Welcome back to ‘On The Record’ with YAP Global, a series where we speak to the journalists and leading figures in the digital asset, fintech, blockchain and cryptocurrency industry.
You could say Sebastian Sinclair lives a well-balanced life. His day-to-day role as a CoinDesk News Reporter involves keeping up with the latest developments of the wide world of blockchain and crypto.
Then for his break, he usually ducks down to the beach for a swim in the lush rainforest in a small town in New South Wales, Australia. We sat down to chat about how Seb journeyed into the crypto space, how he manages to stay ahead of the curve and his favourite thing about the industry.
Can you tell us a bit about your journalism background and how you joined the CoinDesk family?
“I started my career at ABC as an intern in Brisbane, accompanying journalists on stories and writing my own pieces for print and digital media. I took a hiatus for four years while studying my Masters in Public Relations and then I ended up stumbling into crypto via a Twitter journalist application through CoinDesk back in 2018. I did some tests, answered some questions, wrote some articles and returned it in a pretty quick timeframe. I made the shortlist, had an interview and was hired.
I was already dabbling in crypto just through pure trading and was interested in technical analysis and the voodoo magic of crypto. That was my foot in the door. Being an analyst and writer meant I could combine those two skills and produce content for an audience who were hungry for it. We’re talking post-2017 Bitcoin boom, so there was a lot of interest floating around and that kept me going.
I pinch myself every day when I wake up because I’m working from home for a well-respected publication and it’s a great bunch of people to work with, it’s a real pleasure.”
What does your day-to-day reporting look like and how do you usually find your stories?
“So, we get about 200–400 emails per day, depending on how busy the news week is. We get tip-offs or press releases mostly. Outside of email, places like Reddit or other forums are often good sources for keeping up with discussions and discoveries.
A lot of organic conversation comes from Twitter too. That’s where you can pick up rumours — they are not confirmed news stories yet, but you know they may be developing. You might see what Vitalik has said about this or that, or what a senator has said about crypto. It’s a finger-on-the-pulse type of process. Twitter is really good for finding quotes from industry leaders too.
It’s also really important to have established a reliable network of contacts — this has been a god-send for me in Asia. Aggregation sites are useful to see if you’ve missed anything, and you can cold search certain topics related to the space.
It just depends on the type of story and what the objective is and what you want your readers to know. It’s important you don’t miss any information and cover both sides of the argument. It needs to be well-researched for our readers, because that’s the biggest concern I have. Is all the information there? What’s the background? How do I make it better?”
What’s your main beat for reporting?
“I was doing market reporting for the last two years before I switched roles. I’m doing a bit of market reporting — about 10–20% — and 80% is dedicated to blockchain news and crypto. So I’m on the news beat. We have a new format called Coin Flash in bullet point format so we can get the news out quickly.
Press releases with three or four bullet points at the top definitely catch my eye and make me more interested in the pitch because it’s tailored towards our particular format. It’s nice when I get short, well-written press releases or pitches or a press release and it immediately tells me what’s going on and what’s happening, and what the news is.
Out of all the emails we receive, many of them are very small, and I know that sounds quite elitist, but if your audience is reading, they want to know who’s who in the zoo, so to speak. It’s important to pick reputable businesses and not be shilling for start-ups who have no track record nor funding. So we look out for companies who’ve received a lot of funding from venture capitalists who are well known in the space. Otherwise we’re running the risk of misleading our audience.”
What’s your favourite stories to report on?
“That’s a tough one. I think in the beginning I really hated law but now I’ve come to enjoy it, even though it’s time consuming because you have to go through court documents. Partnerships, big announcements with particular firms hitting new milestones and whatnot — but it has to be newsy and relevant. Sometimes hitting a milestone is not always newsworthy.
I’ve been really enjoying company hires, so when a big company hires a Chief Legal Officer or something like that, or a new CEO who has come from the traditional financial world, they usually bring a wealth of knowledge and experience that’s worth reporting on.
Because if that guy did 15 years at Goldman Sachs and now he’s moving over to crypto, isn’t that signalling something? Also, human interest pieces. It’s harder for me to write those longer feature stories on the news desk but anything that hits my desk is usually exciting. I enjoy most stories coming through.”
What are your tips for keeping up with the speed of the industry?
“Having good connections with journalists and other public relations professionals. You want to build out a good list of contacts who have a wealth of knowledge in the industry. I met a few good contacts in the space from just cold connecting on LinkedIn. Branching out helps you keep your finger on the pulse.
Acknowledging trends is important too. We’ve been going through the DeFi trend at the moment, but there’s other trends to keep an eye out for, like the 2020 US Election and thinking about how crypto ties into that.”
What’s your favourite thing about the crypto space?
“Getting to meet heaps of rebellious types and people who align with my views of the world. In particular, CoinDesk has been a family for me. My colleagues and contacts there have really kept me going and helped me mature and flourish as a professional in this space.
It makes me feel very connected to know that there’s people out there trying to help usher in the New Age of digital finance. Being a part of that process of education alongside my colleagues has been fun and exciting and I’ve loved every moment of it.”
What’s the worst pitch you’ve received?
“I do receive some bad pitches, but that’s ok, some people are just starting out. I remember this one guy who pitched to me didn’t know what a pitch was. He was a young professional and didn’t even know what an embargoed story was. So, I took some time to explain what embargo means, showed a pitch, explained the inverted pyramid format, how to include the 5 Ws and the H, and he was very thankful.
One thing I really would like to see when people pitch is just a short, well-written introduction with dot points and a couple of quotes thrown in to give me something to work with.
If I want to agree on the embargo, then sure, let’s write the piece. I need press releases that aren’t full of flowery language. There’s no point saying, “world’s first cryptocurrency business is shaping the landscape for all users…” No, what is your business? What are you trying to do? Who are you partnering with to do it? What kind of milestone have you hit or what funding have you received?
Some kind of qualitative bits of data will make it stand out. I’ll need to cut out that flowery language anyway, so I look for something straightforward and simple.
Also, I highly recommend you study the journalists you send pitches to, because if you send a news story to a business reporter, they’ll have to resubmit it to the news desk and it loses its element of personalization.”
And what do you think is the most exciting thing happening in the space this year?
“It changes from month to month! I think DeFi has shown a lot of promise, but it’ll be interesting to see if it stands the litmus test and whether or not it survives. The industry and sector as a whole will survive, but it will be interesting to keep an eye on what happens in DeFi because with staking and interest in loans and those kinds of products, it will be interesting to see how it’s adopted and picked up in the next year going forward.
It will also be interesting seeing how the 2020 presidential election will impact the price of crypto and what kind of stories and value we can capture and write about. That will be a huge development no matter what happens.”
What connections do you predict to come out of the industry with events like the election?
“The stances policymakers are taking towards blockchain will be interesting. They’re the lawmakers. Crypto can’t survive without regulation in writing. It had done so in the past, but to get it to an institutional level of adoption, it needs strong regulatory backing and laws that protect consumers.
It’s slowly developing, but I think we need more active political members of government to get involved and help drive it forward. Because the average consumer is still really nervous about dabbling or investing in blockchain and crypto.
We’re also potentially looking at a shift in global power facilitated through the experimentation of central bank digital currencies. As China continues to develop their CBDC, they’re basically driving the narrative here, but how will the US respond?
Do they even care about it? That’s the discussion politicians are having, because they’re afraid of being overtaken by China. Obviously there’s people way smarter than me that would be able to figure out what direction this might all be going in.
It’s exciting to watch countries research how to use CBDCs for capital controls, increasing tax received and making the financial process more “transparent”.
You just have to try to keep up with it, and read those emails coming through!”
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