The excellent media-industry journalist Joe Pompeo, who writes for Capital New York,
published a scoop about us yesterday.
Pompeo caught wind of a new investment we’re making in “long form” journalism, the kind that most people associate with magazines. (Newspapers, wire services, and many digital news organisations produce a lot of this kind of journalism, too. And we’ve done a fair bit of it in the past.)
We are indeed making this investment, and we’re looking for an excellent editor to run it for us.
This is a perfect opportunity for an ambitious, talented editor who wants to produce great stories that readers love. We’ll pay this editor well — probably better than the magazine world, from what I understand — and we’ll give him or her a healthy budget to work with excellent freelance writers in addition to the talented folks on our team. The editor will have free reign to develop stories across a wide variety of topics: The only common requirement will be that the stories be stories that our readers love.
Joe Pompeo described some of what we’re doing and looking for in his article at Capital. In case you would like more information, I’ve included my responses to the questions Joe sent me below.
-So I’m told you’re looking for magazine-type editor. Does this mean BI plans to start formalising and regularly doing more of the types of longform features it’s really only done sporadically up until now?
You bet. Our readers love them, so we want to do a lot more.
-How many such features would you say BI has run to date?
Over the past six years? Hundreds. They’re not all tens of thousands of words, obviously, and some of them are built around photography, charts, and other visuals, but they’re major original features. We’ve also done dozens of long-form word-based stories, too.
-Not to get too ahead of ourselves, but tell me a bit more about your plans/vision/strategy for having a full-time editor commissioning longform stuff. How many such pieces would you like to see per month, per week, etc? Will all of BI’s writers be expected to pitch? Do you envision building a large roster of freelancers? What sort of freelance budget will this editor have? etc. etc.
One of our new editor’s responsibilities will be to decide the best frequency, length, and approach of these stories, as well as the time and resources invested in each one. Some topics don’t warrant many thousands of words, and we never want to write long for the sake of writing long. The one common denominator is that they will all be stories that we think our readers will love.
We’re going to make a significant investment here (hundreds of thousands of dollars), and we expect the stories to be written by both our staff and contributors. We definitely won’t expect everyone in the newsroom to contribute. Researching and writing long-form word-based articles is an esoteric skill, and it’s not for everyone. We have folks on our team with a very wide range of digital skills and interests, and long-form text-based stories will always be only one part of what we do.
-You’ve always been interested in longer pieces. In terms of deciding to make them a regular part of the mix, why now? Is it partly because of all the attention Carlson’s Marisa Mayer piece received?
We were thrilled with the readership of the Mayer profile, and it increased our conviction that there’s a hunger for these kinds of stories. But mostly we’ve just now reached the scale where we can dedicate significant resources to this.
-Speaking of that piece, can you talk about it in the context of how these types of features are good for business? i.e. How many views did that piece get, and based on that, could you provide some colour on how much money it made as an example of the potential to monetise these types of stories?
The Mayer profile was extremely well-read — hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide — but it took six months to produce, so on a narrow financial basis, it probably wasn’t a home run. But there are many other business benefits to stories like these, with the most important being that readers love them. More broadly, one of the big benefits of having a large newsroom — we have about 65 full-time journalists now — is that we can invest in a wide variety of different kinds of stories. So they don’t all have to pay for themselves.
-Would you say this step is indicative of the ongoing professionalization of the BI newsroom? Since I was there, it’s much larger and seems to include more people from newspapers/wires/magazines and other types of traditional backgrounds.
Yes, this is another step in our ongoing mission, which is to get better every day. And, yes, we do now have alums of many traditional newsrooms — Bloomberg, AP, Forbes, CNET, CNN, CNBC, Entrepreneur, Discovery, and others. (We were sorry to lose you, but congratulations on the success you have all had at Capital!)
-It also seems like a more formalized editing structure has started to fall into place, is that right? Does content pass before an editor’s eyes now before it gets published?
Yes! And the site is also no longer crippled when one of our folks sleeps in or takes the day off.
-By the way, how many newsroom employees are you up to?
68! Along with a big group of awesome interns.
-There will obviously be sceptics given that most of BI’s energy up until now has been focused on speed/aggregation/pithyness/slideshows etc., all of which does create a sort of unpolished quality in terms of the site’s overall content. What’s your response to that, and what’s your response to people who might say that BI’s not equipped to consistently pull of longer, magazine-quality work, that it’s too sloppy?
Yes, there will always be sceptics. If we got a dollar every time someone said we were screwed, we’d never need another revenue stream. In terms of overall quality and polish, we’ve made great progress over the last several years. We obviously can still get better, and we will.
Consistently producing more great magazine-style stories will be one of our new editor’s responsibilities. Anyone who just wants to produce mediocre, boring ones need not apply.
(I should add that magazine-style stories are only one kind of major feature story that our readers love. They also love visual stories and videos that have more in common with documentaries and TV packages than magazine articles. We have produced wonderful reported visual stories about the Canada tar sands, the crisis in Egypt, the Maine lobster industry, the Silicon Valley homeless problem, the depression in Greece, the economy and markets, the ins and outs of dozens of tech gadgets, and many other topics. If readers didn’t love these stories, we wouldn’t do them. But great pictures truly can be worth a thousand words, and every day our readers remind us of that.)
-Anything else to add?
I think that Business Insider, Buzzfeed, Gawker Media, Huffington Post, and others are just now beginning to show what successful digital journalism organisations can ultimately become. Unlike traditional print publications and broadcast networks, we aren’t limited to one form of storytelling. Our readers love many different kinds of stories, including quick hits, long articles, syndicated stories, real-time news briefs, helpful links, insightful commentary, humour, photography, charts, video, photo-essays, live-blogs, and interactivity. We will continue to invest in all of these kinds of stories, with the aim of making BI as helpful, valuable, and fun for our readers as we can.
From a high level, I think the digital-journalism industry is where, say, cable news was in the late 1980s. By then, CNN was proving that a dedicated news channel made sense, but they still had big hair, cheap sets, and limited editorial resources. 10 years later, they were a powerful global news organisation. And 10 years after that, they were the Establishment.
Joe Pompeo also asked me to send some examples of some of the long-form work we’ve done in the past, in addition to the Marissa Mayer biography. Here’s what I sent him:
“The Startup Con Man” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-startup-con-man-2010-6 (Nick Saint)
“The Story Of A Failed Startup And A Founder Driven To Suicide” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/jody-sherman-ecomom-2013-4 (Alyson Shontell)
“The Great Marijuana Crash Of 2011” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-great-marijuana-crash-of-2011-2013-9 (Walter Hickey)
“How Goldman Sachs Blew The Facebook IPO” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/morgan-stanley-goldman-sachs-facebook-ipo-2012-5 (HB)
“INSIDE GROUPON: The Story Of The World’s Most Controversial Company” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/inside-groupon-the-truth-about-the-worlds-most-controversial-company-2011-10 (Nicholas Carlson)
“How Dunkin Doughnuts Ended Up Hiring A ‘Psychotic Credit-Card Thief’ As Director Of Communications” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/dunkin-doughnuts-hired-psychotic-credit-card-thief-carolyn-kravetz-as-director-of-communications-2013-7 (Jim Edwards)
“MONEYBALL AT WORK: They’ve Finally Discovered What Really Makes A Great Employee” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/big-data-in-the-workplace-2013-5 (Max Nisen)
“The Addict Who Got Clean, Got A Job, And Then Got 25 Years In Prison” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/mandy-martinsons-mandatory-minimum-sentence-2013-9 (Erin Fuchs)
“INSIDE J.C. PENNEY: Fear, Distrust, And Loathing Of Ron Johnson” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/inside-jcpenney-2013-2 (Kim Bhasin)
“The Betrayal At The Heart Of Snapchat” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/snapchat-lawsuit-photos-texts-and-emails-2013-8 (Jim Edwards)
‘SEX AND POLITICS AT GOOGLE: It’s A Game Of Thrones In Mountain View’ http://www.businessinsider.com.au/sex-and-politics-at-google-its-a-game-of-thrones-in-mountain-view-2013-9 (Nicholas Carlson)
“A Harmless Deadhead Has Been Sentenced To Die In Prison” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/timothy-tylers-mandatory-minimum-sentence–life-in-prison-2013-7 (Erin Fuchs)
“NO CONFLICT, NO INTEREST: Twitter, John Doerr, And The Rise Of Private Stock Markets” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/no-conflict-no-interest-john-doerr-twitter-2011-3 (HB)
“BOSTON MASSACRE: The Full Story Of How Two Deranged Young Men Terrorized A City” http://www.businessinsider.com.au/boston-bombings-2013-4(Brett LoGiurato and HB)
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