Alexis Madrigal

Editor-in-chief at Fusion. Previously at The Atlantic and Wired.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 20, 2015

Discussion

Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
Hi all, Alexis here. For those of you who don't know me yet, I'm the Editor-in-chief for Fusion, an ABC-Univision joint venture. I used to be a senior editor at The Atlantic and a staff writer at Wired. I wrote a book about energy tech called Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology, and I'm a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society. This year, I'm also an affiliate at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Ask Away! :)
BENYAM@benyamtesfai · Director of Marketing, TDJ // FITMENCOOK
Hi @alexismadrigal , congrats on the recent partnership with Medium! Given some of its limitations, how are you approaching the platform from a publisher pov and what type of content can we expect to see?
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
@benyamtesfai Can you speak on this partnership? I know nothing.
BENYAM@benyamtesfai · Director of Marketing, TDJ // FITMENCOOK
@jeffumbro , no problem. Ev WIlliams made an announcement last week that Medium would be partnering with the following publishers, but still unsure how this will all play out: The Awl, Discovery, Fusion, How We Get To Next, Mic, MSNBC, and Travel + Leisure.
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@benyamtesfai We've long had a friendly relationship with Medium. They make a beautiful writing tool and we employ a lot of writers, so it's a natural fit. I can't comment on the whole plan with them, but I'm excited about it. (I know this is a terrible answer!)
Sam Parr@thesamparr · Roommates
When you hire writers, do you hire on skill and train them to be interested in the topics that work well with your platform, or do you hire people interested in your content and train them to be writers?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@thesamparr Gotta hire on skill. People who know how to put the words in the right order are very hard to force into being. And for some people it comes naturally. BUT THEN, it become the editorial team's responsibility to relentlessly push the writers to develop intellectual density in the areas that they cover, you know? That means not just developing sources and setting up their news diet, but reading widely in the area, going to conferences, etc. (One conference to go to for aspiring writers in the Bay Area, our Future Fair, which is November 6/7 next month: realfuturefair.com)
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
Can you speak a bit on how Fusion is going to approach their election coverage?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@jeffumbro The most important things for me are: 1) That we cover actual issues of generational importance (mostly but not limited to climate change, debt, inequality, technological change, immigration). This is the only real way to differentiate from the horse-race coverage that everyone claims not to be doing but basically have to do in order to drive traffic. 2) I want us to track the online election more closely than it has ever been tracked. And we've built a little but fiercely brilliant team to do just that. Expert more and more from us on that digital campaigning front, starting with our candidate image explorer, which is amazing.
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
@alexismadrigal Is that a public link yet? The candidate image explorer
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@jeffumbro Not yet! Soon. Like a week. Basically, we've been scraping all the candidates social media posts and finding ways to label and play with them.
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
Hello @alexismadrigal thanks for this AMA session. 1) I was wondering what is your must reads on a daily basis (journals/blogs/news resource etc.) ? 2) Are there Any startups in the green technology space that really excite you with their value proposition?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@neeeharika Just because of the nature of my work, I don't visit that many sites on a daily basis anymore. I will say that I find myself going to Tech Review, IEEE Spectrum, The Atlantic, Remezcla, and Vice's Motherboard an awful lot. I also think John Hermann at The Awl is a brilliant and honest media observer who I hope is wrong about everything that's happening in our industry. But I try to read most of what he writes. I also read California Sunday Magazine whenever it comes out and I try to keep up with what Bill Wasik is doing at The New York Times Magazine. And, obviously, I read the shit out of Fusion.net, especially between the hours of 6am-7am and 9:30pm and 11:00pm before my son wakes up and after he goes to bed. :)
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@neeeharika to answer your second question, green technology startups have had a rough go of it. I have a hard time speaking to specific companies at this point, but holy shit, I'd bet on solar PV and the electrification of much of transportation.
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
Hi @alexismadrigal thanks so much for joining us today. Would love to hear what the most effective platform is for you with regards to marketing new content? Is it FB, Twitter, Newsletters etc? Would love to hear your recommendations!
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@harrystebbings The reality is that Facebook is where the mass audience is. It's where things can go from being small to being enormous. But things have to be shaped precisely to fit into the way Facebook posts work. And that means brand dilution. For media makers, I'm a huge believer in building a subscription following of some kind, whether that's a newsletter, YouTube, or a paid product of some kind *in addition to* playing a Facebook game. I can speak more on this in a bit.
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
Thank you for taking the time today @alexismadrigal. When you think about the future, what do you think one of the unintended consequences of the increased rate of technological change might be?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@corleyh This is a really good question. One thing: I would say that the law and the civic infrastructure of our communities has a really really tough time keeping up. Take driverless cars. How can any government agency be expected to properly inspect Google's driving algorithm (or the set of algorithms and sensors that form the software "driver")? I have no idea. Think about the recent VW emissions scandal. That was fucking child's play relative to the task of regulating the innards of self-driving car software. And maybe you don't worry about Google, per se, but you end up worrying about the jailbroken Google or the jailbroken Tesla or the legacy car company that's playing catchup and rushing things out the door. And how can our regulators deal with that? I have no idea!
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
@alexismadrigal @corleyh I wonder if @jerry_kaplan has any insight here
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Alexis thanks for joining us today! What has been your proudest moment during your career to date? What made that particular achievement stand out from the rest?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@ems_hodge I'm still incredibly proud of the story that I wrote about California's water crisis: http://www.theatlantic.com/techn... It was an incredibly unusual story that I feel illuminated the state's water issues in new and unexpected ways. I also worked like crazy at the craft level (really working over each sentence). And, of course, shortly thereafter I got sucked up into management at The Atlantic and now at Fusion. I will say this, though: when our TV show debuts in January, that will be a pretty proud moment because of all that we'll have accomplished in a single year. A TV show, tons of great digital stories, establishing an office in Oakland, and putting on 3 major live events, including the Real Future Fair, which is coming up in November: realfuturefair.com
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
What are you reading nowadays?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@jeffumbro I've been diving deep into the technocratic machine that built both the actual houses and financial infrastructure that led to the suburbanization and continuing segregation of America. In part, that's because I'm interviewing Ta-Nehisi Coates at the end of the month, who has written great things on this, but also because I'm fascinated by how little I knew about how the cities we live in were built. In my first book, I dealt with energy in a similar way: really going deep on how we built the systems that undergird the country. There's really nothing like this kind of deep dive.
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
@alexismadrigal Love this - Ask Ta-Nehisi to do a LIVE when you speak to him.
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
I love Fusion, but it seems to me that they initially promised a new media experience and I'm not entirely sure that's been delivered yet. What does the future look like?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@jeffumbro That's an interesting question. When I look at Fusion, I see a company where 60%+ of the staff is not white and that's delivering a mix of media that doesn't exist anywhere else. We've done tons of "formal" experimentation and built lots of neat things in VR and elsewhere, but ultimately, what defines the brand can't be the newness of its formats, but its execution against its mission of championing a more diverse and inclusive America. And we're getting better and better at that. I also think, for a variety of reasons, that expectations of the company were absurd. 14 months ago, we had 5 staffers who knew how to use a CMS, you know? This month, we'll reach 9/10 million uniques and we've built an entire infrastructure for dozens of people to work in. That's pretty fucking good.
Jeff Umbro@jeffumbro · CEO of The podglomerate
@alexismadrigal I love what you all are doing and I do think you're on the right path. You're right, though, I drank the kool aid and Fusion probably was put on a pedestal of expectations before it was ready.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
Hey @alexismadrigal, when did you first become interested in science? Was there a specific person or book that first peaked your interest?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@jakecrump This is probably a super cliched answer but Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time captivated me when I was the kind of nerdy 9-year-old that you might imagine I was. I was obsessed. As time went on, I drifted away from cosmology and got more into the basics of things. I still think magnets are amazing. You ever see that Insane Clown Posse video?
the lyrics go something like water, fire, air, and dirt / fucking magnets, how do they work ... I pretty much agree with the whole sentiment of that couplet. More recently, I've been taken with the strange persistence of life. This may sound bizarre but I've become amazed by seeds—just simple seeds—like, that is life, a living thing! And some of them can just sit there, living in their weird way, for a hundred or two hundred years. I don't normally think of that when I'm snacking on sunflower seeds or whatever. To me, the most fascinating science exists in exploring the fundamentals of our life that we rarely think about.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What living person would you most love to interview?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@jakecrump Manuel Lin Miranda or Zadie Smith or the Carters
Jonny Miller@jonnym1ller · Cofounder @Maptia
@alexismadrigal what's one thing that you've changed your mind on in the past year?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@jonnym1ller I think I've turned the corner with American football. I grew up watching and playing and loving it. But for a whole bunch of reasons, I'm gonna quit it. I'm not going cold-turkey, but I feel the change in me. Can't wait for NBA season. (Go Warriors.)
BENYAM@benyamtesfai · Director of Marketing, TDJ // FITMENCOOK
@alexismadrigal To the extent advertisers become less interested in page views as a baseline metric, how relevant then does the homepage become? Assuming your owned content lives on social platforms (snapchat, youtube, ig, fb, medium, vessel, etc).
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@benyamtesfai I don't think of our homepage as relevant at all. If we were an older brand, I would fight like HELL to keep people coming to the home page. But for newer companies, that era is just over. So, everyone will go distributed on all the social media platforms, but then the question becomes: what is the core of your brand? For us, I think it will eventually be the newsletter (as it is for Quartz) and the show lineup's stars (like Jorge Ramos and Paul F. Tompkins). One thing I will say: advertisers are not totally uninterested in pageviews. Or at least their media agencies are still interested in them, even if the advertisers want to be better than that.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
Hey what would the you of 3 years ago think of the you now?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@bentossell He'd be like: dude, I can't believe you survive without free time. I probably have between 3 and 5 hours per week of time without work or family obligations. I used to have that much free time every single day. I also think the me of three years would be surprised at how much I'm enjoying managing people. For me, my Work will always be writing, but creating a work culture that people love and that gives them space to be humans is immensely satisfying.
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What are the 3 resources that have most improved your life? (blogs, books, movies, advisors, etc)
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@jacqvon Executive editor at Fusion, Hillary Frey, and managing editor, Joyce Tang, teach me things every day and make my work life possible. They are amazing, brilliant, resilient media people. The podcast 99% Invisible has taught me a lot about how to tell the kinds of stories I like to tell. And, as far as books go—this is absurd but—I learned a lot as a young writer from Stephen King's On Writing. In a general sense, though, I think a lot of the recent online discussions about race and gender have taught me to be more mindful about a whole set of implicit biases that I didn't know I had. That's definitely made my life better.
Philipp Meder@phimema · Sales, Marketing @JapaCasa
Hi Alexis, I've always liked your newsletters since "5 intriguing things". What is your routine for finding the links you think are worth to share?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@phimema Thanks, Doc. My only routine is late-night West Coast Twitter. That's where I get a lot of my stuff. The rest of the links either come from my visiting the websites I like (see my earlier comment on my media diet) or people send them to me. I wish I had it more systematized, but I really don't. The only thing that is systematic is the kinds of items I try to put in each slot, 1 through 5. For example, a 4 is almost always historical. 5s are flyers. Etc.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
what's the biggest misconception people have around the business of media?
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@eriktorenberg 2 related things: 1) Content is easy! 2) It's easy to attract people to make content for a platform. Content is really really hard because it's not something that can just be shoveled out of a whole. Working harder doesn't necessarily translate into success. There is some alchemy there. And on (2), it always seems like on paper, it's easy to get people to contribute posts or questions or what-have-you, but it's actually almost impossible. Like a tiny tiny fraction of places that try to do it actually succeed, so each success is a tiny miracle.
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@eriktorenberg Oh and the other biggest conception is that your average person knows anything about any smaller media company. The average person barely knows the New York Times, let alone whatever other brand.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
What do you think of Medium's fundraising round and its potential to fulfill its expectations (becoming a huge tech company?)
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@eriktorenberg I wish them the best, honestly. I can imagine a future where most of the content flows through Facebook, but the premium, magazine-y stuff exists within the Medium ecosystem instead, leading to high CPMs, etc. That could happen, especially if publications basically crack apart and spill out a bunch of free agents who are paid by platforms instead of publications. It could happen (a la YouTube stars) and in that case, I would bet that Medium snatches up a bunch of the best people because of the excellence of the experience. But I don't know that Medium wants to be that. I think they want to be something else that is very mass market (for some reason I don't quite grasp).
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
What do you most want tech bros to know about the media world or just in general? :P
Alexis C. Madrigal@alexismadrigal · Editor in Chief, Fusion
@eriktorenberg The world works for you. Help make it work for everyone else.