Journalist Q&A: Randall Lane, Forbes

Randall Lane, editor of Forbes, talks about his obsession with news streams, how the brand has grown its digital traffic, and specific rules for PR pros when pitching writers.

Randall Lane, editor of Forbes, talks about his obsession with news streams, how the brand has grown its digital traffic, and specific rules for PR pros when pitching writers.

Talk about your background and how it relates to your current role at Forbes?
This is my second tour of duty at the outlet. My first stint was out of college. One of the greatest editors of the 20th century, Jim Michaels, taught me how to put together stories with attitude and a contrarian point of view that respects the time and intelligence of the readers.

I took those lessons to heart and in six years rose from reporter to writer to Washington bureau chief. I had Forbes' DNA implanted in me.

After spending so much time interviewing the greatest entrepreneurs in the world, I was inspired to do it myself. I cofounded two magazine companies. The main product at the first one was POV magazine, which my partner and I launched with credit cards and personal debt, and it was named Adweek's Startup of the Year.

The second, Doubledown Media, produced luxury magazines, including Trader Monthly and Dealmaker, websites, and events for niche professional audiences. Both companies had success and failure - they didn't survive the crashes of 2000 and 2008, respectively.

I wrote a book, The Zeroes, about the latter experience.

Returning to Forbes felt like coming home. I thought my background at the magazine would make me a formidable entrepreneur, but it turns out my entrepreneurial journey has made me a far more formidable business editor. I don't approach stories academically - I've shared the experiences of many of our subjects and, as a result, our stories carry more insight and resonance.

I've been able to turn editorial ideas, such as our Forbes 400 and 30 Under 30 lists, into vibrant franchises and events.

Building media products from scratch for more than a decade yielded a very useful skill set.

We have also been able to implement a lot of ideas that I field-tested on a smaller scale on the strong Forbes platform.

Forbes' traffic is up in the last three years from 12 million to 28 million unique visitors a month, according to ComScore worldwide. What do you attribute this to?
Along with our site traffic, our newsstand sales have jumped every six-month period during the past two years, while the floor has fallen out below our competitive set and magazines in general. For example, in H1 2013, average newsstand sales of Forbes were up 17.5% versus the same period in 2012.

On the print side, just as our digital products enhance what makes an online experience great, we've tried to make the product more 'magazine-ier.' We've invested a lot in photography, and now even have our own collection at Corbis.

We have improved the design and let great stories run longer, rather than truncate them as many publications do. Media should be platform specific, not one size fits all.

Last October, Forbes was the most shared media outlet on LinkedIn with 220,000 shares in that period. How do you adapt your content to multiple platforms?
Our stories are built to be shared - cover stories and magazine features are our most shared pieces. That has been a huge driver of growth, and it makes magazine journalism much more potent.

The growth in sharing has been phenomenal. But what's fun is how much the print magazine feeds into the digital platform. Most of our cover stories are shared thousands of times and viewed hundreds of thousands of times. The magazine provides credibility and resonance to the digital side, and the website provides a vibrancy that helps print.

What is the best way to pitch you?
Don't pitch me or my writers. Establish a respectful relationship with those in your area and discuss credible, exclusive stories at the right time. Those who push out generic releases on every company that has hired them do themselves and their client a great disservice. PR pros can work with our writers long term, but do not email me or anyone you don't know. And don't follow up with an email on the first pitch we didn't ask for. The PR industry is throttling our inboxes and those who engage that way have zero credibility here or pretty much anywhere.

What do you have planned for 2014?

We're obsessed with the world of news streams and we're going to unveil some unique takes on that via desktops, mobile, and tablets.

We're very focused on the latter right now, and unveiled an iPad app in January. It will redefine what it means to have a socially driven magazine.

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