Interview Series - Jason Seiken, Founding Editor of WashingtonPost.com
SubHub Co-Founder, Evan Rudowski Speaks to Jason Seiken, founding editor of WashingtonPost.com and now Senior VP of New Media for PBS
Recently I had the good fortune to interview Jason Seiken, Senior VP of New Media for PBS. You can watch the full video interview on our sister site, TalkContent.com.
Seiken’s been around the block, having been the founding editor of washingtonpost.com and then a senior content executive at AOL and AOL Europe. He now runs a strategic team developing digital media strategies and products for PBS.
Much has changed over his 15 years in the new media business, Seiken says, and the pace of change has been rapid. “Ten years ago or so, there was no Google. Five years ago, there was no YouTube. Four years ago, more or less, there was no Facebook. Literally almost every year you’re seeing some new, groundbreaking entry online.”
“So it would be difficult to summarize the key trends, but . . . for someone who is trying to create a successful website you look at the trends you continue to count on,” Seiken advises. “One of them is that the cost of building a website is going down on this unstoppable downward slope. Also the opportunity to market your site on the web, that’s in some ways becoming easier. You don’t need to have a marketing budget like Viacom in order to build a following on the web -- you just have to have a great product and get word-of-mouth marketing going.”
“So, in many ways, the opportunities have never been better. But at the same time, the flip side to that is, in many ways the challenges are more profound now because it’s a much more crowded field. You don’t have first-mover advantage. There are blogs about almost everything under the sun out there. So it’s not that you’re going to attract an audience just by going to the web; you have to have a great quality website, and you have to find a way to get that word out.”
Marketing is Key
The old advice to go with what your passion is still applies, Seiken says. At the same time, he asserts, this is not enough. You can have passion and expertise and therefore be able to create great content, he says, but if you don’t have a marketing element it’s going to be difficult to attract a large following on the web.
“It’s just as important, if not sometimes more important, than the actual quality of the content,” Seiken says.
Search engine optimization (SEO) has evolved almost to a science, Seiken says. Optimizing one’s web pages so that they can get the highest ranking on the major search engines is an important task. It’s possible to hire an SEO firm to help do this, Seiken says, but “if you’re a start-up or somebody who’s trying to get yourself known, then there’s a lot of good advice on the web. There are actually free SEO sites on the web. It’s not too hard, with an hour or two of research on the web, to figure out ways to optimize your site.”
Making the Transition
Seiken agrees that making the transition to the web is a difficult challenge for existing publishers and traditional media.
“Most successful companies have sort of a knee-jerk aversion to change,” he says. “And it’s totally natural because you do something one way in the old media world and you make a success of it -- why change? You should be rightly proud of that.
“But the fact is that you have to change,” Seiken counsels. “What made you successful in the old media world is actually going to hold you back if you stick religiously to it. And the real secret is in being able to discard a lot of the rules and a lot of the orthodoxies that worked for you in the old media world, and being able to retain your principles -- the things that you really stand for, you don’t compromise on.
“But in terms of the techniques -- the techniques in the new media world tend to be diametrically opposed to the techniques that work in an old media world,” Seiken says.
“You have to be open, you have to be flexible, you have to be experimental. You have to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit that you probably started your business with. And you have to embrace the idea that if you’re not failing -- if you’re not risking -- then you’re probably not going to get to where you want to be on the web.
“It’s a hard, hard lesson to learn,” Seiken admits. “It takes a while to really accept the fact that you’re going to stumble. If you’re doing things right on the web, you’re going to stumble more often than you would have been comfortable with maybe five years ago.
“The thing is, if you don’t do it, your competitor’s going to be doing it.”
What’s Cool at PBS?
Seiken and his team are working hard to make new media central to what PBS does.
“PBS is in the process of transforming itself,” Seiken says. “A lot of the things that I just pontificated about, we’re trying to do. We’re trying to become more nimble, more experimental, more open to taking risks. And so I know first-hand how difficult it is for a business to do that.”
One project that Seiken is excited about is the new PBS video hub at http://pbs.org/video, where they’ve brought together all the big PBS brands. The interface is “pretty radical,” Seiken believes. The typical reaction is, “this isn’t at all what we expected from PBS.”
Another new project is a video site for kids ages six through nine. The site offers a large collection of educational, non-commercial video. Rather than just taking the television video and putting it on the web -- shovelware, as Seiken calls it -- they’ve inserted interactive games into the video so that kids can not only passively view the programming but also engage with it and play along.
Seiken has been among those pioneering many of the strategies and tactics that we’re all beginning to utilize as we transition to the web. As we experiment with these techniques ourselves, it’s good to know that we can keep an eye on PBS and see how Seiken and team are getting along too.
Watch the full video interview here.