An Interview with Martin Bryant, Editor in Chief of The Next Web about Journalism, Print, and Wearables

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By: Hillel Fuld (@Hilzfuld)

There are many tech blogs out there. Way too many. For us tech addicts, that means too much daily reading. But then there are the ones that stand out. The tech blogs that consistently put out top-notch work and do it without the need for stupid blogger politics, or an ego the size of south america. Of course that last part, the lack an ego that makes it difficult to work with them, really limits the bunch to a very few selected blogs. The Next Web is at the top of that list.

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The Next Web has been at the top of my daily reading list for what seems like forever. I have followed most of the team on Twitter for years, and have watched them build what has become a real leader in tech journalism. Martin Bryant, the Editor in Chief is one of the names to follow and has always been not just a great writer and editor but just a super nice guy who many other bloggers should learn from.

So when he agreed to do this interview, despite his insane schedule, I was thrilled. And now to the interview…

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1: Who is Martin Bryant? Where did you come from personally and professionally?

I grew up in Bradford in the north of England and studied Broadcasting at university with an eye on becoming a TV producer. Instead I ended up working in a school helping kids make TV and radio shows. It was a fun job but in my lunch breaks I’d blog about technology, music and even public transport.

Inspired by reading the people at ‘pro’ tech blogs who were doing the same thing for a living, I responded to an ad on FriendFeed from Zee M. Kane looking for part-time writers for The Next Web, where he had just become Editor-in-Chief. I went full-time the following year, stuck around and eventually became Editor-in-Chief myself last year.

2: Tell me about The Next Web and its recent shift in focus from breaking stories to more analysis. Why did you make that decision? Do you feel it was the right thing for the site? How have your readers reacted? PS I love it and always have before and after the shift.

It’s more about balance. We still cover news but our team is more evenly split between rushing to break the next big story and writing features – whether that’s reviews, analysis or more ‘evergreen’ guides to to technology and how to use it.

News is an arms race that we still want to be part of but there’s lots of value in the ‘slower’ stuff. Our Commissioning Editor finds some great contributed and freelance content to go alongside the things we produce in-house, too.
It’s a subtle shift but one that accompanied a broader change for the company. After years of pushing for growth, we’re now developing The Next Web into a sustainable business with multiple revenue streams, from advertising and events to offering deals of products and content partnerships such as with Tencent in China, where our content is translated for Chinese readers.

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3: What phone do you use and why?

It’s a little over-the-top, but I make a point of carrying both an iPhone and Android device so I can make the most of both ecosystems. I’m currently using an iPhone 6 Plus and a Nexus 5. After just a few weeks with the 6 Plus, other phones just feel two small. I’m not sure about the idea of replacing the Nexus 5 with an Android phablet though – that may be too much for my pockets to bear!

4: What are three most of the most exciting stories you have covered over the years?

Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram was a funny one. We all got crazily excited and ended up doing nine posts about it in three hours. In retrospect, that was probably too many, but looking back they stand up as reflecting the shock that followed that deal as people came to terms with the idea that a nascent photo-sharing app could be worth a billion dollars to an internet giant.

Big launches, such as Apple events, are enjoyable as we tend to have all hands on deck – with staff both at the event and working remotely to liveblog, write fast news hits and roundups, source images and proofread all in a high-pressured, time-sensitive environment. Teamwork at its best.

On a personal note, I like visiting cities and meeting lots of startups in a short amount of time. I’ve done this in cities like Copenhagen, Berlin and Tel Aviv and it’s always enjoyable. In my current role I don’t get to do it as much as I used to but there’s something to be said for diving into cities’ tech scenes for a few days at a time to really start to understand what makes them tick.

5: What is the next big thing in consumer tech? Where will all the hype be in a year from now if you had to guess?

Hype is always hard to predict but I think that improvements in analysis of personal data will really be starting to develop to offer the products that will form the early stages of the kinds of consumer AI that will power our personal assistants in years to come.

I want software that can book travel and accommodation on my behalf, based on my preferences but without me having to compare flights, think about hotels and the like – few clicks and it’s all booked without me having to worry about the details.

6: What is the “Don’t ever do this when pitching TNW or the press in general” rule? Feel free to share more than one.

Pitching via Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn is a no-no. It’s just too hard to keep track of pitches from all those different places. Email, for all its flaws, is still the best way to pitch. Just make sure you keep the initial email short and to-the-point.Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 9.16.11 AM

7: Is privacy dead? Explain.

Privacy isn’t dead, it’s evolving. Our sense of personal boundaries is shifting fast than ever. The problem is that others (principally, tech companies) have more control over our privacy than we do in a lot of cases. While there are those who push strongly against this, the sheer volume of benefit these companies can offer us will mean that there will always be give and take over privacy.

Ultimately though, consumers need a lightweight but powerful way of controlling their personal data and knowing where it all is. We’re still a long way from that.

8: Let’s talk about something slightly boring… Books. Are they still relevant? Is print relevant? Online journalism? What is the future here?

Print will ultimately become a niche product and premium luxury, like vinyl. Books themselves are still relevant and people still want to read them. A longer-term problem is the shift to shorter attention spans caused by the internet. Perhaps books will prove too long for future generations. That’s not necessarily a problem. A mass of bite-size content can provide as much value, just in a different way.

9: Do you believe in the wearable hype? Do you have any wearable tech? What is your take on this?

Wearable tech will inevitably take off but it will likely continue the gradual trajectory it has been taking so far. Battery life is the major factor. Every wearable device I’ve owned has quickly fallen out of daily use after I forgot to charge it one night. These devices eventually need to last weeks, not hours or days.

10: What are your three tips for someone starting something new whether it is a tech blog or a new startup? Are they different tips? Please elaborate.

I’ll offer some tips for starting a tech blog:
Don’t just do the same as everyone else. Start with a unique proposition. So many blogs go nowhere because they’re ‘me too’ takes on the same old stories.

Read, read, read: From Mat Honan to Sam Biddle, Kara Swisher to Alexia Tsotsis, read a wide range of styles and approaches to tech writing and absorb their different styles, then find your own voice – your own ‘take’ on the tech world. You’ll never stand out if you just copy other people’s style but you’ll never know how to write if you don’t read voraciously.

Make personal contacts and meet them face-to-face as much as you can. Finding information on the Web is fine, being first to write up a new post on the Google Blog is fine, but you’ll never truly understand the tech industry unless you get out there and meet people.

Thanks Martin for taking the time to answer the questions in detail. Really appreciate it and please just keep doing what you’re doing. I depend on it daily!


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hilzfuld

Hillel is Co Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at ZCast, a company taking on the pain of modern audio broadcasting. Hillel also blogs for many influential sites including TechCrunch, Mashable, The Next Web, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, Venturebeat, and others. Additionally, Hillel mentors startups across Israel in different accelerators including The Google Launchpad, the Microsoft Ventures accelerator, Techstars, The Junction, and more. Hillel has been named Israel's top marketer, has been featured on CNBC, Forbes, and many others and was recently added by Google to its marketing experts program. You can find and talk to Hillel on Twitter. He is @Hilzfuld.