6 questions with Gizmodo Media Group CEO Reju Narisetti
Raju Narisetti has made building communities of millennial readers his business. He tells us why connecting them around information matters.
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Gizmodo. Jezebel. Deadspin. These are just several of the online media outlets that fall under the Gizmodo Media Group, the publisher that’s earned a loyal following among that coveted demographic: millennials.
Whether it’s a story on the latest Nintendo nostalgia gimmick for the tech fans at Gizmodo or an article on the Women’s March for the readers at Jezebel, the Gizmodo Media Group has found a way to publish on a wide range of topics while cultivating communities around specific audience interests.
And the editorial strategy has worked — the Fusion Media Group, which includes Gizmodo Media Group’s nine flagship sites, has seen audiences grow to some 125 million unique visitors a month, up from around 90 million a year in 2016.
The question for many in the media is, “how?”
At the top of this organisational chain sits a man who manages the success of these nine outlets: Gizmodo Group CEO Raju Narisetti. While not a millennial himself, the 51-year-old Indian immigrant is an expert at harnessing the power of the web to nurture and sustain an impressive suite of online communities.
We asked Narisetti how he navigates today’s complicated media landscape while building connected communities of millions of niche readers.
You’re not a millennial and you were not a digital native as a kid. What critical tools have you added to your skill set to help you excel in this space?
At 51, I am about as far as you can get from a millennial without being seen as a total fuddy-duddy. The average age of my newsroom staff is twenty-four. I lower the IQ and raise the average age in every meeting I attend at work, which is how it should be.
Whether it is because of luck or serendipity or effort, in nearly three decades in media, I have now spent the last 15 years in roles that have been at intersections — journalism, platforms, products, technology and strategy. For about that same time, I have operated with a simple philosophy: “When is the last time I did something for the first time?” And that has helped me stay somewhat relevant, I hope.
Leadership modesty, as it is said, is not necessarily about being humble. It is about knowing the limits of what you know and what you don’t know. It is then about asking questions and also being willing to hear the truth.
But I think I was a bit doomed by DNA, so to speak, as my mother, Komala Venigalla, was an English professor and my father, Innaiah Narisetti, was an author and journalist in the Telugu press in India. I quickly gravitated towards a career in journalism a couple of years after being a sales manager for a dairy products company in India selling butter and cheese.
Some might argue that the increased splintering of media outlets, sliced and diced by demographic and consumer preferences, is creating a new problem: communities of entirely like-minded consumers. Do you see this as a problem?
At least on the surface, there has never been a greater ability to create communities in perhaps the history of civilisation than today. Think of all the communities created inside Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat — or the aggregation of contributors and users around Wikipedia. The same is true for the unimagined digital scale for traditional media brands such as The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal.
With a few exceptions, I would argue that the growing scale and reach of media brands, particularly digitally, is more of an opportunity to create communities, especially if media outlets start seeing themselves less as gatekeepers of ideas, information and knowledge, but [more] as “gate-openers” who are using the privilege of having brand-loyal audiences be exposed to a plurality of information.
Do you worry about it leading to isolation between such communities though? Further splintering?
If these are not walled-off, isolated communities, it doesn’t bother me. If people don’t exercise their choice — flip a television channel to a different news brand — that really isn’t the fault of Fox or MSNBC, is it?
How do you ensure Gizmodo stays vital and increases connectivity across communities?
Our mission is built on enduring and somewhat related themes: truth and trust.
Our publishing platform is designed for conversations about the journalism we produce and, as a result, in January through September of 2017 alone, we have had over 8 million comments by our readers, up from around 5 million comments in the same period last year. Some 735,000 people have created what we call a Kinja identity, which gives them a unique name as a commenter.
As a result, we have strong communities that keep coming back, consuming our journalism, reacting and responding to it, and generating tens of thousands of conversations via comments. Our journalists actively participate in this, thus creating a deeper sense of community. We owe it to our audiences to be accurate and transparent.
What is the long view you’re taking when it comes to community-building?
There are plenty of media brands out there today, but [we believe] there is no “go-to” media company for the future that houses a much more diverse young America. We are building a powerful portfolio of passion destinations, where young people can spend their time. Our diverse staff, then, focuses on eclectic story-telling.
Our long-term commitment remains to speak the truth and make Fusion Media Group the “go-to” media platform for what lies ahead in America. With 50 percent of our audience in the 18 to 34 age group, an even split between men and women, and a highly multi-cultural base, we see our role as hosting this community around clear passion points.