Navigating the Mashup with John Wordock ’87
John Wordock already had a half-decade of journalism experience under his belt when he entered Waynflete’s Upper School as a freshman in 1984. Graced with self-knowledge at a young age, he knew what he wanted to do (be a radio reporter) and where he wanted to do it (New York City or Washington, DC). “As a fifth-grader, I would get out my index cards and write down ball scores, headlines, and the weather report,” he recounts. “I’d read off the news pieces, play records in between, and record the whole thing on cassette tapes.”
At Waynflete, faculty members like Alice Brock, Peter Hamblin, and Gary Hertz cheered Wordock’s enthusiasm. “They saw that I had a passion for journalism and they encouraged me to pursue it,” he recalls. “They ensured that writing was at the center of everything I did.” Wordock posted regular news reports on bulletin boards around the school that examined major news items of the day, including the Reagan presidency, the Iran-Contra scandal, and the changing relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Wordock continued to work in radio while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Vassar College. He joined Bloomberg Radio in New York City while at graduate school at the Columbia School of Journalism and went on to cover politics and business as a radio reporter. Wordock then ran MarketWatch.com’s radio network for six years, appearing on CBS stations in New York, Chicago, and Boston, before joining the Wall Street Journal in 2013 to head up its radio and podcasting group. “After you reach a certain experience level, you want to be able to influence what your industry is doing,” he says.
Into the fray
Newspapers had suffered at the hands of Craigslist and job websites like Monster.com (the Journal weathered the storm better than most, thanks in part to its early transition to a paywall system). Print media executives were developing strategies to respond to the precipitous decline in ad revenue. News organizations abandoned their traditional silos in the pursuit of fickle customers (advertisers were also seeking stable ground). This “media mashup” continues unabated today, with the New York Times investing heavily in video and the Journal playing host to some of the most popular podcasts in the country. “Our executive team is very mobile-focused,” says Wordock. “85 percent of our audience listens to our shows on a mobile device, so my podcast work dovetails well with the Journal’s mobile strategy.”
A growing trend among listeners is the desire to build individual “à la carte” media experiences. An individual facing a 60-minute commute may listen to general news from one source, business news via a Journal podcast, and then conclude the listening session with a comedy show. Wordock’s team experiments with segment lengths that can range from three minutes to one hour. The Journal’s three most popular podcasts—What’s News, Tech News Briefing, and Your Money Matters—are some of the most highly ranked podcasts in the iTunes business and tech categories, and each is under ten minutes. “Listeners appear to prefer short blasts of news when they can fit it in,” Wordock says.
Analytics enable news outlets to constantly experiment and make rapid iterative changes. “Our close relationship with Apple gives us access to a dashboard that tells us where listeners are, how they’re listening, and whether they’re downloading or streaming our content,” says Wordock. “The data also tell us that 70 percent of our podcast audience is under 49, which is right in our advertisers’ sweet spot.”
The new normal
Finding success in this fast-moving field calls for an entrepreneurial mindset. Participation in social media, video, blogs, and podcasts is the new normal for journalists, with most job descriptions now calling for “multimedia journalists.” Wordock, whose team delivers content to media partners that include Google, Apple, Amazon, and Spotify, sees himself as the owner of a small business inside a major corporation. “I work with advertising and marketing strategists, partner-development staff, and mobile and desktop technology specialists,” he says. “I really enjoy the combination of managing people and pursuing content.”
The unrelenting pace has a downside that will sound familiar to many—the inability to disconnect. Wordock rattles off a long list of hardware devices that accompany him at work. As a father to a 14-, 13-, and 10-year-old, the home front is fully wired as well. Ironically, print newspapers are Wordock’s favorite escape from the digital world—particularly the local publications that he seeks out when he travels. “It’s not a screen,” he says. “Newspapers give my eyes a chance to relax!”