Todd Bishop and his colleagues at GeekWire have strategically blended business journalism with leading-edge media business practices to create a regional tech publication with worldwide readership.
Todd is convinced that content marketers and other content strategists could benefit from bringing a journalistic approach to their content. With a research-based, journalistic approach “you’re not just telling people what you want them to hear because it aligns with your business interests, but you’re finding things that are really valuable out there that people would not have known otherwise.”
Even as GeekWire models modern media practices, Todd remains enthusiastic about old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism – filing FOIAs, digging through corporate IPO filings, and exposing business scams.
We talked about:
- GeekWire’s blend of editorial content and event production
- how journalists are to content strategy as fish are to water, completely immersed in it
- how GeekWire developed its position as an international source for tech news even as it stays regionally focused
- his approach to balancing the editorial needs and expectations of his readers with GeekWire’s business goals
- GeekWire’s own HQ2 experiment
- how GeekWire turns fun and engaging internal team-development activities into engaging stories
- the power of research – finding and sharing information that’s in plain sight
Todd Bishop is co-founder and editor of GeekWire, a longtime technology journalist who covers subjects including cloud tech, e-commerce, virtual reality, devices, apps and tech giants such as Amazon.com, Apple, Microsoft and Google. A native of Orland, Calif., he has worked as a reporter for publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, Puget Sound Business Journal and Seattle P-I.
Here’s the video version of our conversation (we spoke in-person and didn’t record a Zoom video as I usually do, so this is just a YouTube version of the audio recording):
[Not an actual transcript – just my quick notes on first listen-through]
0:20 – my intro
0:40 – Todd intro – longtime newspaper reporter and views content through that lens, with a modern twist – GeekWire is a national/international tech publication
1:40 – founding of GeekWire – origins in Seattle P-I – Jonathan Spasato sole invester and co-founder – bootstrapped from initial investment, and now profitable, has grown based on the business – big portion is events -10-14 a year – but also make money off of advertising and sponsored content – maintains news and advertising divide
3:#6 – content is the starting point for all – events, news, etc – people read GeekWire for all kinds of reasons – insights, tips, recruting, job hunting – reporters traditonally think of what they write as changing the world – not always Watergate or Pentatgon Papers – can be more local – would love to win a Pulitzer, but happy where they are now
5:00 – used Google satellite maps to find Amazon’s secret drone testing site – also exposed a scam by Order Ahead, fake ordering service – try to do that kind of civic journalism – but also a lot of practical
5:45 – demise of enterprise journalism?
6:00 – everyone’s a pulisher now, content marketing, establishing expertise – content marketers ofte struggle – as a journalist, my hypothesis is that you’re so immersed in it (content strategy) that it is to you as water is to a fish
7:00 – did you take a strategic approach to, say, the beats that you choose to cover?
7:05 – yes, in some ways, more, though, about what they know is important – fascinating stuff happening here [in Seattle] – Amazon, MS resurgence, now, space – SpaceX and Blue Origin, due to Boeing aerospace heritage – Alan Boyle one of best reporters in the country on that beat – stumbled on to fact that local stuff resonates nationally and internationally – broke Amazon Fresh story with old-fashioned journalism – following model, what’s important, 15-20% of readership is in WA state, biggest segment but by no means a majority – folks arrive via Twitter and other national media – no idea that it’s a Seattle-based publication – and it’s just another story to them
9:25 – this was their third incarnation – had done stuff at P-I –
10:20 – focus is on audience – looks at it both from editorial and business perspective – editorially, always looking for the best content for the readers, but aware of what will help business – he’s involved in overall business – e.g. for events, he recruits speakers, but even there you can’t buy a spot on the main stage as a sponsor – fine line that they try to maintain
11:40 – some sponsors shocked that they can’t buy a spot – but have created lunch sponsored sessions, off stage, some of them are among highest-rated content
12:15 – content marketers, know how to do that kind of content
12:40 – in some cases it was people who sponsored who brought really relevant topics, and GeekWire events were great place
13:10 – walking the talk on business-editorial practices, a model?
13:35 – doing our best – have to self-correct at times – but general principle is to keep interests of readers in mind – has lost sponsors based on editorial decisions he’s made – knows because he hears about it after the fact, not because of pressure in advance – business folks didn’t know what he was doing
14:30 – old-school journalist, right?
14:45 – yep
15:00 – the struggle for content – that’s all you do as a journalist – as business person – how do you leverage content for business purposes?
16:10 – actually doesn’t think about it that way – ex. two IPOs in Seattle this week and they lit up, excited to see financials of previously secret stuff – that’s what guides them, old-fashioned journalistic excitement about the story – “Our readers should really know about this. We are really excited about figuring it out.” you get to tell the world about the story – and that works for his audience – and then on the business side figuring out what to do with that
17:30 – geographic focus – they do think about it – want to make sure they have a critical mass of readers in Seattle, need to fill the events – should be in every story some hook back to the northwest – e.g. covers big cos. outside of NW, but not startups
18:30 – strategy that ties together editorial & events?
18:45 – GeekWire Bash drew 1,700 attendees – serious GeekWire Summit with Boeing and Starbucks CEOs – events run the gamut – may do events elsewhere
19:25 – GeekWire HQ 2 – sort of a spoof, actually spoofed Amazon’s RFP, but actually got responses from 10 cities around country – Phil, Sacramento, Pittsburgh – chose Pittsburgh based on startup ecosystem, etc. – nerve-wracking wait as Amazon announced short list – luckily Pittsburgh made it –
20:50 – did some small-scale events in Pittsburgh – VC firm hosted an event and mayor spoke at closing event – huge appreciation for Seattle – starting in new market made them do stuff they hadn’t done in years, and brought that back with them and doing them here – also, it’s a smaller place which showed value of big tech hotbed like Seattle – not as big as Silicon Valley – in some areas, cloud, e.g., it IS the biggest – AWS & Azure both here, and Google’s new campus is all about their cloud services
22:40 – when you go up to 10K/20K level – what if? . . .
22:55 – this is where it gets back to content – he makes everyone there participate in “GeekWire adventures,” things that they love to do, build team, but great content, too – e.g. race from Fremont to Pioneer Sq., one in ReachNow, one on skateboard, he rode Spin bike, one person on bus, Uber – had a blast and wrote up their experiences – and it was a hit on the site – real measure of which content is resonating, beyond the actual numbers, which they watch closely – when they go to events they hear about which stories resonated
24:25 – metrics? and how does community feedback line up with it?
24:45 – site metrics and community reports don’t always line up – race was good example of one that did well both on site and in community feedback –
25:30 – shareability vs linkability – and brand impression vs site metrics
26:05 – sometimes people not liking a story is evidence that you’re doing a good job as a journalist – role as reporter different from a content marketer’s copy
26:30 – old-fashioned Fourth Estate? duty to report regardless of business consequences
26:45 – they are transparent with story sources about what they’re doing, why they’re asking – no surprises when story runs – don’t share details in advance, but they aren’t ambushing – they’re approach and agenda are clear – have been some tough instances in which prominent people in the community would rather not have seen a story published –
28:00 – hopes Seattle Times continues to do well – appreciated the story they did last year
28:40 – I really think that there’s power in finding public information that’s there, hiding in plain sight – there’s a role/model to be followed there for content strategists and content marketers – “you’re not just telling people what you want them to hear because it aligns with your business interests, but you’re finding things that are really valuable out there that people would not have known otherwise . . . there’s a lot of value on the research side of things – a lot of people probably spend a lot of time crafting the writing, but if the information that you have isn’t exclusive or unique or really valuable, it doesn’t really matter how well you write it or how great your headline is.” – might get a click but may not get them to subscribe – thinks a lot about email – use and find authentic information and have a direct relationship with the person who’s coming to your site