Media, Darling: Natalia Manzocco

Natalia Manzocco heads up the Homes section and
copy edits at 24 Hours Canada, and writes about fashion and technology for QMI
Agency and Sun Media newspapers. In her “spare time” (a term she uses
extremely loosely) she plays guitar in The Cheap Speakers.

image source: Natalia Manzocco

Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what
other careers were on the horizon?
In grade four, I wrote and designed my own one-page
“newspaper” full of book reviews and handed it out at school. I
probably should have seen this coming, all things considered. 
Things really crystallized in high school, when I learned
that the drummer from Barenaked Ladies (my preteen heroes — I was about as cool
as you might expect) went to Ryerson for radio and television studies. Further
investigation revealed that Ryerson had a well-known journalism program, and
there it was. Thanks, Tyler.
Where would you like to be five years from now?
Surrounded by lifestyle content ’round the clock, working
on putting together a beautiful, engaging and fun product (print, magazine, web
— wherever).
Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Meet lots of people, be nice to them, and expand your
network of contacts. You never know what doors will open. 
Be prepared to go where the opportunities are; I was
lucky enough to find internships and summer jobs that took me to Calgary and
New Brunswick. Let the wind blow you around.
What are your favourite media outlets, not including your
Truth be told, I probably spend
more time reading the exploits of Twitter’s army of wisecracking Torontonians
than any established media source. But I typically go to the Toronto Star for breaking
news, the New York Times for feats of long-form daring, the Globe and Mail for
a little of each of those things, and Refinery29 and The Cut for fashion
content. I also have severe Lucky Magazine problems. If it takes too long to
show up in my mailbox I start twitching.
Best interview you’ve ever had?
Notable sweet, chatty people include Jason Reitman, Josh
Ritter, and Jay Ferguson from Sloan.
I interviewed the drummer from a hardcore band who had
just released his own solo record. He sat reclined on the green room couch with
his feet up and responded to all of my questions like so: Yah. No. Yah. Every
drummer joke I’ve ever heard: validated.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
I’ve been given plenty, but I also have the memory of a
goldfish. Much the stuff that has stuck with me can be found in the lyrics to
Nada Surf’s 2005 album The Weight Is A Gift.
What rule(s) do you live your life by?
Don’t be afraid to take the shot. If you find a door,
give it a wee push and see what happens.
What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
This is just going to end up being a list of pet peeves.
I apologize in advance.
– Please don’t call and follow up on a pitch you sent me
that morning. My focus is so limited (homes, tech, style) that I just may not
be able to utilize the pitch you’ve sent. If I can, though, you’ll certainly be
hearing back from me!
– You don’t really need to put my name on the press
release. Personal touches are great, but I completely understand if you want to
reduce the odds of slipping up on the ol’ copy-paste and calling me Terry or
Steve or, God forbid, Natalie.
– If you’re sending releases and samples in the mail,
please don’t use a box big enough to fit a flat press release into when all
you’re mailing along is a tiny, tiny lipstick. Get a padded envelope. Get rid of
that fancy folder. Anything. I CAN HEAR TREES WEEPING.
Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear
about #wins.
Much of what I do is pretty on-the-fly, so when I send an
email frantically seeking high-res art or a product’s Canadian
availability/MSRP and the rep gets right back to me, I tell you, the angels
sing. I try not to assume that everyone’s at their desk ready to help me out
all of the time, but it’s absolutely marvelous when someone is prepared with
all the necessary info and materials and can get you out of a tight jam.
I hate?
Copy editor hours. Getting to wake up late is pretty
great, but I will unfortunately never be able to attend anyone’s awesome
late-afternoon event. Gotta build me a paper.
I love?
Polka dots, stripes, glittery stuff, Fender guitars with
matching headstocks, Blanche de Chambly, and my cat (who is himself striped).
I still need to finish Grace Coddington’s autobiography,
which I was distracted from a couple weeks ago. The last one before that was
Who I Am by Pete Townshend. Next on deck is The Good Girls Revolt: How theWomen of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich.
Best place on earth?
Zingerman’s deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Dinner guest?
My dad, from whom I inherited all of my foodie
tendencies. I would bring my A and A+ games for that meal.
Novelist/YouTuber John Green, Lena Dunham, Jenna Lyons,
and Electric Six lead singer Dick Valentine. And my mum. And Keith Moon.
Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these
I’m a bit of a beer nerd; lately I’ve been tracking all
the brews I sample through Untappd, which is a fun little social media app that
lets you rate and review beers, check in to wherever you drank them, and earn
badges, Foursquare-style. Thanks to the guys at C’est What for most of the stuff
on my “tried” list. I’ll see you tonight, probably.
Pool or ocean?
Ocean. You can actually sit and hang out by the ocean and
enjoy it without having to actually get in (something I would prefer to avoid).
Pools are significantly less fun to observe.
Voicemail or email?
Email, always.

image source: Natalia Manzocco
“The internet loves cats”

Media, Darling: Bill Harris

Bill Harris is the national TV critic for the Toronto Sun/Sun Media/QMI Agency. Prior to that he was the NBA columnist and Toronto Raptors beat reporter for the Toronto Sun. Before joining the Sun, he worked at three other daily newspapers. He grew up in Cowansville, Que., attended Concordia University in Montreal, and currently lives in Newmarket, Ont., with his wife LeeAnne, their three cats Winston, Darla and Serena, and their horse Dawn.

Twitter: @billharris_tv

Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the

Oui et non. I completed the Communications Studies program at Concordia
University in Montreal, and I figured I’d end up working in TV or radio – not
on air, but doing something behind the scenes, writing, whatever. Turns out the
first place to offer me a job was a newspaper. Funny how that works. But a very
good friend of mine has a theory about “employment natural selection,” meaning,
for the most part, we all end up in jobs that are kind of right for us.

Where would you like to be five years from now?

Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Okay, other than that, I’d say, get into it because you like it, not because
you think it’s your ticket to fame or fortune or even positive reinforcement.
The fringe benefits of being in the media are less and less every year, so make
sure you actually like your job. Otherwise, you know, plumbing school.

What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?, i.e.: what do
you read/listen/watch?

Every day starts with the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star and about 37 cups of coffee (over 40, I get cranky). Due to my job, I obviously watch a lot of TV. But as for things I’d be watching this season even if I weren’t a TV critic, I’d list things like Mad Men, Veep, New Girl, Cougar Town, Modern Family, Suburgatory, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, Community, Revenge, The Vampire Diaries and Nurse Jackie.

Best interview you’ve ever had? Worst?

Best interview I ever had probably was with John Mayer. I’d heard he could be a little difficult, but we had a great chat.
At the end he said, “Could you please make sure to send me a link to the story
you write, because I’d really like to see how this turns out.” Worst interview?
Oh, I definitely have one, but there’s no way I’m saying who it is, just in
case I have to interview them again. (Hint: It’s a “she”.)

Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Something my mom used to say: “Never attribute to malice what can be explained
by incompetence.” Of course, she never took that advice herself. But good words.

What rule(s) do you live your life by?
What am I, the answer man?

What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Media-PR successes are based on relationships. So don’t lie or exaggerate.
Having the ability to talk openly and honestly with a media person will benefit
you a hundred times over, rather than going for the “quick win.”

Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins
This is a hard question, not because there are so few good experiences, but
because there actually are so many. Let’s just say there was the time that
somebody did that thing.

I hate?
New housing developments mowing down every last tree in Southern Ontario. Bye
bye birds, bye bye nature.
I love?
Sitting in the sun, reading, cup of coffee.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, by Daniel Okrent.

Best place on earth?
My backyard.

Dinner guest?
Paul McCartney, Noel Gallagher.

The Beatles, Oasis.

Favourite app, or whatever you are downloading these days.
I have a BlackBerry … sigh … no fun for me.

Pool or ocean?
Resort bar.

Voicemail or email?
Here’s your answer: My office phone number rings somewhere in the building at
the Toronto Sun. I have no idea where. The last time it rang, I think some mice
tried to answer it.

Media, Darling: Rebecca Zamon

Rebecca Zamon is the National Life Editor for Sun Media, assigning and occasionally writing lifestyle content for all of the chain’s papers across the country – which means areas of coverage that span health, fashion, sex, and everything in between. She was previously the editor of’s Lifewise channel, and before that, the Articles Editor at now-shuttered Canadian Home & Country magazine. 

Sun Media
Twitter: @RebZam

How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
By being specific. I know it’s been said on this blog many times before, but if I get a pitch that demonstrates a familiarity with the regular columns and sections that run across Sun Media, it makes my job easier, and easy is good.

It’s not that often that I run stories based entirely on one pitch and/or product, so if the idea can be presented in the context of a larger story, that’s really helpful. As part of a news organization, it’s important to be able to tie things into current events.

Having all of the information at the ready is always appreciated. Companies that have easily accessible FTP or press sites with images and product information are my favourite, but a USB key that comes with the press release or a contact who can get you an image quickly is great in a pinch.

Also, it has to be said that there’s an element of luck when it comes to pitches. It’s unfair but true that sometimes it’s just a matter of the right press release coming in at the right time – to fill a hole in a page, to flesh out a story more fully, and on truly inspired occasions, sparking an idea for a piece in full.

What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
Personality. I know that sounds like an obvious thing in such a people-oriented industry, but if I answer the phone and hear a monotone “Are you the right person to speak to about XYZ?”, it loses my interest right off the bat. Make an effort to be friendly – in general, we’re talking about fun topics, like fashion and food, so it should be easy.

Also, to that end, meeting in person. Whether that means making sure to introduce yourself at a launch, setting up a lunch date to pick my brain about a variety of clients or even just dropping off a press release in person and insisting I come down to get it, that puts a face to the name, and hopefully, creates a camaraderie as well.

There are also some PR folks who I’ve known for years that I can always rely on in a pinch, whether that means a last-minute suggestion for a product, easy access to photos or pointing me in the right direction (even to the competition!) for experts. That’s not something that develops overnight, but if you can build that kind of trust with an editor, it goes a long way.

What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
A big one would be having different people contact me with the same pitch. I know some companies are quite large, but receiving the same e-mail within minutes of each other makes me wonder who the best contact is, fills up my already crowded inbox and makes me want to delete the whole thing.

But probably the worst thing a PR pro can do is be rude. Pitching is not a one-off – it’s something that happens again and again, between the same people, and once I’ve had a negative interaction with someone, I’m less than inclined to work with them again.

Your pet peeve
I know this one’s on everyone’s list, but it really has to be said again – the follow-up phone call that comes about an hour after the e-mail pitch is incredibly annoying. I recognize that this is likely part of a company’s protocol, but it’s also the reason I screen.

One of my colleagues’ voicemail messages goes something like, “If you’re calling about a press release, due to the volume of calls, I cannot answer every one. But  if I’m planning to use your content, I will definitely get in touch with you.” I love this.

Any other thoughts you’d like to add?

There’s a lot to be said for attention to detail. It may sound silly, but I’m appreciative when people remember how to pronounce my last name correctly, or send a little hand-written note with a press release. I know the pitch is often blanketed across a list of similar media types, so being made to feel a bit special goes a long way.

And one super small environmental thing, but not putting big stickers on the bags in which you send those often awesome press releases so that they can be used again? That would be amazing.