Vice Chief Digital Officer Drops Opinions and F-Bombs

CIQ Headlines

Mike Germano, Chief Digital Officer at Vice, kept the post-lunch audience at the Ops New York conference ( awake with honest, edgy opinions and lots of f-bombs.

On marketing to youth

“The only way to circumvent the bullshit detector is to not bullshit them.”

On the growth of online video

“I can’t tell you names of all the TV people who said, ‘TV quality video will never work online.’ I actually don’t need to tell you who they are because they’re f–ing fired because they were f–ing wrong.”

On millennials and news consumption

“People said, ‘Young people aren’t interested in news. They just love those f–ing cats.’


But they didn’t like the way news was. I don’t want CNN to suck. I want them to be great. But they dedicated 137 million hours to the Malaysian plane. Maybe we should take the senate and put it in the ocean. Then they’d cover that.”


More on marketing to youth

“We have to respect our audience while advertising to them. No one likes to be advertised to.”

On ad-blockers

“Our audience tends to have ad blockers. I love my audience but f–you ad blockers. 20% of my revenue is gone. I need that revenue to make content so you come to the site. If I don’t make that content you don’t come to the site.”


On knock-off audience

“There are all these tags so they can say someone went to our site two weeks ago and sell against that audience. Advertisers ask, ‘How do we buy them but not pay that price?’”

On overnight success

“We’ve been doing this for 20 years.”

On native ads

“I hear native ads I get very nervous. I see a lot of reputable news companies with native ads. It looks like a trick.


We’re honest. We say to our audience, ‘This is the brand we’re working with. You should f–ing thank them. And we’re going to tell a terrific story.’

It’s like Mutual of Omaha presents the Wild Kingdom. That shit’s old school. It’s coming back around.”


On branded content

“At VICE we tell stories. Sometimes brands have great stories.”


Slate Plus– Jacob Weisberg and the State of Journalism

CIQ Headlines

On a chilly April night last week, Jacob Weisberg, founder of Slate and current group publisher, gave the Columbia Journalism School’s Delacorte Lecture, which traditionally pries nearing-graduation students away from their almost-finished theses.

Not anymore.

“I was scared when I found out this is no longer compulsory,” Weisberg said. “But then they told me there was free food.”

Weisberg’s musings on the state of Journalism to the packed, room give much-needed texture and background into yesterday’s announcement of Slate Plus.

 A Sobering Picture

It’s not exactly raining dollars out there.

The now-profitable has ninety employees, all with health insurance, and pays its interns. “We don’t just want kids of privilege working here,” says Weisberg.  “I think you can work at Slate and actually have a middle class lifestyle.” He tests this statement against a Slate employee sitting in the first row who gives an assenting nod to his boss.

Slate and certain other prominent publications are finding “survivable niches,” he says, and business models that “support continued existence.”  Two key tactics are sugar daddies and paywalls.  The Washington Post has Jeff Bezos’ backing, the New Republic has Chris Hughes’. Paywalls range from the New York Times’ porous barrier, to the Financial Times strict one.

 Diversification is Key

The Atlantic has a significant events-related revenue stream. But whether it’s events, paywalls or wealthy backers, Weisberg says you can’t rely on ad revenue alone. “The more revenue streams you have, the healthier you are.”

And for, a paywall is off the table.

So what’s with Slate Plus? Isn’t that a form of paywall?

Weisberg calls it “the NPR model.” Which means leveraging the healthy guilt that motivates a certain percentage of loyalists.

“To develop the idea, we relied on data.” Slate surveyed heavy users, those coming at least 25 times a month. Based on this, a cornerstone of the offering is interaction with the Slate personalities.  This desire surprised Weisberg, who says he wasn’t aware of the growing Slate team’s celebrity.

Weisberg’s other non-Slate-Plus-related observations were studded with gems, hints and tips from the front lines of digital journalism. Read on for these.

 VC Money Flowing to Content Sites

For years, VCs wanted nothing to do with content sites. New York Ventures, a famed Twitter financier, said it would never invest in an enterprise that required an editor. It was all about “platforms.”

Now that’s changed. Weisberg cites the following endeavors with money (VC and other) flowing in:

  • HuffPo
  • Buzzfeed
  • Vox
  • Business Insider
  • Upworthy
  • Medium

“The key element seems to be the potential for exponential growth,” he says.

But this money flow poses dangers to broader journalism, says Weisberg. “Ad dollars going to buzzy sites that don’t have to make money to survive drives CPMs down for everyone. All the capital forces up the cost of editorial talent with no revenues to go against it.” is a kind of poster child from the “frothy junky side,” with a strategy of clickbait-until-sale.

 Not-for-Profit Journalism

Examples in this category include ProPublica, the Texas Tribune and Bill Keller’s new Marshal Project dedicated to criminal justice reporting.

When it comes to state-and-local coverage and investigative journalism, “There’s no business in these two categories. They were always subsidized, just in the old days it was from classifieds revenue.”



“All the growth is on mobile for everyone,” says Weisberg.  While Slate is seeing some marginal desktop increases, other publications are seeing accelerating erosion to devices.

“I didn’t think anyone would ever read long-form on the phone,” says Weisberg. “It surprised the hell out of me. Now people are willing to read War and Peace on their phones.”

What about the low CPM on mobile? “My bet is that CPMs on mobile will go up a lot,” he says. “What we’re seeing at Slate.  An ad view is an ad view is an ad view. There’s no reason to pay eight times for the desktop. A user on mobile is actually more engaged.”

To wit: Slate’s September redesign made the site responsive on mobile.


The site redo also optimized for Facebook’s new algorithm that rewards original content.  The lift was substantial, with Slate achieving 31+MM uniques in March, double September’s number.


The CPMs are high. The viewership stinks.

“Getting someone to watch a video over 30 seconds is a heavy lift. And who is going to watch a ten second pre-roll for a 30-second video?” The videos on are an answer to advertisers who all but require it. “We have video for big ad packages,” Weisberg says.

If you want a format that seems to work, at least very well for Slate, try podcasts.

 Long form and the “Fresca Fellowship”

Named after Slate’s Editor in Chief and Fresca drinker David Plotz, the “Fresca Fellowship” refers to the five weeks a year that each Slate writer is allotted to work on a long-form piece.

Weisberg says he is surprised at how well long form is working for Slate. And it’s profitable business, as advertisers love the readership that’s attracted to the 5,000-8,000 word pieces, often enhanced with multimedia.

It’s interesting, Weisberg notes, the way the 250-word “nibbles” synergize with long form. “It’s like the one creates an appetite for the other. What we’re seeing is that the middle drops out. The Newsweek-length pieces that run 2000 words. It seems to be short and long that’s succeeding.”

Big Data

CIQ Headlines

Use for Big Data

Everyone is talking about Big Data these days (in between conversations about Kate Middleton pics, the 2012 election and, of course, the iPhone 5).

Big data is a buzzword, and I’m not even sure most people know what it means. See Chris Moschovitis’ and my interview with Media Post’s Charlene Weisler. ( Shorthand it means crunching the numbers we have on our users to come up with things of value or actionable strategies.

Think of all the data Facebook potentially knows about me, for example. I’m a middle-aged woman in Manhattan whose interests include both horses and dogs, who has a friend who is a jewelry designer and who has an unusually large number of relatives. Multiply that by the 47 kazmillion Facebook profiles and what you have is Big Data.

But is anyone set up to really use big data in a meaningful way? If, for example, you wanted to do target advertising, could you do it effectively? Is it really “targeting” if your creative doesn’t align with your segmentation? How is that creative alignment even possible at this level of big data?

These are just some of the questions that come up around big data. Today, however,  I was thrilled to receive evidence of a small but meaningful use of big data. noticed that I was consistently deleting their AmazonLocal emails. So look what I got…

Amazon is crunching the data to produce a better user experience and stop sending useless emails.


How the Chinese are Winning the Cyberwar

CIQ Headlines

Is your company’s security as good as Google’s, Nasdaq’s or Lockheed’s?

Let’s all hope it’s better. Because all of the companies named above have admitted to being victims of cyber-espionage. Estimates revealed in congressional testimony suggest ninety-four percent of companies have been hacked. FBI Director Robert Mueller says that cyber-attacks will soon replace terrorism as the agency’s number-one concern.

So why aren’t we hearing about it?

Because all our major institutions—government, the news media, and business— continue to suffer from technology deficit disorder. Look at the Stop Online Piracy Act—the one Wikipedia protested by going dark. Lawmakers so fundamentally misunderstood the issues at stake in online piracy and privacy that they were forced to withdraw the bill.

As for the news media, I have already written more than my fair share about their fawning and sycophantic position towards Apple Computer, one that has mostly ignored everything from device flaws to (until recently) unconscionable labor practices.

Nor have business leaders educated themselves on technology—which is more and more the backbone of modern business. If CEOs tune in at all to their technological advisers, what they hear is the soundtrack of Charlie Brown’s teacher.

So while we rattle our sabers at Iran and North Korea, American companies continue to pay for research that Chinese companies are regularly hacking and stealing for free. We need to acknowledge that there is a different war, a modern war, being waged and won right under our noses.

How Business Jargon Hurts Business and What You Can Do about It

CIQ Headlines

“What do you mean the helpdesk program won’t cover all systems?” my most valuable customer said.

“I thought we were only talking about the main system,” I stammered, confused.

“All systems. All systems,” he repeated. “We covered this on the conference call last week!”

Immediately I knew what had happened. My customer and I had run aground on the rocks of business jargon. He is a great guy, and we have had a ten-plus year relationship. However, he is one of the worst business-jargon offenders I know.

What he said to me was undoubtedly something like, “We need to think value-add here. An extensible program. So that at the end of the day we can provide a 360-degree solution to the customer.”

The message, “Please expand your helpdesk proposal to cover all systems,” was obscured in a fog of non-communication.

Any of these sound familiar?

At the end of the day

On a go-forward basis

Learning as a noun. (Our key “learnings…”)


Manage expectations

Low-hanging fruit

Break down silos

Take a 360-degree view

Think outside the box

Out of pocket

Solutions provider


Tee up

Circle back

30,000-foot view

Value Add

Best practice


Core competency

Take offline

For any of these phrases, there is a more direct way to say what you mean. “Take offline,” translates to, “You and I need to speak privately.” But do all hearers of “take offline” really get that? Worse, I’ve noticed many users of the “take offline” phrase are simply parroting business jargon to bat away an issue they’d rather not deal with at all. (A fun exercise would be to evaluate all of the above for both their real meaning and their misuse.)

As a former English teacher, I am ashamed of how much business-speak creeps into my own talking and writing, no matter how much I strive to resist.

Why is it so hard? Why do we do it? Some key reasons…

Ego—We think it makes us sound smarter.

Fads—At first, a phrase sounds cool, and it’s picked up. Think of how viral “at the end of the day” became.

Lack of thought—It’s hard to search for a word. When pat phrases are sitting right there, you grab for them.

Cowardice—We fear making a direct request or statement, so we cloak it in jargon.

Because of what occurred to me this week, I realize the cost of repetitive, jargon-y, indirect speech is not just the annoyance or irritation it causes to grammarians and linguists. If you are not clear, important things you need to get done don’t.

Years ago, the famed William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well was the bible for up-and-coming writers and editors. Zinsser’s manual is a how-to on eliminating jargon, unnecessary repetition, and tuning words for clarity. I recommend it.