Mike Cassidy – Storyteller, BloomReach
Content marketing, also called brand journalism, is quickly becoming an alternative career path for many journalists, as downsizing continues in the traditional news media. One such journalist embarking on that path is Mike Cassidy, who as of February 2014 is the new storyteller at big data marketing start-up BloomReach.
This shift is no small one for Cassidy, who previously spent 33 years in journalism, most recently as the resident Silicon Valley columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. While some skeptics may criticize the move, Cassidy is “convinced there needs to be some new models of journalism, given the financial difficulties that many news outlets are having.”
Since Cassidy’s recent work in traditional news focused on the tech industry and Silicon Valley in particular, this move may not be so far-fetched.
“There was a draw, admittedly, that after covering all these start-ups, having an opportunity to work in one was pretty tempting for me,” he said, citing his affection and fascination with Silicon Valley.
He sees this sort of journalism as an opportunity to grow and learn, and likened it to attending college, as the big data, retail and marketing fields are new ones for him. He regrets leaving his colleagues in the traditional news media, he said, but still intends to think of himself as a journalist and uphold journalistic integrity, while also serving BloomReach as a company.
“I was just ready to try something else,” he said. “It was a big decision and I certainly had some trepidation. I came over here and started talking to people, and they seemed very energetic and focused on what they’re doing and looking to the future, which is not what newspapers are doing right now, they’re in a defensive crouch.”
Though his tenure is just shy of two weeks, Cassidy already has hopes for potential coverage.
“I do hope to write stories about the culture in Silicon Valley, the culture in tech, maybe talk to CEOs and other executives who have been successful (or believe they have) [and] that can help others be successful,” he explained. “What I’d like to do is try to explore those issues: how does big data fit into peoples’ and enterprises’ lives, what kind of differences does it make, and where might enterprises missing the boat on what they could be doing given the tools that are available today?”
Tech journalism is certainly Cassidy’s milieu, and he is quick to characterize its value to the masses. “The importance of tech journalism can’t really be overstated,” he said.
“It happens to be a field that’s driving a huge part of our economy. For consumers, it’s something they live with every day, and probably to varying degrees understand, either how it works or what is most advantageous for them given all the products that are out there. I’ve come to the thinking that tech journalism and covering the business of technology is in some ways, like covering government. It’s basically the town square, it’s where people come together, literally by using technology, but also around technology and the ideas, it’s just such a big part of everyone’s lives, whether it’s apparent every day or not.”
Beyond the technology industry as a whole, big data is a concept Cassidy identifies as one to watch, and one that his content will examine in further detail.
“It may not seem that significant,” he explained, “but the fact is it’s a huge part of the economy, it’s the way businesses make money, it’s the way people live. Big data is in its infancy, so who knows where big data is going to go? All these companies working on it are doing important work, it won’t all pan out, but some of it will, and it’s going to be vital.”
While Cassidy may have taken a path away from traditional news media, he is quick to trumpet the importance and necessity of the trade. “I don’t think brand journalism is the answer,” he said. “It may be in combination with philanthropic enterprises, but also mainstream journalism, be it focused on tech or other niches. [Mainstream journalism is] still going to be vitally important. It keeps everything honest; it keeps bloggers honest, it keeps people like me honest.”
In addition to the current downsizing of the media industry, Cassidy also commented on the shift to digital and its implications for the industry, bemoaning the consequent decrease in journalism’s overall quality, but also regretting that “some very fine journalists are leaving the profession. I can tell you from personal experience, those who remain are among the most dedicated people you can have doing the job. I don’t think journalists are fleeing journalism, it’s that journalists are being shoved out of journalism.”
But does Cassidy see a resolution for the news media in sight? His answers invoke both Disney and folk legend Joni Mitchell:
“It depends on how optimistic you are,” he said. “A big part of me hopes that someone is going to figure out how to make money and provide news, that’s my Disney theory. Then I have a theory based on an old song by Joni Mitchell, about paving paradise and putting up a parking lot. They cut down all the trees, then people realize, wasn’t it nice when we used to have trees? Pretty soon somebody will say, ‘Hey, remember when we used to know what was going on?’”
The extremes Cassidy presents here do beg the question of journalism’s future, as many find a second life in brand journalism, content marketing, communications or public relations, a daunting and potentially fearsome prospect for those who have spent decades in an industry that cannot really be compared to any other. Cassidy, however, does not seem to be shaken in the slightest, and even jokes:
“Every 33 years, you just ought to shake it up a little bit.”
Cassidy is generally open to relevant press materials and pitches sent via email. “I’m always interested in getting ideas, I’ve lived in fear for all these years of running out of ideas,” he said. Cassidy prefers email contact, and said “it’s a lot easier to manage, keep track of things, and say no to people.”
Cassidy does try to get back to people, whether politely declining or saving the information for a later story, “unless it’s a mass mailing,” he said. “I just kill those immediately. Research who it is you’re sending a pitch to,” he said.
He also recommends sending a pitch and waiting for a response, rather than following up. “That’s good advice. Although probably hard to take, because what happens is you don’t hear anything and that’s not very satisfying.”
Regarding areas of specific interest, Cassidy is interested in personalization of the Web, particularly in e-commerce, but also in general. “I don’t know that I’d write about them all, but I’m interested in all things big data. E-commerce: people who have tried new things and have some evidence that it works. The whole idea of mobile versus websites; people behave differently with their mobile phones than when shopping or buying from a laptop or desktop. I hope to talk to CEOs, particularly tech CEOs.”
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