Joel Weber, journalist and editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, spoke as part of the “My Life As” speaker series on Monday, Oct. 23.
Weber graduated from the University of Oregon in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in magazine journalism. He has previously worked for publications such as ESPN The Magazine, Men’s Health, Best Life and Men’s Journal.
“If you think back to the primal sense if you didn’t like somebody’s campfire and the stories they were telling, you’d leave and go find somebody else’s,” Weber said. “The media landscape is effectively that.”
Weber took audience members back to ancient times in order to explain how news consumers select their content and stories among the wide range of choices. The campfire he’s referring to is effectively the publication, which an audience will choose to read and the people telling the stories, which are the reporters and editors of the publication.
“How well do you know your audience, how well can you tell stories?” Weber said, explaining that the best publications will excel at both of those questions and have a good understanding of both.
Weber outlined in his presentation that Bloomberg has a very structured system for how they produce content and attract audience attention.
He explained that the creative process for pitching and writing stories comes down to four quadrants: strategy, a better you, making sense and surprise & delight.
He said that these quadrants help Bloomberg more effectively reach their audience — business leaders.
Weber defined “strategy” as observing one company, like Amazon, dominate among others during a certain time and trying to define what they do differently to win in a business environment.
Weber also discussed how Bloomberg Businessweek works to capture its audience through magazine covers.
“You get to connect the dots between editorial, photography and design and there’s this little love fest that happens when those three forces come together,” Weber said, describing Bloomberg Businessweek’s design process and the goals they would like to achieve. “How do we take something incredibly complicated and distill it down to its most simple form?”
Weber added that Bloomberg Businessweek feels like it has “the strongest magazine covers in the business.”
Magazine cover quality doesn’t just revolve around artistic ability, he explained. It comes down to what the cover tells the audience. He pointed to headlines as an example — they should be no longer than 10 words.
“There’s so many different things on so many different levels; there’s a Wall Street story, there’s a class story, there’s a racial story, there’s a gender story. Yet in total, it’s less than 10 words,” he said.
Jessica Coacci, a sophomore journalism major, thought that concept was the most interesting part of Weber’s lecture.
“I thought it was really interesting how they could tell a story in 10 words rather than The New York Times writing a whole article,” she said.
Weber also said that emotion is an important attribute for a good story or commercial. He said that you “go through a story like a rollercoaster,” riding out “the highest highs to the lowest lows” to captivate the reader and draw interest. Near the end of the presentation, Weber pointed to the 1979 Coke commercial featuring former Steelers defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene as a great example of this.
In the commercial, an injured Greene walks into the locker room and a boy offers him a Coke, which he reluctantly accepts. The boy slinks away as Greene drinks the Coke, but Greene then finishes and smiles. At the end of the commercial, Greene says “Hey kid, catch!” and throws him his jersey, bringing the kid joy. The wide range of emotions the characters go through is what characterizes the emotional rollercoaster and what makes it great.
Emily English, a junior psychology major, found Weber’s discussion about the commercial impactful.
“[Weber] was saying how it was emotionally cyclical,” she said. “That really struck me though because it’s completely true and that is definitely what draws me into a TV show or a story that I’m reading or even a book.”
English added that she enjoyed the lecture.
“Normally when I do things for extra credit in class, it’s actually not the most enjoyable thing but leaving this tonight, I was like, wow, I feel like I actually enjoyed that a lot,” she said.