Next up in our Speaking to Media blog series is The Globe and Mail‘s Gabe Gonda. Earlier this year, Gabe was appointed to the new role of Managing Director, Corporate Development – formerly Head of Features, Sports and Opinion.
Gabe’s new role requires agility, shifting to a corporate perspective from a journalistic point of view, which he developed over his 20-year career. We spoke to Gabe about The Globe’s data-driven business model, audience-first approach and why people should subscribe to The Globe right now.
What is your favourite way to stay informed? Do you have favourite publications or broadcasters?
My favourite way to stay informed is the old-fashioned way. When I have time, I sit down with six of my favourite dailies – I read our paper first. I read the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Canadian broadsheets that are important – The National Post and The Toronto Star. I’m not someone who uses broadcast journalism. I’ll constantly look at my newsfeed but I’m not engaging with them that deeply for my information.
Is there a reason why broadcast isn’t on your radar?
I don’t watch TV, so I’m not in front of broadcast journalism and I’m not in the car often, so I don’t listen to radio news. Obviously, the government invests billions in public broadcasting, so they do some good work, but I think generally and traditionally, broadcasters have tended to be secondary media that rely upon the work of print media. This has changed remarkably little over time.
Tell us more about the average Globe and Mail reader? What are their interests, where do they live, how old are they?
Our audience is overwhelmingly under 40 – I think the number is 60 per cent. There are big readership clusters – educated, urban professionals, managers and owners – we have them segmented. It’s a younger and bigger audience than most people expect, but then as you would expect, they do concentrate in urban areas in Ontario. We also have very strong readership in Alberta and British Columbia.
What qualities from your experience as a journalist are you bringing to your new role as Managing Director of Corporate Development?
That’s a great question. I think the qualities that are serving me well include my curiosity. I find the more widely, deeply and curiously I read, the more I am able to make connections and see connections that weren’t otherwise visible – so curiosity’s huge. The deeper you inquire, the more you’re able to go places that others aren’t. I think that’s really valuable. I see my job as generating ideas and then connecting people around those ideas. So, in a funny way, I still feel like I’m an assignment editor.
Are you surprised by how transferable your skills are from being a journalist?
Yeah, I am. I spent 20 years in newsrooms and I was always an editor or reporter or newsroom manager. I had never done anything else, so I was unsure what my days would look like or how my role would unfold. It’s very early but yes, I have found that I am surprised.
How are decisions made in allocating resources to specific types of journalism? Can we expect to see different types of reporting?
This is more of a question for the Editor-in-Chief, but what I can tell you is The Globe and Mail is made up of four major pillars. A couple of them are subject pillars and a couple of them are functional pillars.
The subject pillars driving our audience’s interest and our business are politics and business. You’ll always see us doing more and investing more in those areas. The functional pillars drive our goals and reflect our values and audience’s interests.
On the one hand, there is investigative journalism and, on the other, opinion. Investigative work, or as we refer to it internally, enterprise work, uncovers wrong-doings or policy mistakes where action can be taken to improve things and provide solutions. So that’s the investigative side. On the other hand, our opinion pillar drives subscriptions as investigations do and provides our audience with expert and informed perspectives that help them make sense of what’s going on in the world.
What drives editorial decisions in the newsroom? Has this changed in effort to target different audiences?
We’re a company that believes very deeply in data science. We have dozens of data scientists who created our own proprietary tool for looking at audience behaviour. For the first time in The Globe’s history, we get more of our revenue from subscriptions than any other source.
What’s really encouraging about the data we have is it shows our audience wants the kind of journalism that has always been of greatest value to the newsroom: original reporting, scoops and sharp accountability journalism, like our investigative team produces. Those are the things our audience responds to, so the data actually ends up supporting our core values – which is a really great part of what’s happening.
In terms of changing editorial decisions, I think our data just keeps us honest. It helps check our gut impulses and I’d say it reaffirms our gut impulses in many cases.
The Globe and Mail recently led the Digital Publishing Awards and was the only Canadian nomination for the North American Digital Media Awards. What makes the Globe different to its competitors? What is key in elevating the use of digital platforms for traditional media?
First, we have great owners, they are private shareholders who allow us to look at our business and make long-term decisions and long-term allocations of capital. I suspect we wouldn’t have been able to commit to data science in the way we did if our company was public and more focused on the short term. Our owners, Woodbridge, understand and respect the purpose of a good newspaper and have a multi-generational commitment to those values, so that’s huge.
Second, we really emphasize talent. Of course, we’re going to be opportunistic and look for great young reporters who are interested in growing and getting better. For example, Robyn Doolittle, who produced the landmark Unfounded series, which changed how sexual assaults are reported and investigated in this country more than a year before the New York Times reported on Harvey Weinstein. Our emphasis on hiring talent applies not only to the newsroom but to hiring best-in-class talent on the data science side. We’re able to do that because of the long-term vision of our owners and their willingness to invest. So, if you invest in newsroom talent you get great journalism and if you invest in great tech talent you get a great platform-savvy, user experience.
Third, I’d say it’s our brand. We really understand how to apply our unique brand, which is 175 years old next year, and leverage it. The Globe and Mail has been a great convening power for many, many decades – in fact for almost two centuries. People come to The Globe to see smart minds come together. We have a great headquarters in downtown Toronto, where we can do that physically – we can bring together policy leaders and help put talent and minds together toward solutions to major social issues, like the opioid crisis or our trade disputes or infrastructure deficits. That’s unique and really cements our trust with readers.
The fourth ingredient is key and indispensable and that’s having strong convictions and having the courage to back up these convictions. When you look at projects we have supported over the past few years, from veteran suicides, to work on the opioid crisis or missing and murdered indigenous women and girls or Unfounded, all of those were reported with a passion for doing good and the conviction that we’re here for that purpose. Having conviction is an essential ingredient for our success and I don’t think you can do without it in our industry. You must have a belief system and you have to be able to pursue your beliefs.
Why should people subscribe to The Globe and Mail right now?
Because the world is a confusing, fast-changing, complex place and I think The Globe and Mail is an extremely efficient and valuable way of helping make sense of it. That’s the answer.
We had an incredible story on our front page about a kid at UBC who has created a satellite imaging map that locates re-education centers for political dissidents in Mainland China. You couldn’t read that anywhere else. There was also an exclusive story about allegations of corruption at Bombardier. The point is, whether you’re an investor who has Bombardier shares or wants to short that stock or simply want Canadian corporations to be more accountable, or if you’re someone who cares about Canada’s stance in the world on human rights, The Globe and Mail is a uniquely valuable and trusted tool for understanding and making decisions in a world that is changing fast. That’s what we do.