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An Interview with Muck Rack Co-Founder about Journalism, Twitter, and Technology

With the advent and wide adoption of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, journalism and how it is done has begun to rapidly transform. Muck Rack is an online service that recognizes that shift; it verifies journalists who are using social media to enhance their stories, and analyzes what journalists are talking about online. In this way, Muck Rack states that it “delivers a glimpse of tomorrow’s newspaper to you today”. Muck Rack provides the basic functions of a “newsroom” that follows stories that journalists are talking about and a “journalist directory” organized according to publication.  There is also a premium version of the service called Muck Rack Pro that offers features like search, media lists, and alerts at an additional  cost.

I talked with Muck Rack Co-Founder Gregory Galant over email about the creation of Muck Rack and its acceptance by the journalism community, how technology has changed journalism, and his vision for the future of Muck Rack.

Information Space: When and how did you come up with the idea for Muck Rack?

Galant: We created the Shorty Awards in December 2008 to help people find the best content creators on Twitter and social media, and within 24 hours of launch “Shorty Awards” became the top trending topic on Twitter despite having no marketing or PR budget. Not only was the social media traffic impressive, but we were overwhelmed by the amount of interest journalists had in the Shorty Awards despite Twitter’s relatively small size at the time: the Shortys were covered by the New York Times, Wall Street Journalist, CNN, BBC and many others. So many journalists attended that our press room ran out of food and booze. Thankfully soon after the Shorty Awards took off, The Knight Foundation gave us a grant to help grow it.

After the Shorty Awards, we noticed many people were still questioning the credibility of Twitter — incredulously labeling it “user generated content”. As a response, in April 2009, we launched Muck Rack to verify journalists on Twitter and analyze what they tweet about. We asked the question: If you trust what journalist write in the print in the New York Times, why shouldn’t you also trust what those same people tweet? We also offer a glimpse into tomorrow’s newspaper today by showing you what stories journalists are working on.

Information Space: Where are you located, and how many people are currently employed at Muck Rack? What are their backgrounds (yours included)?

Galant: Sawhorse Media (the parent company of Muck Rack and the Shorty Awards) has a core team of five, plus we have four editors for Muck Rack. We started in Brooklyn and moved across the river into Manhattan about a year ago. I caught the entrepreneurship bug at age 14 when I started my first business doing web development for businesses — one of my first clients was a chain of local papers that was founded by Walt Whitman. I went on to work for a venture capital firm and for CNN.com as an associate producer where I worked briefly on the predecessor to iReport. After graduating college I started one of the first business podcasts, Venture Voice, and interviewed the founders of LinkedIn, PayPal, Vanguard Group, Brooklyn Brewery, Kleiner Perkins and many more. One of the people I interviewed was Evan Williams before he cofounded Twitter, which eventually led me to signup early enough to get the handle @Gregory.

I cofounded Sawhorse Media with Lee Semel, an amazing entrepreneur, engineer and UI designer who’d previously launched sites for organizations including Xerox PARC, Harvard University and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Information Space: How has Muck Rack been embraced by the journalism community? What does your user base look like?

Galant: Muck Rack has been tremendously well received by journalists. Over 5,000 journalists have requested to be listed, and dozens of top media organizations have requested we list all of their journalists on Muck Rack. Many journalism professors have now integrated Muck Rack into their curriculum.

Information Space: When looking at the site, it’s aimed at two audiences: journalists and communication pros. What are your goals for how these two audiences can use Muck Rack?

For journalists, Muck Rack is a way to keep up with how the news is unfolding in real-time, and a way to collaborate with fellow journalists at their own publications and others. We’ve also gotten journalists thousands of new followers. Journalists have free access to Muck Rack Pro — many use it to monitor what other journalists are tweeting about their stories.

For anyone seeking press — PR pros, startups, non-profits and even artists — Muck Rack is the best way to find journalists to cover you. It’s a reaction to the trend that is ruining the PR process: lazy pitching that involves spamming hundreds of journalists with the same message. Muck Rack is about using social media to find the few journalists that are interested in what you have to pitch, right now. Muck Rack has a tremendous amount of functionality available to everyone, and Muck Rack Pro is a power tool to go even deeper.

Information Space: How do you think journalism has changed with the evolution of technology and social media, and what does your company bring to that transformation?

Journalism has been open sourced — everyone can now see how the news is made. With Muck Rack, you easily can watch a journalist check in to a press conference, tweet with a source, and comment on related issues before they write their story.

Information Space: How would you suggest that journalism, technology, or  communications students utilize Muck Rack?

Galant: They should subscribe to the Muck Rack Daily, which gives a daily summary of what journalists are tweeting about. As Reuters social media editor Anthony De Rosa said, “There are a lot of daily digest emails out there, both curated and automated, but @muckrack continues to be the one I learn the most from.”

Information Space: What is your vision for Muck Rack in the future?

Galant: We want Muck Rack to be the ultimate tool to watch the news get made in real time, and to be a part of it.

For more information on Muck Rack, you can follow them on Twitter @MuckRack.