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Freelance Journalist and founder of W Insight, Joanna Socha joins Cognito NY Account Director, Larissa Padden to discuss her career journey, her relationship with PR organizations, and her upcoming book on Gen Y’s relationship with money. Tune into this episode to find out from Joanna how she says PR pros should be approaching freelancers.



Transcript for podcast

Larissa Padden   00:05  
Hello, everyone, welcome to Cogcast, Cognito's podcast where we talk to journalists and media pros on everything that's happening in the world of journalism and PR. I'm Larissa Padden, your host today and a former journalist turned PR professional. Today we have Joanna Socha with us who is a freelance business and finance journalist based in Poland. She is the founder of W Insight, a media platform that features the stories of successful women around the world and she has a book underway about Gen Y's relationship with money. Joanna, welcome and thank you for joining us.

Joanna Socha  00:39  
Thank you so much for having me.
Larissa Padden  00:41  
Of course. Yes so can we start off by having you tell us a little bit about yourself? Some of the topics that you've covered, and perhaps your preferred beat?
Joanna Socha  00:49  
Yeah, as you said, I'm I'm based in Poland, Warsaw, I usually write about potential mergers, acquisitions, and corporate strategy and I also grow a side project, a media platform called W Insight. This is where I feature role models from all over the world talking about their career.
Larissa Padden  01:12 
Strictly out of curiosity, what is the W stand for?
Joanna Socha  01:15  
Larissa Padden  01:15  
Oh, nice. I probably could have guessed that. So you're a Columbia Journalism School grad. I went to New house, but it's okay, we can still be friends. And I wanted to start by asking you what you learned at J school that stuck out and kind of helps you today? I know, we'd all love to say that we remember everything from school, but kind of what are the lessons that help you in your everyday job?
Joanna Socha  01:36  
Yeah, that's a very interesting question. I actually had an amazing advisor for my master's project, which was a hybrid, video hybrid. So I had to prepare a short video, and also written article. And I remember that my professor, he really pushed me to ask more questions. So I was actually working on a short doc about gentrification in Greenpoint, and how gentrification impacts small Polish businesses there, because there used to be a very strong Polish community. And every time I felt, I have the piece ready. He said, "Oh, maybe go there again, and ask more questions, get more quotes." And, you know, it's like it, you kind of don't like it. But then like, in the end, I felt that my story was so much better. So I think generally, what Columbia taught me is that you shouldn't be satisfied with an average, you know, piece of work, you should try to get a better story, you know, in the end.
Larissa Padden  02:50  
Yeah I think it's that young journalism, frustration. And we all have it. I was guilty of it, too, where you think what you've done already is perfect. And yeah, being told to go do more, and then seeing the final project. It's, yeah, sometimes we all need to be pushed.
Joanna Socha  03:03  
And then you're grateful to those people. You know, at first, you're like; 'Why are they making me to do so much work?'
Larissa Padden  03:09  
I know, embarrassingly, I had a project where I, I actually asked to be taken off of it, when it got changed from the original so much that I was like, this isn't for me. And I was pushed to do it by my professor. And then at the end, I actually had to thank them, embarrassingly, because it was better.
Joanna Socha 03:23  
Larissa Padden  03:24  
So you're, you're currently a freelance journalist, which can be a tough road, you know, it's a little more difficult sometimes. But it also gives you freedom. Can you tell us first why you wanted to go down that road, and then tell us a little bit about your process, how you source stories and build those relationships.
Joanna Socha 03:38  
So I wanted to be a freelance journalist, after a few years working for a business magazine, and I really loved that I learned a lot, but just, you know, the fact of working from nine to five every day, it really didn't feel for me, right. And so I started to grow W Insight and sometimes I wanted to meet during the day with the people that I wanted to interview. And so that was tricky with my full-time job. And I really needed that flexibility, you know, so that's why I felt, you know, maybe switching to freelance would help me combine, you know, W Insight with the work that I paid for basically. So and also I thought about, you know, because the magazine that I worked for was quite a small magazine, and it was also behind the paywall, so I was thinking; 'Okay, I'm not really yeah, yeah, my news is not out there available for everyone.' So I was thinking like, I could freelance for different publications and maybe, you know, my name would be also in different media outlets. So that's how it started. And then in terms of sourcing, I'm an extrovert, you know, so I like to go to people a lot. So actually my biggest stories I think I got from the leads for the stories I got, you know, during parties or like events. And yeah, and then I reach out to the sources to confirm the information or yeah, I scheduled interviews. But yeah, I really love parties and networking events and conferences. This is where I get most of the stories. Larissa Padden 05:25 When you're a journalist, it's all networking, even when it's social. Yeah, that's why I feel like it was I was still a journalist when the pandemic hit, and it was so difficult to meet new sources or find new stories, because you lost the person to person touch.
Joanna Socha  05:37  
Yeah, yeah. And then you have to, like call you know, people every day to ask how is it going, you know, but it's not as natural as it is when you can just meet people in person, and you can build, you know, the trust and connection with them.
Larissa Padden  05:55  
So in your position, as a freelancer, how is your relationship with PR, you know, admittedly, we don't often pitch freelancers, because we don't know if they're attached to, you know, the publication that we're trying to reach at all times. So, you know, do you find those PR people helpful?
Joanna Socha  06:11  
Yeah, I mean
Larissa Padden  06:13  
Could we be more helpful?
Joanna Socha  06:15 
So I have a few PR people that I have a strong relationship with, I would say. Even now, actually, today, a PR person from Europe, he reached out to me that there could be an interesting story for me to cover. So in these cases, where we keep in touch, and we update each other on the work that we're doing currently, so for instance, I'm working on a specific story. And I need a comment from a specific expert. And I know, his clients are, you know, companies that could provide some comment, I could reach out to him or, you know, to the person. And then sometimes when he knows about an expert that could, you know, provide me with some insight he reaches out to me. So in that case, PR organizations I really love working with them. It's more tricky when I have interviews with, you know, with some leaders, and the PR people act like I would say, agents, you know, taking back some words that they said, because, which I understand because that's, that's your job, but you can imagine that for me as a journalist who wanted this juicy story, that could be frustrating.
Larissa Padden  07:37  
Yeah, that's happened to me a time or two. Yeah. So I'm just thinking in your position, as a freelancer, do you wish that PR people would take the time to, you know, have a cup of coffee with you, or have a drink and just get to know you? And what you cover a little better? Or do you find those kinds of meetings useful?
Joanna Socha  07:53  
To be honest, I've never had such a meeting.
Larissa Padden  07:56  
Oh, okay.
Joanna Socha  07:57  
Larissa Padden  07:58  
Joanna Socha  07:58  
Just a meeting with a PR person. I usually, I mean, if I meet them at conferences, then it's natural. But I mean, if they just reach out to me out of nowhere, let's let's get a coffee. That would be, that would be something new to me. Yeah.
Larissa Padden  08:16  
Good, good for us to know. So as a journalist, you must get a lot of pitches, even as a freelance journalist, you probably even get more, what are some of the any standout to you? What are some of the best ones you've ever received?
Joanna Socha  08:28  
So I really like pitches, when it's very clear how the story relevant to what I'm doing. So because I'm a journalist, focused on (a) specific niche, which is usually mergers and acquisitions, you know, and also in a specific part of Europe, I'm not really interested in like, I don't know, real estate trends in general, or some sociology issues or something like this. So yeah, I really like pitches when it's clear how it's relevant for my work. And, and yeah, and sometimes I, I get press releases out of nowhere about I don't know, the best dating apps, you know, in 2022. Which, I don't know, it's just, to me, it feels like PR organization that sent out - Maybe it's automatic, you know, but you spend so much time preparing that. So why send it to everyone, it just it just feels like a waste of time, right?
Larissa Padden  09:31  
Right and also maybe shows that they didn't do their homework if they don't know what you do. Interesting. Well, so you mentioned that you're in Poland, and but you work globally. And it's great that technology allows for that now, but can you tell us a little bit about your experience? Do you work on different time zones? Do you get to travel for work, kind of what is that freedom like?
Joanna Socha  09:50  
So the short answer is yes. I get to travel for work. And I love that and I sometimes also work in different time zones. I don't love that. But I'm because I'm usually focused on, you know, Central Eastern Europe, I usually talk with sources from that specific part of Europe. Now when I'm in the US, and someone from Poland reaches out to me, that's a bit more tricky, you know, because I'm here, there's a six hour time difference, and it doesn't feel like a lot, but actually, like right now, it's already, like the working day is over in Europe. So you know, after 1 pm, I cannot really connect with anyone. I mean, I can probably but that's not easy.
Larissa Padden  10:36  
Interesting. All right. So finally, you're writing a book about Gen Y's relationship with money? Can you talk about how this idea came about and what the process is like writing a book may be different for them writing a new story?
Joanna Socha  10:49  
Yeah. So I mentioned that I'm an extrovert, and I like to go to events and parties. So you know, when I go to these events, I hang out with people and we talk. And so basically, this is how this idea came along. Because we are sometimes complaining, these drinks are so expensive, something something and then I rent, my rent is so expensive. And I graduated from this, I don't know, very good University. I graduated from Oxford and something and then you realize, there are so many educated millennials, and they live from paycheck to paycheck, you know, and it's incredible. And many of them, I mean, but this is just my observation right now. But I also looked at research that, that proves that you know, that they are focused on living now that they it's difficult for them to have an apartment, buy an apartment right now with, with the current inflation and also interest rates. And yeah, and they are using, buy now pay later solutions and credit cards. So but this is complicated. This is a very complicated subject, because you know, it's not, we're making a choice, like, you know, this is how we're going to live paycheck from paycheck. It's the economics that actually, you know, makes the situation like this. For us. It's our situation is different than the situation of the degeneration of our parents. So I'm just trying to explore that. It's still the beginning of the work. So I pitched this idea in the Financial Times Bracken Prize competition. And I was shortlisted, the proposal was shortlisted as one of 14 best ideas globally, which is amazing. But still, I only have a proposal really? So yes, I'm going to come back to the US actually, in August for three months. And this is when I'm going to really explore the topic and see how it is.
Larissa Padden 12:58  
Great. Yeah, I think it sounds really interesting, I think, particularly around financial education, especially with young people. There's a lack of it in this country. So I think it can be really useful.
Joanna Socha  13:10  
Thank you so much. Larissa Padden 13:11 Great. Well, thank you for coming in and sharing all your insight with us.
Joanna Socha  13:15  
Thank you so much for having me.