Pressing Matters

Sam Sabin, Cybersecurity Reporter at Axios

April 23, 2024 Big Valley Marketing Season 2 Episode 7
Sam Sabin, Cybersecurity Reporter at Axios
Pressing Matters
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Pressing Matters
Sam Sabin, Cybersecurity Reporter at Axios
Apr 23, 2024 Season 2 Episode 7
Big Valley Marketing

Are you an aspiring reporter looking to get a job at Axios upon graduation? I have three letters for you: UNC, the University of North Carolina. Sam Sabin, this episode’s guest, is the second Axios reporter we've had on the pod, and, like her colleague and previous guest, FinTech reporter Lucinda Shen, she's a Tar Heel. 

Since 2022, Sam has covered cybersecurity for Axios, a job that includes two weekly newsletters - naturally - the Smart Brevity style. 

On this episode, Sam: 

  • previews the RSA conference, taking place May 6th through 8th in San Francisco,
  • shares what (or whom) scares her most in cybersecurity, 
  • and shares just how tech-savvy politicians really are. 

Pressing Matters, from Big Valley Marketing, is the podcast that brings you conversations with the top media and influencers in B2B tech.

I'm Dave Reddy, head of Big Valley Marketing's Media and Influencers Practice, and I'm your host. Through research and good old-fashioned relationship building, we've identified B2B tech's, top 200 media and influencers, including Sam Sabin of Axios.


Are you interested in more from Sam Sabin?

Who is Big Valley?
We're a communications firm focused on B2B technology. Our firm specializes in brand positioning, narrative and story development, media and influencer relations, and channel planning.

You can learn more about us at

Show Notes Transcript

Are you an aspiring reporter looking to get a job at Axios upon graduation? I have three letters for you: UNC, the University of North Carolina. Sam Sabin, this episode’s guest, is the second Axios reporter we've had on the pod, and, like her colleague and previous guest, FinTech reporter Lucinda Shen, she's a Tar Heel. 

Since 2022, Sam has covered cybersecurity for Axios, a job that includes two weekly newsletters - naturally - the Smart Brevity style. 

On this episode, Sam: 

  • previews the RSA conference, taking place May 6th through 8th in San Francisco,
  • shares what (or whom) scares her most in cybersecurity, 
  • and shares just how tech-savvy politicians really are. 

Pressing Matters, from Big Valley Marketing, is the podcast that brings you conversations with the top media and influencers in B2B tech.

I'm Dave Reddy, head of Big Valley Marketing's Media and Influencers Practice, and I'm your host. Through research and good old-fashioned relationship building, we've identified B2B tech's, top 200 media and influencers, including Sam Sabin of Axios.


Are you interested in more from Sam Sabin?

Who is Big Valley?
We're a communications firm focused on B2B technology. Our firm specializes in brand positioning, narrative and story development, media and influencer relations, and channel planning.

You can learn more about us at

Dave Reddy
Are you an aspiring reporter looking to get a job at Axios upon graduation? I have three letters for you, UNC, the University of North Carolina, Sam Saban. This episode's guest is the second Axios reporter we've had in the pod, and like her colleague and previous guest, FinTech reporter, Lucinda Shen, she's a tar heel. Granted, Sam took a different route, a native of Charlotte. She wrote her first story for her high school newspaper at 13 and was bitten instantly by the journalism bug. Later on through a series of gigs in the DC area, she was bitten by another bug cybersecurity. And since 2022, she's been covering that space for Axios, a job that includes two weekly newsletters in naturally the smart brevity style. Sam joined us to help preview the RSA conference this May 6th through eighth in San Francisco, discuss what or whom scares her most in cybersecurity, and to talk about just how tech savvy politicians really are for this episode of Pressing Matters from Big Valley Marketing, the podcast that brings you conversations with the top media and influencers in B2B tech. I'm Dave Reddy, head of Big Valley Marketing's Media and Influencers Practice, and I'm your host. Through research and good old fashioned relationship building, we've identified B2B tech's, top 200 media and influencers, including Sam Saban of Axios. Here's my chat with Sam. Enjoy.

Sam, thanks so much for joining us on the podcast. Really appreciate your time, especially as we get closer and closer to RSA. Now, this will run just before RSA, but we are a little out, but I think my guess is you're already starting to work on that and certainly got plenty going on in the cybersecurity world as it is.

Sam Sabin

Yeah, thanks for having me. The month before RSA is always like it's chaos in my inbox all the time, so try to put it off for as long as I can, but it's here,

Dave Reddy

But here we are. Yeah, we'll get to that in a minute, but I wanted to start off with your background. So you were born in Charlotte, North Carolina, or thereabouts. What was life in Charlotte?

Sam Sabin (02:22):

Yeah, I grew up in Charlotte, technically born in Jersey, but most of my life in Charlotte, so that's home for me. It is, I don't know, it was pretty nice where you get the good combination of it, feeling very suburban and a lot of families, but then you still had the city aspects. Learning how to drive there was fun, I guess. Learned a lot, really, so much traffic, somebody North Carolina drivers are chaos, but I say that because Charlotte is all driving, and this was before Charlotte of had its, I don't know, its growth in the last five years. So many people here, I'm from Charlotte and get so excited. They know someone who just moved there, who bought a house there. I grew up before. Breweries were on every block and before it was maybe the hip place that you know it to be now. It was much quieter back then, but I think still pretty fun and I think a good place to grow up if you want to be in a city but not New York City or something.

Dave Reddy (03:33):


Sam Sabin (03:33):

It. Like that. Yeah, our

Dave Reddy (03:34):

Big valley, our big valley colleague, Pete Riedel recently moved to Charlotte himself. We're aware of it, attracting folks of a certain age and the traffic thing though, so I grew up in New England and Bostonians are known as the worst drivers on the planet, but that's a new one. So what are North Carolinian drivers like? Oh,

Sam Sabin (03:55):

I mean, I think the characteristic is just, and this is true everywhere, but just growing up with no one using turn signals. I think North Carolina drivers, their issue is there's no in-between, right? They're either overly cautious going too slow or they're whipping through traffic, and the same person could be doing one of two things in the same drive, so you just never know what you're going to get. And Charlotte is all cars. You could be driving for an hour and still technically be in the Charlotte area. So it is pretty big. It's pretty sprawling. I think of it as a slightly smaller Atlanta. So if you're familiar with Atlanta traffic, kind of similar depending on the time of day.

Dave Reddy (04:42):

Yeah, my favorite part of driving around Atlanta is that you often find yourself on the corner of Peachtree and Peachtree, but that's for a different podcast. So what did mom and dad do while you were growing up in Charlotte?

Sam Sabin (04:54):

Yeah, they both work in retail merchandising, so that is basically helping companies and brands figure out what their products should look like in a grocery store or in a Walmart or something like that. They're the go-between between the stores themselves and maybe a hostess or various other food brands that you could think of that I don't want to name because I did not ask my parents if I can name them yet on this podcast, but they both work in retail merchandising. They've done it for decades now, and I know their jobs are slightly different, but I could not tell you how, but that's how they met. That's what they do. But yet it's a lot of roaming stores to make sure that the end caps look good or figuring out where to rotate things out and suggesting things for clients or for the stores or helping employees figure out how to arrange all this stuff, things like that, which you would never think it's an actual job, right?

Dave Reddy (06:00):

Yeah. But there's got to be a reason you walk down a grocery aisle and something captures your eye and something else does not,

Sam Sabin (06:06):

Right? Yes. And that my parents go

Dave Reddy (06:10):

Good for them. And I was going to say before you said that's how they met, I was like, that's an interesting thing for both of your parents to do. Yes. And so there's a company in Charlotte where they do that. That's interesting. Okay. Yeah,

Sam Sabin (06:20):


Dave Reddy (06:20):

Yeah, you might be the first person we've had on whose parents were marketeers or are marketeers.

Sam Sabin (06:26):

Yeah, somewhat journalists.

Dave Reddy (06:28):

We've had professors, we've had English teachers, we've had all sorts of things, but other people in the profession. Good to know. Yeah. Now you however, got into journalism and political science when you went locally to UNC did, I'm curious, branding and journalism. Remember I have a journalism degree, so don't take this the wrong way. They're both storytelling professions. Is that how you got the bug or was it something different?

Sam Sabin (06:58):

Oh no, I think for me it happened in high school, so there are probably many a stereotype of a journalist. I would definitely fall into the camp of someone who did it once in high school and really just stuck with it and never thought about anything else and was just hyper-focused on a very difficult career path. I got into journalism actually at 13 in my high school newspaper, and then someone told me I was good at it, and at that time I was quiet and shy and I was just sitting in the back corner afraid of the world and saw journalism as a way of being able to still learn about the world and have permission to just be someone who's nosy and go up to teachers and ask them what they're doing and say, well, it's for the school paper, so I'm allowed to ask this question.


Maybe typically a student cannot ask and just loved it. And UNC, it was two and a half hours away from Charlotte and Chapel Hill, go guitar heels, and it kind of worked out logistically, right? I was in state, so it was easier to get in. UNC has an amazing journalism school, and I knew, and I don't think your typical 18-year-old should know this for anyone listening who has young kids, but I already had kind of figured out that one of the best ways to get a job after university, it was just where you went, it doesn't really matter what my GPA is. If they saw I went to UNC and they know a professor there, that's great. So it kind of worked out and that's what I wanted to do, and I was just hyper-focused on that. And at UNC, the political science major I think only required two or three extra classes that the journalism degree didn't already require. So you'll actually see there are a lot of us UNC journalism kids who also are political science double majors. It just made sense. It just was something you were already required to kind of take classes in. And I mean, it worked out. I'm based in DC now, so here we are.

Dave Reddy (09:05):

I know a lot of political scientists who are journalists of probably political science majors who became journalists. It is. I did not do political science, but I would presume there's a lot of overlap. So what was that first story when you were 13? Do you

Sam Sabin (09:20):

Remember? Oh, no, I do remember because somehow I remember it was cringey in that somehow I didn't get edited. And so I am glad that there's no evidence of this anywhere except for maybe in my childhood home and the archives that I have somewhere. But yeah, I think it was an interview with one of the AP English teachers. I don't remember the driving force of that story. I don't know if we were just like, oh, he's been at the school a long time, let's interview him or what. But it was something I got assigned to do. I wrote the story and then I remember being in fear of getting edits, and then the edits just never came and it was published as is, and I can't think of too much about it. I'm sure filled with typo, quite awful. Every other story after that got so many edits. Of course they did. I was still learning, but it was some sort of q and a or feature on an English teacher too, so I'm sure he read that and thought, what is happening here?

Dave Reddy (10:24):

Maybe he was writing novels on the side or side

Sam Sabin (10:28):

Or he had maybe been there for 10 years or something. Right. So you're commemorating him being there for so long. Yeah, he was definitely a teacher who was an institution in and of himself, so it's also possible as well. But this looked like probably over 15 years ago at this point. So my memory is going to fail me, and that's for the best really.

Dave Reddy (10:50):

What was his name?

Sam Sabin (10:52):

Oh, it's Mr. Actually. I never had him as a teacher, so I'm not going to say it. I'm going to say some other day that's not going to be right. So

Dave Reddy (11:04):

To him,

Sam Sabin (11:04):

It's going to come to me like 10 minutes

Dave Reddy (11:08):

To Mr. Zi wa giving me the

Sam Sabin (11:11):

Journalism bug. That's great.

Dave Reddy (11:12):

And so you did have a bit of the politics bug, although you said that the journalism political science majors tended to be combined, but you definitely was DC always sort of in the picture because you ended up by October, 2016, you were at DC Inno. Were you looking to get there given your interests or was that the gig you got?

Sam Sabin (11:33):

More of the latter. I think I had been applying to jobs like hundreds of jobs and fellowships and internships, and I just took the thing that came, but all of them were in major cities or maybe Charlotte size, major cities. So yeah, it just so happened most of the responses I was getting were from places in DC. So I kind of had an inkling that I was going there. I had friends who lived in dc I might sound insane for saying this, like an eight hour drive, which for me was not too awful. Some people I'm sure would tap out and fly, and I respect that, but it felt close enough to family and it was just the job I got and it's just where I continued to get jobs. So yeah, it's like a necessary, I don't want to say a necessary evil. I do love dc, but it just kind of was a necessary place to be, I guess, for me and just where I ended up. Yeah,

Dave Reddy (12:35):

That's where I went to school. I went to American, so I have a spot in my heart for Washington DC despite the people who work there for not you, but the other people who unquote work there for a living that we will into today. So talk to me about that first job. So it's a new city. You're eight hours away. To your point, it's your first job. I remember what that felt like. What were you covering and what did you learn?

Sam Sabin (13:01):

Yeah, so DC NO, it is a sister site of the Washington Business Journal, so if anyone is familiar with the biz journals or across the country, they also have these sister publications called in Oath like Innovation. So they all cover the local startup ecosystem in each city and DC I think many people think of it as a hot politics hub, but it is also a hot tech hub. There's a reason Amazon has brought a second headquarters here. There are federal contractors left and who are pitching to D-R-D-N-S-A. They're venture capitalists at the wazoo, and that's what I was covering. That job would maybe my most, I say it's up there with one other job, but one of my most stressful endeavors in that it was a publication where I did get to grow a lot. I got so many more opportunities than I think your average reporter does at their first job, but I was required to write two to three stories a day.


I had to write the newsletter every afternoon. At some point I managed an intern and I was 22 managing an intern pretending I knew what I was doing and you could learn from me. Maybe they did. I don't know. We did events. So I was emptying a lot of events, doing panels, and at the time, I think I was maybe one of two or three reporters, and it changed throughout the year and a half that I was there just in all of DC who were covering the local startup ecosystem full time. And there really was so much to cover. I was there when Amazon chose DC and that was a big day. I was at a doctor's appointment when that happened, so that was fun for me to get those slack messages. And so yeah, it really was just super hectic. And at that point, I'm sure hopefully they've changed it by now, but at that point you also were peer editing other people's stories. We didn't have dedicated editors, so sometimes I was editing someone else's story who lived in Minnesota, so really was just like a hodgepodge of things. At some point. We had a podcast, I think back on that, and the only way I got through it was just by being 22 and filled with energy, it was kind of chaotic.

Dave Reddy (15:22):

You had a whole career in a year and a half. Yes,

Sam Sabin (15:27):


Dave Reddy (15:31):

And maybe predictably, given how they were working you to death, you took a job at Mourning Consult in 2019 and things shifted a little bit there. So instead of the startup scene or maybe in addition to the startup scene, you really started covering tech policy, which starts to weave you a little bit more closer to cybersecurity, right?

Sam Sabin (15:48):

Totally, totally. I actually started there in 2018, but started on tech policy in 2019. I went to Morning Consult back there, a polling firm at the time. They had a newsroom that recently just got ax off. I guess that's the way things go in news sometimes. But at that time, I was hired to cover brands, so a lot of marketing media, things like that. And it just so happened because I had a tech background, I ended up covering a lot of tech media brand stuff. And when their tech policy reporter left, I had already been covering things like California's data privacy law or other, how marketers were handling various new data privacy requirements. This is like 2018, back when GDPR had just gone into effect in Europe and people were having a meltdown. And now I don't know how much things have really changed, but it was a very big deal back then.


And now it feels kind of crazy six years later to say. And things are still a big deal even though we have not moved that far from that world. But when their morning consult tech policy reporter left, it just kind of made more sense to shift me over to what I had already been kind of covering. And I actually had covered tech at an internship in college at CNBC out in San Francisco. And so I knew I wanted to cover technology, but I didn't know how, and I was really struggling with the side of tech journalism. That's all product news and gadgets, and there's a place for that reporting. It is not with me. And I really wanted to cover something where I felt like it got at the consequential of technology, and I think starting to cover policy really got at that. This was at the time when Cambridge Analytica was happening, when lawmakers were starting to understand data privacy, they were starting to really talk about antitrust.


Now whether or not those conversations have changed, that's a whole other, that's not my problem anymore as much, but it really seemed like an exciting time to be in that beat. And it really was. I was covering Mark Zuckerberg on the hill running down the hallway when Jack Dorsey was there. It really was like everyone was coming for the first time, and it was super exciting and I think still consequential it just moving at the same pace that Washington has always moved at, which is not fast enough for technologists. Right? So that really was how I got into maybe closer to where I'm at now and in cybersecurity and started to find my way in tech. Yeah.

Dave Reddy (18:38):

I neglected to ask earlier, were you always interested in tech or again, was the DC NO thing just sort of a way that you got into tech through the back door and realized you really liked it?

Sam Sabin (18:48):

A little bit of both. When I was in college and I was just applying crazy to anything I could. I also was a part at UNC of the business journalism program. I only got my certificate. There's a whole major you could do at the business school. I did not do all of that. That was too much of a commitment for me, a lot of business school classes that I was not ready for in college. But yeah, I knew I was going to do the business journalism world in some way, shape or form. I was hoping technology. And luckily that's where I ended up mostly because I was at CNBC and I was their first San Francisco intern. And so I just really loved covering tech out there and getting to do whatever I could. They let me do this whole series on women in technology at that time, and that was after, that was 2015.


So when we were starting to talk about online harassment and things like that, and they really just let me do whatever I wanted and it was beautiful, and I just really loved covering tech. I guess I am a younger millennial, so I still grew up online on Tumblr and everything, so getting to cover tech was just so cool. But yeah, no, and then DCNO happened and then that kind of laid the foundation for me to be able to keep doing this, which was, it really worked out that way. I was hoping for it. It almost didn't happen. And then I guess I don't know if the universe works in weird ways. So here we are,

Dave Reddy (20:18):

And of course you're the research triangle too, which folks in Silicon Valley, like myself should remember, is pretty darn techy. You go from, you get the job, you're doing startups, which obviously leans tech, DC NO. You then start covering tech policy and then you move in, I think it was 21 to during the pandemic to Politico to cover cybersecurity. Now that makes sense to me, but for the listeners, how does that work? Where is the line between tech policy and cybersecurity, especially in dc? There just must be so much overlap.

Sam Sabin (20:59):

Yeah, there is and there isn't, right? So when I got that job, I had been interviewing at Politico for a number of different roles that I wasn't quite sure where they were going to put me. So at first, I, as someone who thought about it, people went into tech policy. Anything that ever crossed my desk that was about cybersecurity, I did not want to cover privacy. And cybersecurity felt very different to me. I don't know why people still kind of have that divide. If you talk to people who cover privacy, they don't want to cover cybersecurity or hacks or whatever. That's too much. Maybe I'm overgeneralizing. And same with cybersecurity. I've met many a reporter on my beat who doesn't, are not intrigued by privacy laws and issues of facial recognition surveillance. And so when I first was put on that team, I did have a baby meltdown, but I knew that it was worth going to Politico.


I knew all the people who worked there, it was worth it and I should try something new. And part of the reason was just the lingo that's used in cybersecurity is so technical that those first few weeks trying to learn anything. And I started the same week as the Colonial Pipeline hack when everyone was trying to get gas and Biden and Putin were making statements that I was just fully not understanding what operational technology was or OT and what the difference is. So I think needlessly technical at times. So that was part of the struggle that I had. But once I got through that hurdle, both by using Google a lot and asking sources a lot of maybe basic cyber 1 0 1 questions like, oh, what is operational technology? Why do you keep using that word? It really is, to your point, they're very similar, right?


They go hand in hand. They're two sides of the same coin. And I think cybersecurity is just so cool because it actually changes and it's very clear cut who the adversary maybe is or what the goal is, what we're working towards. You add into the national security elements, whereas tech policy, you're constantly going, I don't know if there's a clear cut answer here in the antitrust laws. Is Facebook evil? I don't know. Maybe not. I'm not a judge. They're very tough legal questions that are being asked. Whereas in cyber, it's very clear, oh, a bad guy hacks into your system. That is what we're trying to keep out. Things are moving. Laws were being passed in the first year I might be, which was unheard of in tech policy. We still don't have a privacy law law. And yeah, it really, I think was just harder than it needed to be to understand cyber, but it really is very similar. Privacy and cyber issues go hand in hand. I feel like there should be more of a crossover than there is and it just so dynamic and cool. I can go on and on about this.

Dave Reddy (24:07):

And you have gone on and on from Politico to Axios in July, 2022. And I want to get back to that in a second. But one question given how difficult, and I understand too coming at it from the other side, representing the companies that are talking to you and talking to dc given how difficult it was for you to get it, and you obviously got it, do you have a sense of how well or not, well, the average DC lobbyist, politician or what have you, understands these issues? Or is it all over the,

Sam Sabin (24:40):

I think it is not as scattered as you would think all over the map. I think lobbyists definitely get it. They're constantly talking to cybersecurity firms about this. They're constantly talking and learning about this stuff and have to learn how to translate this message from their clients to policy makers. So I find them pretty well versed in this on the policymaker side or even the lawmaker side. It really runs the gamut. And we're kind of in this interesting space where there was, especially in the house, this whole group of lawmakers who were very well versed in all of this, and they had been, maybe it wasn't quietly, it felt quiet to me, but I was on the beat, so I'm biased, but had really been doing a lot of work to talk with industry, to talk with lobbyists, to talk with the administration and regulators to learn about this stuff.


And had been putting forth recommendations for years on what the federal government should do, and were really well versed in it. In the house, though, a lot of those lawmakers have currently left or have left in the last couple of years. So it's kind of unclear how well they know it or who will be the new leaders in this space, but I feel like they know this space pretty well, or they have staff that knows this really well, which is really the most important thing in dc. So I think it's not as bad as people think it could be.

Dave Reddy (26:05):

And I would presume the military knows it real well. Yeah, probably better than they let on sometimes. Yes. So you go from Politico to Axios, two great titles, why the Switch, Axios One could Argue might be a better title. And how did that come to be? Did they recruit you? Were you interested in going there? I'm curious.

Sam Sabin (26:26):

Yeah, so I had actually been applying to Axios in various roles almost my entire career at that point. So desperate to get in there. I think every time I had interviewed before getting this job, everyone so nice and kind and smart and thoughtful, and the culture seemed really awesome. And throughout my career, I've always written a newsletter in some way, shape, or form. And Axios is of course people usually the entry point is through our newsletters. So it seemed like a natural fit, and I constantly found myself reading stories that they had written that I was already working on or had been thinking about. And so it just felt like a mind meld my entire career with the Axios newsroom. And so it kind of was two things that motivated me at Politico. I was writing the Daily Cybersecurity newsletter. I think most of that is behind the paywall, so some people listening might not realize it was daily, but it definitely is daily.


And because it was for subscribers who are super on top of the news, whatever was in the newsletter had to be pushing the new forward in some way, shape or form. So I was writing three stories that were forward looking every single day, and that is why I lasted one year and I was just burning out. And I had been looking at places internally as well and trying to stay there, but I just looked at the Axios career website one day and they had a cybersecurity role listed. I wasn't even sure how long that had been up on the site, so I didn't know where they were in the process. So I just randomly sent my resume in and hoped for the best, and that turned out to be the time that it worked out. And Axios is I think one of those rare media companies right now that's doing really well, and that I think hopefully will weather whatever sort of storm we keep finding ourselves in media.


And the team is awesome, and it's a twice weekly newsletter, and I get to do more of the explanatory things that I think are really needed on this beat just because of how technical it can be and how difficult it is for a general audience to understand, despite the fact that chances are we've all dealt with a data breach in our lives and gotten our password stolen or whatever. Just I think it is a place where I think it's really easy to help explain some of that stuff and bring people into cybersecurity in a way that's harder at maybe your politicos or the journal or somewhere else that has a more tailored audience, I think. So yeah, that's how that happened.

Dave Reddy (29:12):

And you're also writing in the smart brevity style, which though the explainers might be a little bit different, obviously, but for the newsletter, it's smart brevity. God bless you. I could never do that. I was a sports writer, and I think by definition, we had more flowery in that regard since we were doing sports. But how quickly were you able to grasp that or had you already figured that out at Politico? And there's just so much to write about in cybersecurity, so how often are you looking at a story or even a couple of paragraphs or an item that you're like, this isn't going to make it today, and it kills me because it's a really good item.

Sam Sabin (29:52):

So smart brevity is, it's a whole mindset. I sound like I drink some Kool-Aid, but it really is, it's the whole way of thinking and writing. So I think in sports it does make sense. You're setting the scene. Some of the best writers I know were sports writer or sports journalists, so it makes a lot of sense. I will say some of the nice things about smart brevity is it really challenges you to figure out what details are needed for someone who was new to the story. So I don't need to, there's no room for redundancy. There's not really room to just insert flowery descriptors. We definitely have ways of doing that, but a lot of times it actually is super, it was challenging at first, but I think it's been super helpful. And I write a lot faster now because I'm just constantly thinking, I'm writing in bullet points.


I don't have to worry about transitions. I'm really hyper-focused on why the story matters and setting up a strong quick lead so that the rest of the story can follow suit from there. Whereas I think at any other publication, I would find myself writing like a thousand words and I'd have to cut 500 later I realized I was just writing in a circle, and then I found the actual story, which is sometimes the process, but smart brevity maybe chops that down a bit. And I think just by the nature of the newsletter, it's a lot in terms of word count, it's about the same as what I was writing at Politico, which is kind of wild to think about. But yeah, I think constantly I'm looking at things that typically would be more consequential, right? Such as like CISA regulations or EPA regulations or a cyber attack at X, Y, Z company or school that I've written an item on or I'm trying to write an item on, and then I have to bump it to the next day because it just is not, there's just so much happening all the time. And I try not to do too much pre-planning. Usually the main story of the newsletter is set days in advance, but for the rest of the newsletter, I try to keep it as flexible as possible so that way it's newsy and hits at whatever is going on from the day before, two days before whatever, just so that way I'm not in that place where I wrote 500 words and then I got to delete it all. That is the worst feeling and the worst,

Dave Reddy (32:10):

You got to leave something on the cutting room floor, but when you leave it all on the cutting room floor, it's like, oh man,

Sam Sabin (32:15):


Dave Reddy (32:16):

Been there. So let's get into RSA little bit and just cybersecurity in general. So not only is it is RSA coming up, but it's an election year, which I think always makes cybersecurity well, it makes everything more interesting, but it also makes cybersecurity and arguably RSA more interesting. So as we head into RSA in early May, what do you expect to see, to hear and to cover?

Sam Sabin (32:44):

Yeah, so I hate to be this person, but I do think it's all about AI begrudgingly, right? And I think the difference last year, you could say the same thing, right? Going into RSA in 2023, just a few months after chat, GBT became widely available, it really was more of an introductory conversation. Here's what we're predicting. What can GPT do for the workforce? And help to alleviate some of the workflows that cybersecurity workers are dealing with, or how are attackers going to use this? And I think just even by glancing at the schedule right now, it feels what I'm hopeful for, that the AI conversation will be more about what is already happening, that changes in election, that changes for the various products that I'm sure companies will be announcing during RSA that are AI enabled. Everyone maybe has a different definition of what AI is or so on, but I'm hoping that there's more of a concrete grounded conversation about ai, the use cases we've seen in the last year, the ways maybe attackers have used it, we'll use it, things like that.


And then of course, the rest of RSA for me, I'm probably not the person to ask about in terms of product and industry trends as much. I don't really know who's going to be acquiring who at any given moment. I mean, I'll take those scoops if you have 'em, but I am not usually that plugged into the business technical aspects in the same way that maybe a trade publication would be. But I am noticing a lot of the panels and a lot of the conversations are around the same sort of threat vectors we've been talking about for years, right? It's like SMS targeted attacks. It's like MSA, it's a lot of supply chain attack talks, it's things like that. It's a lot of government officials on panels talking about these things. I'm sure China will come up a lot because it's been coming up a lot in dc. So if you see an official on a panel, they'll probably mention Bull Typhoon and the campaign they've noticed from China prepositioning on US infrastructure, things like that. But it really does seem like maybe outside of the AI context that I find myself viewing things in these days. It does feel like a lot of conversations are that are normally to be expected at RSA this year.


That's not bad. I think it's a good mix of things. There's a reason we all keep going back, right? So yeah, it'll be interesting, but I constantly find myself having a deja vu moment looking at some of these things. It just feels like we're dealing with the same issues over and over again. Again, right?

Dave Reddy (35:41):

Yeah. But you would certainly know far better than me. I'm curious, is it the same issues but with different, for instance, AI with different flavors? So there's different spices to the same issues. We're obviously still dealing with all sorts of different types of spoofs and attacks. My wife and daughter both got a fake tech message saying they owed money to Caltran, which is the California Transportation Agency for driving in the HOV lane. That was not true. But those, oh

Sam Sabin (36:13):

My God

Dave Reddy (36:14):

Day and my wife Brightly called up Caltrans to see if it was real and it wasn't. So how much of that is because technology gets better and AI gets better, as folks always say, it's the cybersecurity company's job to stay one step ahead of the bad guy. To which end? What are you scared about the most? Again, it is an election year, which makes things even scarier. But what in the cyber world, I always ask this when I'm interviewing a cybersecurity reporter, what is it that we as a group should be scared about as a society? What is it that is really good?

Sam Sabin (36:56):

You're really hitting me with the question that we all ask everyone else. And man, now I know how, I try not to ask this to too many people just because I understand how difficult it can be, and I promise I have an answer for you. I'm debating between two things actually. But I'll

Dave Reddy (37:14):

Give you both and

Sam Sabin (37:15):

We'll talk about, I think I don't want to scare too many people because that's my other fear is that if we're constantly telling people to be afraid of the big scary cybersecurity, then they're just going to be numb when an attack happens or they're not going to take it seriously and they're going to go, oh, well that sounds too scary and I can never deal with it. It's like an apocalypse. And actually there are a lot of things you can do to be prepared in these instances. I think for me, it's two things. One, I have just maybe been in DC for too long, and I think a lot about all of the declassification of intelligence around China backed tax, especially around critical infrastructure, how unprepared our water systems are, how they're slightly more prepared by how unprepared maybe electric unit utilities are, or various things that we need to survive are for this, right?


And this could also be starting, I started on the speed during the summer of Colonial Pipeline, JBS foods and just seeing ransomware attacks targeting all of our hospitals or targeting the manufacturers of the food that we eat, it's really just not that hard to cause a disruption. And when you add also national security implications and tensions with another world superpower like China, that sometimes can keep me up at night. So I try not to think about it after five o'clock to mind because I think about it all the time throughout the day, and we're really not that prepared. And this is a big reason why I think I write about all these topics a lot. The other one that I think is concerning and maybe not as scary as China hacking our water if they have, is it's just the prevalence of scams. So things like the text that your wife and daughter got are everywhere and people are tired, people have good faith, or maybe they just don't know and they're just going to text someone back.


There are so many things like pig butchering scams that start with someone just being like, oh, hey Joe, how's it going? You're like, Hey, I'm not Joe. And then they just start a conversation because someone's too nice and they, or they just want to have a conversation with someone and all of a sudden they're sending thousands of dollars in Bitcoin to this random number or investing in a crypto scam. And it sounds really silly, but it is all about human psychology, and it's so easy for scammers to target that psychology. And then we don't want to talk about it because we're embarrassed. It sounds silly that we fell for it. And those in FBI data are so prevalent still just the number of little, I say little, it's small for law enforcement crimes where people are just losing $5,000 left and And that is actually very consequential for your average person. So yeah, that's everywhere as well. And I don't have a good solution. I'm glad that's not my job to figure out how to solve it, but it's scary just how prevalent they still are despite how long they've been running. A real downer,

Dave Reddy (40:29):

We have a character at work we refer to as fim, which is fake. Tim, Tim Markle is our founder and CEO and FIM texts us a lot. Now we're only 30 odd people, so when Tim texts us, or fi I should say, texts us, we know it's not Tim because this is Tim Markle, the CEO, I need you to call me immediately or I need you to log into this zoom immediately or whatever. And again, there's only 30 of us. We know Tim doesn't talk that way, and he would never put out a message like that,

Sam Sabin (41:00):

But we have the same one.

Dave Reddy (41:02):

Okay, so you've got yours, right?

Sam Sabin (41:04):

Yeah, we have a fake gym. So it's also a fim,

Dave Reddy (41:06):

Also fim,

Sam Sabin (41:07):


Dave Reddy (41:08):

There's more than one fim. I know,


And I'm just thinking if this were to happen at a company where not everybody knows the CEO, which is the vast majority of companies, I wonder how often that happens. And I'm reminded, I will not say whom I'm reminded of. A few years ago we had a client where fake a person pretending to be the CEO asked HR to send all of the, I dunno if it was the W twos or what it was, but it was all sorts of personal information. And of course HR was like, absolutely, sir. And that was bad that you understand why it happens, it could happen to you.

Sam Sabin (41:50):


Dave Reddy (41:51):

Totally. What makes you optimistic? So we talked about what scares you, but what about cyber makes you optimistic?

Sam Sabin (41:58):

I think there are probably a few things, but the overarching one is that I think when you're having these conversations with regulators, with executives, with people who actually can make change here, researchers, et cetera, everyone understands the importance of this. It is not like a tough sell to get people to care about critical infrastructure, cybersecurity. It's not a tough sell to get people to care about scams. And that I think is half the battle. It is just getting people to understand the problem, understand what can happen, and the ramifications. There are too many use cases where every week it's a new hospital that's down, it's a new school that's offline. It's something insane like that. And that's just our reality. And so there are too many use cases for people to not think it's important. And when I think about this in the cybersecurity compared to maybe other issues like climate change or healthcare, there are still debates about where the priorities are, whether they're important or real. And cybersecurity, I don't feel like has that issue. It is just a matter of figuring out how to best allocate our resources and then maybe at the boardroom, get it, get those resources going in some way depending on the company. But yeah, it feels like people know it's an issue, and that is kind of nice to think about that there is a motivation to hopefully fix this in most places.

Dave Reddy (43:48):

Shifting the conversation back to ai, we talked about AI and cybersecurity and the obvious issues, both good and bad there. What about journalism? I'm an old dog. The whole notion of AI and journalism scares me a little bit. Are you using AI in your work?

Sam Sabin (44:04):

I am not. Maybe ironic. I am definitely someone now who is very hesitant to use new technologies. I sound like my grandmother, but I think I've just existed too long online that I kind of want to see how it goes for other people first and then see how secure, safe, what the use cases are, et cetera, are. I think the times I've really used chat DBT is to kind of dabble in travel and trip planning, but I haven't used it elsewhere. And even in trip planning chat, DBT thinks you can cross Texas in five hours, which is not true. I don't know where it got its math from, but maybe

Dave Reddy (44:49):

The panhandle. Yeah,

Sam Sabin (44:51):

Maybe. So I personally haven't, and for us as a newsroom, and it's definitely something where I hope, knock on wood, what has been said is that we will probably never be a place where we have AI writing full stories, but there are definitely teams that are playing around with AI enabled tools using AI to maybe help write captions for photos or the alt text. So what you would see if an image doesn't load, or for those who are visually impaired who need to hear audibly or whatever, can't see the image, helping to write some of that stuff rather than writing a full story, which is what I think some newsrooms are already doing, which feels a little early and it clearly is not working for them that well. But that's kind of where I'm at. I'm a bit hesitant to use it right now. So early days, we're only about a year into the chat GBT world, but we'll see. Call me in a year and we'll see if that's changed.

Dave Reddy (46:04):

I know a lot of publications, cnet, et cetera, are actually putting journalists in charge of how do we figure this out? We are trying to figure out how to use it out from PR perspective. Are you optimistic about journalism? Now? You mentioned earlier, and I totally agree that Axio seems to be one of the titles that's doing well. You've got a business model and candidly, a journalism model that seems to work, whether it's the events that are helping you make money or just the journalism that's nice and crisp and seems to be attracting audiences. But what about journalism in general?

Sam Sabin (46:39):

Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head for Axios there, so I don't need to do our PR stump speech for you on, I did it for you. Yes, thank you. I did try amazing thinking about this question, and I feel two ways about it. I feel optimistic about journalism as an institution. It has always existed. It will continue to exist in some way, shape, or form. I just don't think you can have democracy without journalism. And today we still have democracies, which is awesome. I think journalism as a whole on a business model level, I feel less optimistic about. But I think only because we've hit an inflection point where models that were created just were not sustaining. A lot of the layoffs you're seeing are at publications that relied on billionaires with deep pockets or hedge funds. Everyone who wants a return for their investment.


And I don't know about you, but I have not felt wealth in my career. I feel a lot of fulfillment in the stories that I do, but I am not rolling in money, and it's just not an industry where I think you're going to get those big returns at a hedge fund or a very wealthy investor is going to want from this, unless you're talking about Craig Newmark, who is just throwing his money everywhere, and that's amazing. So I think in part what we're seeing is just a lot of falling apart because the models that we built digital media up on, we're not sustaining to begin with, right? They're rickety, they're falling apart. I think whether I'm optimistic about the business of journalism really depends on where we head next. I like the idea of subscriber driven models. I like the idea of events, style publications. A lot of trade publications are doing really well with that. But I am also not a business executive, so I am just a reporter who's hoping I can have a job and a career in this space and can muscle my way through it. So we'll see. Journalism will exist. The business makes me nervous.

Dave Reddy (49:03):

Fair enough. I

Sam Sabin (49:04):

Agree. Yeah.

Dave Reddy (49:05):

On a lighter note, my last question, maybe this isn't a lighter note, some people don't like when I ask this Washington, DC or Charlotte.

Sam Sabin (49:14):

I think for me, Charlotte will always have a piece of my heart, but DC is really ed that out for me. There's so much more to do here. It is fun. There are so many different types of people. I think people only think it's like Hill staffers. I don't know anyone. I'm not friends really with people on the hill. I mean, they're cool. I work with them, but I have friends in other areas and it's very cool. It's very close to a lot of other metropolitan areas. I could sell DC all day. But yeah, I think DC over Charlotte, although I do love Charlotte, I understand why people bought houses there. I'm sure a lot of people listening just bought a house in Charlotte.

Dave Reddy (49:59):

It's a little easier to buy a house in Charlotte than it is in

Sam Sabin (50:02):

A lot easier. Yeah.

Dave Reddy (50:05):

Wonderful. Sam, thank you so much for your time. Good luck at RSA. We'll look forward to your coverage. I'm sure it'll be fantastic, as it always is. And thanks again.

Sam Sabin (50:15):

Thank you.

Dave Reddy (50:16):

I'd like to thank you all for listening today, and once again, a big thank you to our guest, Sam Saban of Axios. Join us next month when we interview another member of the B2B Tech Top 200. In the meantime, if you've got feedback on today's podcast or if you'd like to learn more about Big Valley Marketing and how we identified the B2B tech top 200, be sure to drop me an email at d That's DRE double DY at Big Valley, all one No m. You can also email the whole team at pressing Thanks again, and as always, think big.