinking about right now.
CB: What’s your, who’s your team?
CT: Yeah, I only really have the England national team. I don’t have a club team. So, but I’m looking forward to the World Cup and seeing how well England will do. I’m kind of crossing everything that we do alright.
CB: Yeah, that’s fun. Love that.
CT: Yeah. So, other than that, I mean, I’m watching like, some fun stuff as well. Welcome to Wrexham is another good one on Hulu. That’s another soccer one.
CT: And, if anyone hasn’t seen The Bear on on Hulu as well, it’s about a a chef who was at a Michelin star restaurant in New York, but then goes back to Chicago to work at his family’s sandwich shop. And it is, I think it was, what is it six or seven episodes? 20-something minutes each. It was so good, and it doesn’t feel scripted. And I just loved it.
CB: That sounds awesome. I love a 20-minute episode. So, I’m down for that.
CT: Yeah. It’s great when you can just digest things like that. It’s good fun.
CB: Exactly. Great. Well, Chris, before we wrap up, anything else that you you want to share?
CT: Um, yeah, I mean, read my newsletters. GCN does newsletters every day. Please subscribe. And please subscribe to the entirety of the Government Executive Media Group’s publications. We have a whole host of them in various fields and various, you know, parts of government journalism. So, it’s a great company to work for. So, I’m I’m really glad to be there.
CB: Yeah, no we are definitely big fans of the Government Executive as well and have had a number of your team members on the podcast as well. So, we always enjoy talking to you all and hearing about the different types of publications that that GovExec has.
CT: Yeah, so there’s a lot of us now. And we’re going to be continuing to add, so it’s a good time to be with the company.
CB: Yeah, that’s amazing. Well, Chris, thank you so much for chatting with me this afternoon. It was great to get to know you more and learn more about the topics that you’re covering at GCN.
CT: Yeah. Thanks, Christine. It was it was a pleasure to join you.
CB: Thanks. And thank you for everyone who tuned in for 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 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.