The Human Newswire vs. The Medical Marvel

by Lewis DVorkin and Forbes, Inc.

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Forbes Model For Journalism In The Digital Age.

Eric Savitz, our Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, is admiringly referred to within Forbes as the “Human Newswire.” He’s up at 5 am Pacific time, writes 10 posts a day (with market-timed bursts at 6:30 am and 1 pm) and is often spotted posting into the wee hours of the next morning Eastern time. “It’s a good approach for a workaholic,” he says. Eric zeroes in on the intersection of technology and investing, focusing on the public markets. “My approach reflects the nature of the trading day. I keep my posts short and punchy, and where I can I try to provide a perspective on why things matter in a historical context.” Eric squeezes in more expansive digital and magazine reporting when he’s not focused on his other responsibilities.

The frequency and timeliness of his posts attracted the news-seeking audience in greater numbers. “When chip companies issue earnings warnings, that has resonance for PC makers, and therefore matters to retailers,” he says. Eric was also ahead of the reporting pack in covering the floods in Thailand, as “it was clear to me early on those events would have wide-ranging effects on companies with no direct exposure to the flood waters.”

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Eric Savitz, our Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, is admiringly referred to within Forbes as the “Human Newswire.” He’s up at 5 am Pacific time, writes 10 posts a day (with market-timed bursts at 6:30 am and 1 pm) and is often spotted posting into the wee hours of the next morning Eastern time. “It’s a good approach for a workaholic,” he says. Eric zeroes in on the intersection of technology and investing, focusing on the public markets. “My approach reflects the nature of the trading day. I keep my posts short and punchy, and where I can I try to provide a perspective on why things matter in a historical context.” Eric squeezes in more expansive digital and magazine reporting when he’s not focused on his other responsibilities.

The frequency and timeliness of his posts attracted the news-seeking audience in greater numbers. “When chip companies issue earnings warnings, that has resonance for PC makers, and therefore matters to retailers,” he says. Eric was also ahead of the reporting pack in covering the floods in Thailand, as “it was clear to me early on those events would have wide-ranging effects on companies with no direct exposure to the flood waters.”

The average number of page views for his popular posts more than doubled, to 10,000, in the second half of 2011, driving his monthly unique visitors sharply higher. His output remained steady, 1,000 posts in the first half of the year and the same in the second half. By continually covering many of the same companies, he built a loyal base of followers (100,000) who visit his page more than once a month. That last statistic would be particularly meaningful for an incentive-based, non-staff digital contributor. The bigger their repeat, or loyal audience (as opposed to once-a-month visitors), the bigger the monthly compensation.

Matt Herper is another among the many talented staff writers and knowledgeable contributors who built audiences around their expertise and individual brands on Forbes.com. Matt’s a walking, talking, posting encyclopedia of nearly everything that has to do with medicine. He has a strong following, too.

Matt posts far less frequently than Eric, but in much greater depth. Matt started out posting quite a bit, but reduced his output as he discovered the long-form rhythm worked best for the topic, his audience and his traffic numbers. “I think it’s partly because, in medicine, a lot of the challenge isn’t just pointing out what is important, but also why,” Matt says. “For a piece to be really valuable, you may need to take the reader into another world.” His audience trended up even as his output dramatically slowed down. He also works his audience:

“I promote pretty heavily on Twitter, where I try to stay very engaged. I think about Yahoo Finance, and I’m starting to think a lot about LinkedIn, where the point seems to be to get passed around among a group of extremely well-informed, professional readers, which then leads to even more well-informed, professional readers finding my work.”

Matt also engages with them. Using our comment moderation and filtering tools, you can always find him mixing it up with audience members who join the conversation. Additionally, Matt was able to rely on outside experts to cover breaking medical news for us. He brought on 10 or so knowledgeable writers. With Matt’s “orbit” of talent, he had more freedom to focus on longer stories. As he says, “I don’t need to worry about what might have been missed.”

Last November, Matt wrote a powerful magazine cover story on the philanthropic efforts of Bill Gates, who is bringing his marketplace mentality to supplying impoverished children around the world with much-needed vaccines. The story generated a big audience when first published on Forbes.com. When traffic began to wane, Matt did something shrewd. He published a lengthy related post from material that never made it into the magazine cover package – the stuff that fell on the cutting-room floor. That post generated strong traffic, too. Matt also used those pages to promote his original cover story and the Herper brand.

There is really something much bigger at work in all this. Content is content, long-form or short-form (our reporters have succeeded with both strategies). And content is not really print or digital. Media organizations – both new and traditional – place it where they do solely for business reasons. A new breed of voracious news consumer will simply discover it, consume it, talk about it, share it – and even create new content around it – whenever they want on the platform and device of their choice.
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