Rising Stars: Ten Under 30
A look at publishing’s new breed, from editors to CEOs.
While it’s natural to worry about how the publishing industry is going to attract the next generation of media leaders, the fact is the industry is already seeing a demographic shift, with younger people taking on more leadership roles.
FOLIO:’s 10 Under 30 looks at just a few of the emerging leaders in our industry. Some are the faces of their companies; others are toiling in the background but are redefining their organizations just the same. We’re impressed and we think you will be, too.
Jean Ellen Cowgill
Head of Strategy and Business Development, National Journal Group
Late last month the National Journal Group relaunched its content model, focusing on an aggressive daily digital business with 24/7 news, video and analysis, as well as a redesigned print magazine featuring an exclusive interview with President Obama.
Helping drive that strategy is 24-year-old Jean Ellen Cowgill, who joined National Journal Group about six months ago from consultancy McKinsey & Company in the new position of head of strategy and business development.
“I’ve worked across several areas—public and private and not-for-profit—I’ve been involved with account management and growth acquisition and I was also looking to sink my teeth into something longer term,” says Cowgill. “I had conversations with [owner] David Bradley and [Atlantic Media president] Justin Smith and they developed an interesting role for me where I get to work on both strategy and business development and can get involved across different pieces of the business to figure out how those link together, particularly as National Journal embarks on its new strategy.”
Cowgill led many conversations and planning sessions over the summer to coordinate strengths between print and digital (and to make sure no balls got dropped in the process). As National Journal becomes “digital-first,” it’s going from putting out a couple pieces of online-only content per day to more than 100 pieces per day. “That has huge implications for the newsroom,” says Cowgill. “Now it starts at 6am, rather than 9am or 10am for a print publication.”
Next up, Cowgill and the staff will look at strengthening business development opportunities for The Atlantic and National Journal. That includes working more closely with partners like the Nuclear Threat Initiative to create a custom project called World Security Newswire.
“In an industry with a lot of rapid change, sometimes companies get pushed into that change,” says Cowgill. “It’s happening to some extent in media, but here, people are really embracing it. Younger people in media look at it as a chance to think about things in new ways and create new platforms to reach people.”
Bryan Sims has had the proverbial entrepreneurial itch ever since he can remember. Perhaps a bit cliché, it started for him as a child in Oregon running lemonade stands, walking neighbors’ dogs and mowing lawns. By the time Sims entered high school, his business aspirations led him to create an investment club for teenagers. Before he graduated, the club had nearly 50 high school students investing roughly $25,000 in the stock market.
That’s where Sims traces the roots of brass|MEDIA. Shortly before beginning his freshman year at college, Sims cooked up an idea to launch a magazine that would help young adults better understand money. His idea stirred up interest as he pitched it at national business plan competitions. By 2004, at age 19, he’d secured a small handful of angel investors, left college and launched brass|MAGAZINE (his start-up funds were in the “low six-figure range”).
“I probably pitched close to 200 people and ended up with eight investors,” says Sims. “We ran it out of the garage and got paid up front.”
From brass|MAGAZINE, Sims built brass|Media, a company that today employs 25 people and produces a suite of products and services that connect students and schools with experts from the financial industry. The magazine is currently published quarterly and has a circulation of about 500,000. “We have nearly 2,000 high school teachers across the country utilizing our products in the classroom,” Sims adds. “We work with over 100 financial institutions in 38 states.”
Sims says the company generated “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in the first year and was profitable by year two. Revenues have grown 10-fold since then. (In 2008, brass|MEDIA was named to #25 on the Inc. 500 list of the country’s fastest-growing private companies, and #4 among media companies. In 2007, the company reported $2.7 million in revenue—a 1,020.1 percent increase over $245,194 in 2004.)
As his company continues to expand, Sims says the market is ripe for other young entrepreneurs to enter the media space, too. “It’s a time when people are probably more willing to listen to a young up-and-comer,” he says. “Entrepreneurs are able to single-handedly create their own companies, Web sites, brands and a whole lot more without many resources. I started brass out of a dorm room and my parents’ garage, and things have only gotten easier for young entrepreneurs today.”
Group Digital Director, Penton Media
Dean Muscio actually has two high-profile jobs at Penton Media; he serves as group digital director, managing five titles, and works on digital business media development with Warren Bimblick, SVP of strategy/business development.
Muscio started his own Web design and development firm in college, called Moose Designs NY. But his first real job was serving as an online product development manager for Penton five years ago.
Over the last few years, the 28-year-old has worked with at least five different divisions within the company.
Muscio is now helping to develop Penton’s mobile strategy and he’s been working on vendor selection for the project, which he says will include rolling out some big mobile apps in the next 12 months.
One of his big success stories is the relaunch of the site for Nutrition Business Journal. The enhanced design, navigation and ease-of-use of the new site helped boost online traffic by an average of 75 percent in 2009, year-over-year. The redesigned site generated more than six times the online revenues in its first month of being live than it did the same month the previous year. And Muscio’s relaunch of Penton’s only consumer site, Deliciousliving.com, nearly doubled the site traffic.
More recently, Muscio worked on the development of a series of new tools, like the “firm browser” for Registeredrep.com, which enables users to easily sort and view content based on financial institutions. Traffic reports are showing a 5 percent gain month-over-month, he says. n
Maggie McFadden Shein
Editor, Appliance Design
Before Maggie McFadden Shein became editor of Appliance Design, a new position was created for her at trade publisher BNP Media: group new media manager, because she had become so adept in the social and digital media aspects of BNP’s business while working as managing editor for two publications.
McFadden Shein trained other editorial staff in social and digital media, as well as creating reports on metrics for the sales staffs. Naturally, her focus when she became editor of Appliance Design was to build the Web site and new media presence for the magazine.
She has launched a social media strategy for Appliance Design that includes a Facebook and LinkedIn presence, Twitter feeds, and three blog channels on three different subject matters. Since the blogs were added, the site has seen a 69 percent growth in monthly page views from April to September.
McFadden Shein also started to run industry headlines on the site, which are now followed by thousands. She has begun to integrate print with online by adding extra article content on the Web site as well as synergies between the two with house ads touting AD’s online presence. From May to September, the Web-exclusive articles have seen growth of 290 percent.
Associate Editor, Special Projects, TIME
In May 2010, Dan Fletcher became the youngest person to ever write a cover story for TIME Magazine. What makes that even more impressive is that just one year before, Fletcher was an intern handling many of TIME’s early social media efforts on Twitter and Facebook. (The topic of his cover story? “Facebook…and how it’s redefining privacy.”)
Fletcher officially joined TIME in 2009 as social media producer/reporter and was the launch editor for the TIME.com NewsFeed. “As an intern I would say ‘Hey, we got this story on Digg,’ or ‘Hey I’m doing this on Twitter,’” says Fletcher. “TIME saw the need for it and they formalized the structure when they brought me back in June. I took the Twitter feed over manually and posted a note saying ‘Hi I’m Dan, taking over Twitter feed.’ Even the response we got from that was tremendous. The audience likes to know there’s someone behind these things listening.”
Today, TIME has about 150,000 Facebook fans and more than 2.2 million Twitter followers (up from zero last January).
Fletcher pitched the Facebook story during one of TIME’s regular Friday “big idea” meetings. “I’m pretty junior, but they’re open to everyone coming in,” says Fletcher. “I said Facebook was doing very cool things with the ‘like’ button, and they said go find out about it. [Managing editor] Rick Stengel embraced the idea and it worked out well for us. When all the privacy stuff hit in April we had this story in the bank.”
Last month, Fletcher was promoted to associate editor of special projects. “My role in the last six months has focused on getting this news feed blog up and running,” he says. “One of the big things I want to do, and TIME wants to do as an organization, is be more entrepreneurial. That’s the nature of the Web—we need to get things out the door quickly. Under this new structure we will pick projects we can work on intensely for a short amount of time and get them out. I can’t tip my hat too much on the first one, but we’re interested in partnering with universities across the country.”
As a journalism student, Fletcher was never sure if he was going to make the jump to traditional media. “I coded my first Web site at age 12 and I had a photo blog in college, so I’m very much in the new media mentality,” he says. “Coming to TIME as an intern was an interesting transition. It’s been refreshing. The battle to convince print media that the Web is relevant was won before my time. Now we get to fuse all these bloggy ideas, and do guerilla work on social media networks, with one of the storied brands in journalism. It’s refreshing that opportunity still exists.”
Director of Digital Intelligence, Cygnus Business Media
Two words can describe Jacob Bare’s career so far at Cygnus Business Media: rapid ascent. Since joining the trade publisher in January 2007, Bare has been promoted three times, now holding the lofty title of director of digital intelligence. No, he hasn’t traded Cygnus for the CIA, but we’ll get back to that momentarily.
Bare’s story with Cygnus begins after owning his own business that provided network communication and support services to small- and medium-size businesses and school districts. He joined Cygnus as Web site manager with ForConstructionPros.com. Initially, he was responsible for developing an online buyer’s guide that could eventually be integrated across all Cygnus sites.
“We built it from the ground up with SEO in mind,” Bare explains. “The guide is searchable using product names, numbers, company name, product type, etc. Each of these criteria are searchable on search engines, and it has increased traffic exponentially (25,000 monthly page views to 250,000). For some of our sites, 80 percent of the traffic comes from search and is directly related to our guide.”
Not long after, Bare was promoted to group interactive development manager and again, earlier this year, to data integration manager. Bare managed Cygnus’ data integration and served as the technology liaison between IT and the audience development departments.
This fall, Bare was promoted yet again to—yes—director of digital intelligence. Bare is charged with spearheading Cygnus’ audience development initiatives on the digital side to collect, analyze and standardize data, as well as working with data marketing vendor Omeda to integrate platforms company-wide.
“Our content management system, which we call Base 2.0, will allow us to push content directly to users in any media platform—mobile, e-mail, Webinars, social business media sites, online banner ads, etc.,” says Bare. “Merging these two technologies, we can identify preferred content, collect, analyze and standardize data, then cross-promote different products.”
Prior to consolidating its audience database with Omeda, Cygnus was averaging delivery rates at about 70 percent, Bare says. Now, under the new systems he’s helped create, the average is 99 percent.
“I see digital as limitless,” says Bare. “There are technologies that don’t exist today that may be mainstream in five years so we need to first understand our potential and then determine what is appropriate to integrate into our corporate mission.”
Art Director, Network Media Partners
“I’m basically in charge of everything that has to do with design.”
That’s how Heather Winkel describes her role as art director at custom publisher Network Media Partners, and Winkel’s responsibilities in handling digital, print and even advertising design reflect the “one-stop-shop” position many art directors find themselves in today.
Winkel started her career as a designer with The Baltimore Sun. After earning a master’s degree in publication design, she joined Network Media Partners in 2008. Winkel is the go-to source for redesigning existing magazines for clients, as well as building new magazines from scratch.
With MOVE—the magazine of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (which serves DMV employees)—Winkel and the Network Media team redesigned a magazine that had been in the red for years for print and digital. “The goal was to give them something really clean,” says Winkel. “They needed something that people without much time could read quickly. It’s a very ‘gridded’ publication with a lot of departments and sections with quick bits of information.”
The redesigned MOVE won four awards: a silver EXCEL award for online publishing innovation; an APEX award for most improved magazine for the first issue of the redesign; a gold award for publication redesign in the $2 million and under category from ASBPA; and an honorable mention TABBIE for best single issue.
“We’re all dealing with smaller budgets and smaller page counts and we have to be more creative to deliver a quality publication,” says Winkel.
Web Developer, NorthStar Travel Media
Not all rising stars are front and center; some toil away on the back-end of publishing.
Such is the case with 26-year-old developer Tim Ricablanca, who was hired by NorthStar Travel Media as a Web designer after graduating from NJIT in 2006. On day one, he was thrust into the “inferno of ad creation, along with other client-facing design,” says Ankeet Patel, corporate development manager for NorthStar. Ricablanca set his sights on becoming a developer and progressively acquired the necessary skill set.
Ricablanca’s goal is to optimize user experience—making sites more accessible, no matter what browser or device. “I don’t have influence over the business end of things,” Ricablanca says. “What I can do is make things better for people who consume our content, whether by faster load time or better visual presentation of the product—anything that improves user experience and helps our company.”
Ricablanca is also trying to help NorthStar revise its Web ad model, and get the publisher to adopt better standards. “Tim has played a vital role in setting our design standards—everything from reusability of style sheets to SEO compliancy,” Patel says. “This aided in rapid site deployment and additional traffic generation.”
Meanwhile, Ricablanca and a small circle of college friends are working on a side project to develop the next evolution of a better social media platform. Watch out, Zuckerberg!
Many of the people on FOLIO:’s “10 Under 30” list are revamping the way their companies do business. David Cohn is trying to revamp the economics of the freelance industry.
Cohn is founder of Spot.Us, a San Francisco-based non-profit with a “community-funded journalism” model that started with freelancers pitching stories to the public, and readers paying to fund those stories. Cohn, who began his career at Wired.com, got a $340,000 grant from the Knight Foundation in 2008 to test his idea.
“Participatory journalism is about distributing workload, but if you can’t do that, can you distribute the financial load?” he says.
Recently, Spot.Us added “Community-Focused Sponsorships” to help pay the bills. If the reader engages with a sponsor’s content (which could be a quiz or survey), sponsor money goes into the reader’s Spot.Us account and they can direct where that money goes. Sponsors include AARP, HP Partners and the Aspen Institute. “The public is in charge of our ad budget,” says Cohn.
To date, Spot.Us has featured the work of around 100 journalists, raising on average about $1,000 per story (and more than $100,000 total). “If you compare us to ProPublica, which has a $10 million budget, that’s small potatoes, but considering we started from scratch, I feel pretty good about it,” says Cohn.
Spot.Us works with 65 publishing partners, from Oakland Local to The New York Times and has received three Northern California SPJ awards for excellence in journalism.
Editor, The Washingtonian
Garrett Graff has accomplished more things in his 29 years than most veteran journalists keep on their wish lists. At age 14, he set up a Web site for Vermont Governor Howard Dean and ended up working on Dean’s presidential campaign after he graduated from Harvard. He was hired by Mediabistro to launch the FishbowlDC site and became the first blogger ever to be accredited to cover a White House press briefing.
That put him on the radar screen of Jack Limpert, the longstanding editor of The Washingtonian, who hired him first as a freelance writer covering media and politics, then on staff as front-of-book editor.
A year later, Limpert and other magazine executives asked Graff to take over the magazine’s Web efforts and Graff hired the publication’s first full-time Web staff. Graff so impressed Limpert and the Merill family, who owns the magazine, they tapped him to succeed Limpert, who was stepping down, as only the second editor in the magazine’s 40-year history.
Graff holds the reins to a magazine that is read by the White House, Capitol Hill, military generals and D.C. power brokers. That’s a lot of pressure for a 29-year-old, but Graff seems up to the task. Last year The Washingtonian reached an important online milestone: it had grown its Web audience to 400,000 unique visitors per month, matching the print readership. A redesign and brazen editorial features have helped drive newsstand sales, which are up 20 percent through the first eight months of the year. Print ad sales are up 20 percent for the same period, and Web ad sales are up about 50 percent.
In his free time he’s finishing his second non-fiction book, about the FBI’s counter-terrorism unit, and he teaches a master’s journalism class on social media at Georgetown University.
“If print magazines are to stay strong,” Limpert adds, “they’ll need editors like Garrett.”