Interview with Edward Roussel, Chief Innovation Officer, Dow Jones, parent company of The Wall Street Journal about his role, his projects and negotiations with the tech giants, about his vision for the future of news media
David Sallinen. What is your role within the Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal group? In a transforming media world where a lot of things are being invented, it must be a dream job!
Edward Roussel. What I can tell you David, is that it is not always a dream but it is always a very interesting job! I joined the Dow Jones Group 8 years ago as director of product development for web, apps, and digital, to bring the Dow Jones Group, which includes Barron’s, MarketWatch, and the most important brand, the Wall Street Journal, up to speed.
Over the past five years, my mission has changed. I have become Chief Innovation Officer. My job now is to first manage relationships with the big tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple. Then I identify new development opportunities for the Dow Jones Group. Let’s take an example. Because of the Covid crisis that hit us in March last year, we saw all our conference business disappear. The question we asked ourselves was whether this business was finished or whether we should restructure it digitally. So I led a project to recreate our digital conference business. In fact, I’m working on very focused projects that are very important for our group because it concerns the future of our media.
“The media should be less afraid to change their digital product’s user experience.”Edward Roussel
DS. What do tech companies have that traditional media don’t?
ER. They have many advantages. The most obvious is that they have a lot of money, but the most important advantage is the phenomenal amount of data they have. These companies have data on everything from how customers consume to what works and what doesn’t work. Let’s take an example, David. If you run a news site on YouTube, you’ll know what people are watching, what the ideal length of video is, or which personalities work best. This data is crucial because it allows tech companies to create the best media products in the world. Moreover, these companies also have engineers who will enable them to adapt their products very quickly when their data evolves.
The third thing, which is probably the least obvious to the media, is that these are companies that are not afraid.
In fact, I see very often in media companies that people are afraid. They’re afraid to change their products, they’re afraid to change the experiences around their products and that goes for newspapers, the web and apps. Tech companies, on the other hand, are not afraid! In fact, they are very good at experimenting.
I think there’s one key thing to remember… the media should be less afraid to change their digital product’s user experience. Why? Because the world is changing very quickly. I see it very closely and I see that Google, Facebook, Apple have made very significant advances in terms of media on their platforms and if we don’t compete with what they’re doing, they’ll crush us.
DS. What do the media need to change first?
ER. Firstly, I think they need to have a vision. A vision of what they want to become. What I observe is that the media don’t ask themselves enough questions about How to offer differentiated treatment from their competitors’. Or how are we different? What do we do that is better than the competitors?
Secondly, we have to be very clear about this: who are my competitors? Because competitors change all the time. Today, the competition is varied with Brut, Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. So you have to be clear about who your competitors are. So you have to be clear about who your new competitors are and how to be better than them.
Thirdly, you have to create an environment in which you can change products quickly. I note that it is 2021 and the rates of change in media companies have not changed much in the last ten years. This is a big threat.
DS. What is the project you are most proud of?
ER. I’m never very happy with my projects but I think the work I’ve enjoyed the most over the last two years is working with the big tech companies.
If you look at where we were five or ten years ago, it was a bit of a war between the media and the tech companies but I think that’s changing and changing fast. I’ve negotiated deals with Apple, Facebook and very recently with Google and I think now there’s an opportunity to create a situation that can be similar to the situation in the music industry. Between 2000 and 2014, its revenues were declining steadily after the Napster period. But since 2014, the music industry’s revenues have started to grow again, almost to a new peak. Why? Because these music companies like Universal, Warner, etc. have found ways to work with tech companies and they have developed new ways to sell their products through these platforms. In the media, we are not there yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get there and I am more and more optimistic that we can find a way to work with these tech platforms to sell our product which is journalism to the readers and users who are already on these platforms.
DS. What can we wish you best in this period of transformation?
ER. I feel good and I am healthy, as are my family and friends. That’s the most important thing so I’m grateful for that! We are in a world that is changing very quickly. What interests me most is thinking about where the media might be in two years’ time and especially how we will get there. I’m focusing on that and I see that there are very profound changes in audio, video, communities and so on. What I hope to do is to spend my professional time this year imagining, creating the products for the market that will exist in two years’ time.