James Cook, tech reporter at Business Insider UK, on the launch of the site in the UK, getting readers excited about business tech and the luxury of building good relationships with tech companies.
The UK arm was launched in November, primarily with the task of focusing on finance and tech. Have you stuck to those core remits?
Yes, finance, tech and politics are what Business Insider is known for. We’ve stuck to that for now. We also have a writer on tech who is a lifestyle writer by trade, and he’s brought that element into it. Our readers love experiences, and London tech has lots of events happening around it.
We also have Lara O’Reilly, our Global Advertising Editor, in London. We do a lot of advertising coverage and tech.
How big is the team, and how many of you focus on tech?
We’ve grown really quickly to twenty. I was hire number five, and I joined at the end of last year. We’ve moved to bigger offices in Shoreditch. We’ve got a few people coming over from the American offices to write for us, which is great. It gives a good idea of the culture and what Business Insider US does and how it works differently to us.
What I like about Business Insider UK is that it’s a start-up and a global company at the same time. The UK arm is quite small, but has the backing of the US and the expertise there. Having come from start-ups and having worked for small media companies, I feel at home there.
There are three or four of us focusing on tech at the moment, and we’re hiring another couple of people. Tech is a real draw for BI readers; even if they are not working in tech, it’s something they want to read.
We’ve heavily invested in it, as there’s a lot going on with European tech. If you read other papers, you probably wouldn’t guess that lots of the disruption in the financial industry is from fintech start-ups in Europe. The coverage there probably isn’t as in-depth as they would like. We try and fill that gap a little bit by meeting with start-ups and going to VC firms to look into things that people probably aren’t talking about.
Do you think traditional media has been quite slow to cotton onto the importance of tech in business?
A lot of newspapers ignore some exciting companies because they are young and don’t have enough money, and maybe don’t understand what they are doing. That’s a shame because there are some really great companies in London doing great things. There is a company, for example, doing open source risk analysis software for hedge funds; it has the highest start-up salary in London. They hire programmers from big banks, and its all open source – so there are programmers in one hedge fund improving the code used in the other, which goes totally against finance.
In other newspapers, there isn’t a lot of overlap between the business desk and the tech desk. It’s the in-between that is really interesting.
Tell us about the “10 things in tech you need to know today” morning update
We used to do that in the US, and I thought it was really useful to have. In Europe, you miss the East and West Coast news, so we wanted to move that to Europe so it’s ready for the early New York mornings. There are lots of bankers there involved in tech, and they are up at 4 or 5am. Tom Keene of Bloomberg is supposedly up at 3am. These are the people we want to reach. We try and get it out at 9am UK time, which works well as it’s when people are arriving at work.
Do you have traffic peaks across the day?
We know that people get in, in the morning, and read the site. You walk into a lot of offices and see people just scrolling through. We have a team in the US, and their job is to curate the homepage, to see what people are looking at and what they are clicking through. We do get people actively coming to the site and looking through, which is great for our writers, as they know everything on the site is getting a readership of some kind.
How much content do you share with the US arm?
Everything is shared between the two sites, but we have a separate homepage in the UK. BI had licensing deals with companies in Australia and Indonesia, but we found that 5-10% of our audience for Business Insider was from the UK and Europe. So we decided to launch the site over here.
There is a lot of integration between the two. If anything happens in the US part of the company, we’re on video call. We are always talking and coordinating what’s going on.
What makes a perfect tech story for you?
We like news that we can get up fast. We can come in there with an explanation or an analysis that you won’t find elsewhere. If a company has raised $100 million, why has it done that, why is it interesting?
We also like stories about start-ups that you probably haven’t read. Stories from inside companies. We look for the insider details you won’t get elsewhere.
It’s easy to forget that you can look into companies and find out things that they might not want you to know. I broke the Snapchat leak stories – I had been in touch with the iCloud hackers, and they tipped me off that Snapchat had been hacked before anyone else knew about it. It took off. Once a community knows that you write about them with a degree of coherency and understanding, they let you know what is happening.
Is that why you are very public about your contact details on twitter?
I get phone calls I wouldn’t have if I didn’t publish my details, which lead to tips and stories. As a journalist you want to hear from people. A lot of younger journalists feel they can hide away, but there are lots of people who have stories to tell. Having worked for places like the Kernel, we got used to a lot of abuse. That was my first journalism job, and it taught me a lot.
How do you walk the line between reporting dry business news and injecting it with personality?
I think it comes as part of working with an American company. From my experience, they tend to have a bit more fun with the news, and are more conversational than you might find in newspapers. We use a tool called Skitch to insert graphics, and people respond well to that. We don’t write about anything formulaic.
We write about interesting things, because if you are excited about the story, then your readers tend to be too.
It’s really important to have a background in a subject. Sources that can’t talk on record and can only give background provide a really interesting insight. It gives you the contacts in the company, knowledge of what’s going on and in ten years’ time it will give you the context to write a book. A lot of reporters are rushed for news and just have to get something out – what’s good about Business Insider is that you can sit back and gather a bit more information and contacts. It is a luxury to have those relationships with tech companies.
Have you found the London tech scene is quite transparent in terms of comms?
On one level it’s interesting because VC firms are really keen to talk to reporters. For a long time, they haven’t had any quality reporting. Newspapers and tech sites come in at a service level and skim it over; they are eager for someone with some insight to come in.
In some situations, you have to work on those relationships and take a few months to do some amazing coverage until you can speak to them. I’ve come to Business Insider with the background of running news sites and working in tech and knowing people in start-ups, and have the knowledge of how they’ve done. It’s been good to have that contact base to work with.
Tech journalism came under fire from BI Founder Henry Blodget for being too fawning; how do you avoid that?
I think the temptation is to write-up the press release. It is good to take a step-back, take a look at whether a company/product is new, whether it’s exciting – would you use it, would your parents use it? Once you’ve been around it for a while, you learn to use an analytical eye. If there is a problem with a tech company, you explain it out. Henry comes from a banking and analysis background, and his job was to look at a tech company and see what they are going to do and see how effective they are at it.
There’s been a lot of talk about equality in the US tech scene; is there a greater breadth of inclusivity within UK tech?
I don’t think there’s greater equality within UK tech. There’s not much of a movement here, which is a shame because you go to the West Coast and people are really passionate about it; lots of the American tech companies pitch themselves as part of that movement. UK companies don’t do that. I think the UK is a bit behind. We aren’t at the same kind of level of tech being so key to everything in Europe as it is in the US.
And finally, how did you go about setting up Led Zep News?
It started because I really like Led Zeppelin. My followers on twitter got really annoyed with me tweeting about them all the time, so on Christmas Day a couple of years ago, I started an account to put those tweets out. What’s really insane is how it’s grown, and the reach of it. I get emails to say how many people see those tweets, and it’s in the hundreds of thousands. All of the band members read it. The record label uses it as an official source and re-tweet it all the time. It goes out automatically across Facebook and Tumblr as well.
I learned to go into online forums and look for things to add to the feed, and that really got me into online journalism. It shows that you can look at a subject that is really exciting and unreported and go in and do something new with it.