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BusinessWeek.com’s Byrne: I Had to “Bribe” Reporters to Respond to Comments on Their Articles

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BusinessWeek.com Executive Editor/Editor-in-Chief John A. Byrne began his talk at Mediabistro Circus today citing management expert Jim Collins and his “five stages of corporate decline.” He said the media business is currently in stage 4: “grasping for salvation.”

Byrne said any new business model, “won’t be one thing, it will be a lot of things. Deep and intimate engagement with readership is key to making it work.” With behavioral advertising, advertisers can basically “get the demo they want for a fraction of the price” on other sites like Facebook, and Byrne reminded us that trend “will continue to erode the value of a media brand” and that the next three years will be “gruesome.”

He then said, “The only way to fight these trends is engagement.”

“Many players will not want to do what I say, because they are in a quantity game,” he said. Dow Jones (WSJ, Barron’s, etc.) has 2,000+ journalists, versus BusinessWeek with about 200. They will play the quantity game. We have to play engagement game.”

Byrne named a number of engagement initiatives, but did say he initially had to “bribe” journalists to get involved with the online conversations around their stories. He told journalists that if they did not participate, their story would drop off the homepage in one day. I said “no dialogue, no homepage,” and “you’d see how fast journalists would want to now engage with readers.”

In terms of being too public with reporting as a risk to outing story ideas and sources to competitors, Byrne said, “80% of what we do we can be more open about, 20% we need to protect for competitive reasons.”

So, what is BusinessWeek.com’s metric for engagement? Byrne said that the team “thinks about what we output to the world – how many stories and how many blog posts do we put out to the world and what does the world give back to us in terms of inputs. And the ratio is what we look at. We are aiming for 100:1.”

BusinessWeek.com has had success with their new Business Exchange topic site/search engine. Byrne said that for one third of Business Exchange topics, the first result on Google search for that topic is a link to the Exchange topic page. The site has two million pages registered in Google for only 1500 topics, and there is, “big success on the advertising side, we are sold out. We cannot get enough impressions to meet demand of advertisers,” he said, citing the example of advertisers being attracted to certain topics and being able to sponsor that topic, such as Toyota potentially sponsoring the topic page for hybrid cars.

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