Narisetti, a veteran of The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, among other publications, left his position as senior vice president strategy at News Corp. about six months ago to become CEO of the newly-created Gizmodo Media Group, publisher of six websites: Gizmodo, Deadspin, Jezebel, Kotaku, Lifehacker and Jalopnik.
Gizmodo is owned by the Fusion Media Group, a division of Univision Communications, which acquired Gizmodo and the other sites in August 2016 when they purchased the assets of Gawker Media for $135 million.
Ahead of his appearance at the World News Media Congress, 7-9 June, Narisetti answered a few questions by e-mail about his new position and what “old media” can learn from digital pure players.
WAN-IFRA: It’s a big jump from “old media” organizations News Corp., Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post to “millenial-oriented pure play” Gizmodo. Please describe some of the most striking differences in terms of structure, culture, and so on.
Raju Narisetti: I would disagree with the premise of a “big jump” as well as the notion of “old media.” The Wall Street Journal was and remains a pioneer in understanding that the business of digital journalism can be sustained only through a combination of advertising and subscriptions, something that the so-called “pure play” digital brands are coming around to, in terms of the need to diversify their revenue beyond just advertising.
Similarly, some of the pioneering work we did at The Washington Post around use of audience data and metrics as engagement signals is actually still far ahead of many digital-only publishing houses.
What is refreshingly different, however, is that for the first time in nearly three decades in the media business, I am in a position to not have to make sub-optimal decisions around managing/maintaining legacy platforms even as we tried to grow digital presence and scale.
At the Gizmodo Media Group, we have the advantage of having a group of destination journalism sites that attract a smart, passionate group of young readers who trust our journalism for its authentic voice, truth-telling and point of view. So the choices are around how best to continue to engage young audiences and grow our business in order to continue to be able to fund more such journalism in more areas where young people spend their time.
The other big difference for me personally is that for the first time, all my staff as well as most of my bosses are younger than I am.
While that keeps me young and always learning, it also means that it comes with the burden of being the adult in the room and having to balance the interests of the immediate with what is best for the organization’s future. And that is not a position that is easily understood at either end.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to this new environment?
I have always taken on new roles because of asking myself, “When is the last time I did something for the first time?” It means that I never come into a role with a “know it all” attitude and tend to think that even as I have a lot to contribute from my past experiences, there is always an opportunity to learn.
At Gizmodo, I see my primary mission as creating space, resources and opportunities for our journalism to continue to do what it does best, without fear or favor. I am responsible, in many ways, for a large silo within a large matrix and the challenge is to manage expectations at both ends. And that is never easy when we are integrating teams, brands, companies and cultures.
As a journalist at heart but with a CEO title behind me, I have gone the extra mile to preserve the important “church and state” divide and to make sure our newsrooms feel like they can do more of the journalism for which they are known for, and indeed, have been acquired for by Univision.
I also tend to have a long-term view and tend not to look in the rear-view mirror and say “see how far we have come” even as we need to look ahead and focus on “how far we need to go.”
It helps that we are part of Univision, with its long tradition of supporting great journalism as an owner/operator, rather than a media company that is looking for just short-term results.
What can “old media” learn from companies like Gizmodo? And vice versa?
For mainstream media: Don’t confuse longevity with relevance. Treat your readers as smart, caring, interested and interesting participants in a conversation, not just at the receiving end of your journalism. Be accurate, playful and don’t get too hung up on what you think your brand/platform should be about.
For upstart media: Don’t confuse current relevance with longevity. There is a reason why some media brands have prevailed for decades, even centuries. And don’t confuse tone and attitude with relevance and value to your audiences.
Please describe the business model.
We are unique in that we have about five sources of revenue and fairly evenly distributed: display advertising, video/programmatic, custom content/native studios, commerce, and events.
For now the only piece of traditional media revenue that we don’t have is subscriptions/memberships. Stay tuned.
Our 2017 revenues are expected to grow upwards of 30% over 2016.
Your publishing platform, called Kinja, is widely considered to be one of your strong points. Could you elaborate?
Kinja is a nimble publishing platform built with equal focus on journalism and monetization… There is a growing chorus of digital publishers out there today, singing the praises of their proprietary platforms, but a collection of different functional interfaces, only some of which are integrated into a single UI, will have limitations of scaling, storytelling and revenue optimization.
How do we know this to be true? A decade of Kinja, about the same or more of nimble storytelling that has continuously evolved from mere blogging; and about four years of Kinja Deals, our powerful e-commerce engine that saw our audiences buy 6.5 million products off our sites at conversion rates that are about four times higher than any journalism-led brand out there today.
How many people work at Gizmodo, and in which roles/departments?
Approximately 250 across journalism, revenue, commerce, and business.
What is your approach to distributed content?
Our brands are powerful enough to attract a loyal/repeat audience.
We do believe that we can and should leverage large groups of audiences on third-party platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and see value in making sure our brands are present. But we don’t plan to mortgage our future by relying mostly on having our journalism show up elsewhere.
In which directions do you see the company developing in the next five years?
By 2028, more than 50% of America’s 18-34 year-olds will be non-white. We believe we are uniquely poised to be the go-to media brand for a much more diverse, young America.
As mentioned above, Narisetti will speak at the World News Media Congress, 7-9 June in Durban, South Africa.