February 9, 2023
Welcome to Trusted Journalism Matters, a new series where we chat to World Media Group members about the importance of quality journalism. Belinda chats to our guests about what attracted them to working for their news outlet, and the role their organisation plays in helping audiences to make sense of the world around us.
For the first in the series, Belinda is joined by Matthew Turner, Editor in Chief for Business, at Insider. Below are extracts from their conversation. You can read the full interview below or listen to the podcast here.
What attracted you to journalism?
I’m always inspired and somewhat intimidated by colleagues who always knew they wanted to be a journalist. It really didn’t occur to me until I was in my twenties and I met someone by chance in a bar in Wales whose boyfriend worked for MTV. I was at university at the time. I’d grown up watching MTV and thought, “Wow! That sounds like a dream job. “
She gave my number to her boyfriend, and he called me a week later and asked me to come in for a week. I spent a week there, then I spent a summer working for MTV. It was amazing. It was such an experience, and that put me on the path to journalism.
I went and did a postgrad in magazine journalism at City University in London. Even then, I thought I was going to be a magazine journalist and do lifestyle coverage, but I graduated in 2007, and most journalists have an instinct to go to where the story is.
In 2007 and 2008, the story was business. It was the financial crisis so I gravitated towards financial journalism, which was really complex and intimidating. It took me a while to find my bearings, but I started covering the financial crisis and the collapse of the US banks in London in 2008. Everything else has followed on from there.
And what was particularly attractive about Insider?
I need a challenge. Journalism is a profession where you’re learning something new every day. The news cycle moves so quickly and you constantly have to react to that and think about where the story’s going next. I find it really stimulating, but also challenging.
In 2015, I was in the Dow Jones newsroom in New York, surrounded by The Wall Street Journal folks who were super impressive, in a well-established newsroom with incredible history. The opportunity to go somewhere that that was still in the beginnings of its development and to have an imprint on that, to be a part of growing that, was a challenge, but also an opportunity to learn something about myself and to develop and test myself.
That was mid-2015, so I’ve been here eight years this summer, and it’s been an incredible ride. It’s been everything I thought it could be, and more. I’ve learned so much. I’ve worked with incredible colleagues. I’ve been challenged and tested– but I think I’m the editor I am today for having gone through that.
What is the mission or ethos that makes Insider unique?
There are two things I come back to over and over that are linked through everything we do. The first is what we talk about internally as ‘fascinating stories for enterprising people.’
So, what does that mean? Enterprising – we find that they are engaged, they’re leaning in. We’re not just a passive scroll; people take our stories and want to do something with them. It impacts them in some way, or they share it after reading it or watching a video.
The idea of enterprising people who are ambitious – and it can be ambitious in a workplace context, but it can also be ambitious to have a better life, a great holiday; to be a better parent, a better partner; to be healthier, etc. – they come to us with those ambitions and want to take something away from our stories.
The fascinating bit is about what does that mean to you? Take football as an example. At Insider, I don’t think we would typically cover the score line, because that’s everywhere. What we’d be interested in covering is the moment in the game that is most fascinating – that everyone’s going to be talking about after the game.
That’s one example. If it’s corporate earnings, we’re not going to cover X company delivered 11% revenue growth ahead of forecast. We’re going to zone in on where the world is going, where their business is going, what’s fascinating here? Because it’s not the numbers. And it’s not the score line; it’s the much bigger picture. What we want to do is find the one thing that’s fascinating that will grab readers’ attention and stay with them.
The second thing I think about is around the tone. I tell people, whatever your ambition, whatever your passion, we want to be your insider. I have memories during the financial crisis of friends in different professions who were super smart and interested in the world. After work, we would go for a drink and they would ask me what was going on in finance, because that was the big story. What are credit default swaps? What is Lehman Brothers? I was able to explain what was going on in an accessible way, knowing that they were ambitious and smart and enterprising, but they might not know this like an expert. At that moment, I was their insider.
We have an opportunity to be that insider for lots of people, whatever they’re interested in. Whatever their ambitions are, whatever their passions are, we can be that smart friend, talking to them in a coffee shop or a bar after work. They feel like they’re learning, but they’re not being lectured to. That conversation-dialogue is the best way to describe it.
Who is your audience and how have they changed geographically?
In the US, which is where I’m based and where our biggest single country audience is – it’s in the 80 – 100 million monthly visitors range, one in three millennials. Around the world it’s more like 300 – 500 million. When you’re dealing in those large numbers, it isn’t one single audience. It spans every age group, demographic, race, gender, interest, etc. It’s many different audiences, many different languages, and they come to us from many different places,
International growth has been significant I think stats have shown we’re one of the biggest publishers in the UK and in many other countries also, so we have a huge global audience. What are the through lines? They’re enterprising, they want to know where the world is headed. They’re future focused. They want to take something away from our stories.
The news cycle is always shifting. If we think back to 2021 – boom times – interest rates were low, the economy was booming coming out of the pandemic, stimulus in the US and elsewhere meant people had a lot of cash in their pockets. Crypto was booming. Tech start-ups were having money thrown at them. Then in 2022, suddenly everything changes almost on a dime. It’s a very dramatic shift.
Our audience is the same people but often at different moments in their life. So, for example, we would have a story in late 2021 about how to get hired at a company that was booming and paying very well. Six months later, we’re telling some of those same readers how to navigate being laid off by a company and what they should do next.
What we see, particularly through the last 18 months, are dramatic shifts in what readers are interested in. It’s about trying to be there for them through different moments in their life – in good times, in bad times. We have an opportunity to serve readers in all these different moments and cycles.
How important is it to you personally to be part of an international news gathering organisation?
It’s been a huge focus for us through the last few years. Insider started in New York. and growing within the US took time. Then we launched in the UK around 2015 and in Singapore around 2020 – 2021. There are new markets we’re looking to launch soon. And we have bureaus all around the world.
It’s been a great benefit to Insider to have that international growth for a couple reasons. One, the world is 24/7, so when the US or the UK or Asia is asleep, the news doesn’t stop. It goes right through the weekend, right around the clock.
The other thing I would note, having just come back from Davos, is the world is so interconnected. There are very few stories that are purely domestic stories these days. So much of it is the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, or the geopolitics between China and the US. And what that means for trade, for inflation, for technology, competition.
For us to cover the big storylines today, we have to have that global perspective, because for a company, a news story could be happening anywhere in the world, and it impacts their entire operation. For example, the biggest market in terms of determining Tesla’s success in the near term is China, so we have to have people on the ground in that time zone to deliver great coverage. The stories today demand that global perspective. And for us to do that story justice and to serve our readers, we have to be around the globe
Finally, is there one particular story that you’ve worked on that you are most proud of?
I think there are many examples through the last year where we have just owned a story. One would be the tech layoff story. We were the first, just recently, to break the news that Microsoft staffers were bracing for layoffs. A day later, they announced 10,000 cuts, right when Amazon and Salesforce cut jobs. I think our tech coverage, our coverage of Microsoft and Amazon included, is the best there is anywhere in the world. It’s exceptional.
Another story I’m proud of was from our healthcare team last year. In the US there was a real boom through the pandemic around mental health start-ups often using social media to attract customers. We did important work there, shining a light on some of these companies and some of the harm that was being done to patients, for example, prescribing serious medication without ever meeting the patient because it was all being done online.
We won our first Pulitzer last year for a graphic novel around the experiences of a woman in Xinjiang China. And, more recently, we did a series on trans homicide in the US. We shone a light on homicides that were either not fully investigated or not taken sufficiently seriously by police. Subsequent to that reporting, I think three of those cases have been reopened, and it might be the case that more are, too.
I’m so proud to be part of a newsroom that does that kind of work. And we have lots more of that coming in 2023.
Matt, thank you so much, it’s been amazing chatting to you and hearing more about your work at Insider.
Join us over the next few months as we invite a variety of editors from across the World Media Group brands to share their stories with us.