PRNewser Interview: Jon Swartz, USA Today

swartz.jpg In this week’s PRNewser interview, we chat with Jon Swartz, technology columnist for USA Today. Jon has also written for, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the London Times, and the Chicago Tribune. He was named a top media influencer in the 2002 and 2003 newspapers category in Adweek Magazine’s Technology Marketing 2003 Media Influencer’s Report.

Jon talks to PRNewser about what he thinks will happen with Microsoft’s Yahoo! bid, how PR people can best work with him, including giving us his IM name, and what it’s like to be on “the other side,” as he is currently promoting a new book, Zero Day Threat: How Banks and Credit Bureaus Help Cyber Crooks Steal Your Money and Identity,” co-written with fellow USA Today reporter Byron Acohido.

What time did you wake up this morning?

If you weren’t a journalist you’d be:
I probably would be a lawyer.

What is your opinion of New York City?
I think New York City is the most incredible city in the world.

Google is:
Unstoppable. The center of the universe. It will only get bigger.

What do you think will happen with Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo?
I’m writing about that now. Microsoft will probably sweeten its bid to 34 a share and Yahoo’s board will gladly accept. It will happen fairly soon. Yahoo! is in a position where they nave no alternatives.

How many stories do you file a week?
About 3.

How many PR pitches do you receive each day?
On average through emails calls and IM I’d say about 80-100.

How many are useful?
I’d say 20%. I may not write about pitch itself. It’s not all or nothing. I can find elements of use from at least 20% of pitches I get.

How would you describe your beat? How has it changed?
The beat has been growing of late because we have fewer tech reporters. Consequently I was focusing on security the last few yeas, now I’ve added social networking, Yahoo!, eBay and Google in the last couple of months. It’s just a market reality. There are just fewer resources and papers aren’t hiring.

Can you give us a recent example of how a PR person helped you with a story?
Social networking stories. Companies like Facebook and Myspace are good at helping me with stories and giving me things that haven’t been broadly announced.

A lot of the security companies are very useful because they know exactly what we’re interested in and they give us reports before anyone else. They tend to be longer than a daily story. There can be a long lead time they tend to help us coordinate the date.

How can PR people best work with you?
I don’t mind IM. I find it useful and it’s a time saver. I know when someone is online and I can reach them immediately. Jswartz652 is my IM name. This is the way I reach most of my contacts. However the best way to reach me is email. I can’t respond to every email. Some of it is not what I cover. For some reason there is a belief that I cover ecommerce but I haven’t for years.

What do you think about USA Today’s social features? Has social media and blogs change the way you research stories?
I do use Facebook probably a lot for networking and the email part of it to reach people more direct. That is good and bad, because some read the Facebook email religiously and some rarely check it.

I use Facebook a lot to reach out to people and introduce myself to people. It’s much more effective than going to a media event, where there is a group of reporters trying to glob onto an exec. Social networking is a good way to get your name on their radar.

Are their any topics your editors would like you to focus more/less on?
For now the obsession is Yahoo!/Microsoft and the mandate here has always been to look at the large brand name companies. The reason why, is more people are likely to read about an Apple or Google than a startup. That doesn’t sound fair, but our rack sales are motivated by brand name CEO’s and companies that are consumer friendly.

You will be releasing a book in April with fellow USA Today writer Byron Acohido titled “Zero Day Threat:
How Banks and Credit Bureaus Help Cyber Crooks Steal Your Money and Identity” What are some of the biggest issues people overlook when it comes to privacy issues?

Financial institutions and credit bureaus are all built on this premise of speed and cost efficiency. Consequently, all the tech companies are jumping into online business because it was more cost effective and quicker to pick up customer. Credit bureaus and banks are seeing that opportunity with information as well.

There is more info out there than ever before. People are still pretty lax about their information. It is being churned more quickly. Criminals understand that and understand chinks in system. They are boring in on vulnerabilities and using system more efficiently than anyone else.

For them it’s free money. It will continue to grow, because the banks – this is what [Microsoft CEO Steve] Ballmer told me – there is a belief that when you build a highway system, if it generally works, you accept the few fatalities.

So if you’re increasing customer base and making more money, you’re going to be able to absorb the cost of someone having their ID stolen. Until that figure reaches a higher level, there are going to be these acceptable losses.

So far, the lobbyists that rep the credit bureaus have had a fair amount of influence. I’m convinced ther will be an incident bigger than TJX. They’ve [hackers] have probably already broken into a large company database.

From a PR perspective what are you doing to promote the book?
We’re on the other end now. We’ve been talking to a large group of mainstream, trade, and tech reporters across print, online, radio and television. Promotions though book stores. Talking to companies involved in these industries to get them to buy bulk

We’re doing speaking front of schools and orgs. It’s a layered non-stop blitzkrieg. It’s exhausting, but the only way you can promote a book is yourself. You’ve got to be your own PR/marketing person. That’s been our strategy from the beginning.

To learn more about Jon and Byron’s book, visit To read Jon’s stories, click here.

Dislaimer: Jon was nice enough to provide PRNewser readers with his IM address. While we’re sure Jon would like to speak with as many of us as possible, please only contact him when appropriate and relevant to his beat.