Navigating the Ever Changing World of Content Consumption, Trends & Strategies with Merrill Brown

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This is a podcast episode titled, Navigating the Ever Changing World of Content Consumption, Trends & Strategies with Merrill Brown. The summary for this episode is: <p>How should the Life Sciences industry think about content development in our rapidly changing world of digital transformation and AI? Learn from one of the nation's top media experts, Merrill Brown, who has been at the forefront of digital content innovation at a global scale for the last three decades. From his early days as a beat reporter at the Washington Post, through to his most recent role as editorial director of G/O Media -- parent company of The Onion, Gizmodo and much more -- hear how the news industry has evolved -- and get a media guru's insights on how to deliver meaningful and impactful content to your stakeholders and customers.</p><p><br></p><p>Merrill was our keynote guest at our inaugural Aktana Innovation Xchange (AIx) on September 26th in New York City. Our live AIx audience got an inside peek in this lively fireside chat of what really happens in the leading newsrooms in the world. We hope you enjoy this entertaining and informative discussion -- and don't miss hearing "Merrill in Context" when we learn what historical figure, Merrill, as a renowned journalist, would most like to interview.</p>
Everything is about mobile
00:40 MIN
Everyone is a content producer
00:33 MIN
Tiktok and short form video content are here to stay
00:41 MIN
Product, technology and content all need to come together
00:19 MIN
Use AI to produce automated content
00:20 MIN
Short form video is essential for connecting with customers
00:24 MIN
Mobile means being effective on all formats
00:25 MIN

Clay Hausmann: I am Clay Hausmann, chief Growth Officer of Aktana and host of Contextual Intelligence. We are just back from New York City where we had our first ever Aktana Innovation Exchange. We hosted about 30 of the world's top pharma and technology companies for two days of peer- to- peer knowledge sharing. The top takeaway from AIX, as we call it, is crystal clear, the life sciences industry is hungry for solutions that offer hyper- personalized and dynamic omnichannel engagement. A major highlight of the event was my fireside chat with Merrill Brown, who is Editorial Director of G/ O Media and has experienced the digital transformation of the media industry from a front seat, often leading that transformation over the last three decades. For this episode of Contextual Intelligence, we want to share that thoughtful, provocative, and really entertaining discussion. I hope you enjoy our 2023 AIX fireside chat with Merrill Brown. Things have evolved, things evolved a little bit differently in the media world, but they have evolved a lot. Today, Merrill is the editorial director of G/ O Media, which is a portfolio of digital media outlets that include sites like Gizmodo, Deadspin and probably the one that's going to garner the most questions in the Q& A, The Onion.

Merrill Brown: I run The Onion.

Clay Hausmann: Yes, there we go. We can just go from there straight into Q&A if you want. Most importantly, he's been at the forefront of a lot of digital transformation and content personalization that I think we can learn from. So with that, Merrill, thank you so much for being with us today.

Merrill Brown: It's a pleasure.

Clay Hausmann: So now that I've done the Wikipedia version of your background, could you describe in your own words a little bit of the path that you've taken and the learnings along the way?

Merrill Brown: Fair enough, thanks and thank you all for having me. I describe my background often as being someone who's restless for the next big thing and it seems like I've found myself in that position sometimes too early, sometimes too late, but always looking for the next big thing. It was mentioned a moment ago that I helped start a cable TV network at a very early part of the cable television industry. That network is no longer with us, it's now called something else, but it was a forerunner in getting people interested in watching live trials on television, and we're going to see some very newsworthy live trials on television quite soon. Probably the most historic live trials we've ever seen on television. Probably the most important. I was involved in the internet in 1994. I thought the internet was the next big thing. I changed my career and taught myself a little bit of code and how the internet worked and decided I was going to jump into the internet. And among the kind of strange, difficult early moments in the internet was I was the first editor of a publication called Time Daily. Time Daily was time magazine's first effort to go into the internet, and my job was to call time reporters and have them give me their stories to run on this thing called the internet way before Time Magazine, then primarily a print magazine, published. Another difficult moment. We're going to talk about AI and I have a little bit of history in AI as well. In the natural language early stages of AI, I took an AI company I was working with to the Associated Press, the largest news organization in the country, and tried to persuade them, this was probably in about 2011, that they should be thinking about the early version of AI. This is obviously pre where we are today. And I was able to persuade them that my timing was good there. I persuaded them to do something that's not really well understood now, and that is to use AI going back now a dozen years to create sports stories and earning stories in business. So whenever you see an Associated Press story, which is a whole lot of what we consume in terms of summaries of baseball games or quarterly earnings reports from public companies, those stories are now all produced by the first generation of AI where the Associated Press realized in 2013, after a little bit of persuasion by me and a lot of persuasion by the technologists I was working with, that it was time to start beginning making that kind of transformation, which is a little bit lost in the shuffle of what's going on with AI today where there are lots of headlines of things going on about, well, I'll call AI 2. 0, but going back to 2013 or so, all of the ball score reports that you read from the Associated Press, which is in most publications we all see, and the quarterly earnings reports are produced by a bot, by machine taking the earnings data and turning them into stories. So that's another example of how I try to get ahead of it. I've gotten ahead of it often in my career, but often have gotten it wrong along the way as well.

Clay Hausmann: Well, we'll want to hear both, want to hear some of those too. So let me start with hopefully a very easy and a very broad question and you can take it where you'd like to. So obviously content and content consumption, it's something that we are talking a lot about in the life sciences industry. Content is your product. Consumption of content is the lifeblood of your industry. So what significant shifts and preferences have you observed maybe even lately in terms of how people are consuming news content today?

Merrill Brown: Well, the easiest one is the one that we all now take for granted, and that is we get all our news from our phones, and that's especially true if you're under 40. At our publications that I work on now, the G/ O Media publications, which cover the gamut from sports to business news to movie and TV reviews, to women's news, to news about African- American affairs, all of those sites and across all of those demographics, the ratio of usage and age groups runs about 80/20 people under 40 on mobile and roughly about 30/ 70 people over 50 on desktop. So everything we do and how we think about what we're producing, especially if we're looking at younger audiences with content skewed toward them is about mobile. Now that may seem obvious because it's how we are all in this room living our daily lives, but it's actually much more complicated than that because it affects ad formats, it affects storytelling concepts. We try not to duplicate content and most of what we produce is simply reproduced on the phone, sometimes inadequately, but far and away that's the most difficult problem all of us in the content business deal with is how to get the mobile experience right and especially how to figure out how to monetize it properly.

Clay Hausmann: Well, maybe taking that a little bit further, one of the things that's a common theme in our conversations is around matching the right content or the right message to the right channel. That's something that's very prevalent in your business as well, content formats and how you match those to the right channel, especially with social. How do you take the knowledge that you've learned there? What can we learn from what you've learned over the last number of years because you've been at this so long in terms of matching content to a channel?

Merrill Brown: Well, first of all, and this may also go without saying to an audience like this, but all of us need to recognize we are, as individual executives and as individual institutions, we're all content creators. And I suspect that this is an industry that's only slowly recognizing the phenomena of that, that everything we produce on social media in either our business or personal lives, everything we do as companies, we're all in the content creation business and people consume our work that way. And that doesn't matter whether you're in the media business or whether you're in pharma or whether you're in medical tech, we are all content producers and we have to be conscious of that in both I think our personal lives and also in our business lives. And we have to build our organizations and think about our marketing plans in how we're both realizing the opportunity in that regard and also being cautious and prudent. I find it very interesting when I'm interviewing job applicants, especially if they're in the 25 to 35- year- old age bracket, how oblivious they are to how their social media personas affect how an employer might regard them. And that applies of course to everyone in this room and your social media persona and when people want to buy your products or want to employ you or want to partner with you. We are all content producers, whether it is institutional or personal, and we really have to be conscious of that and that affects so much of what we do.

Clay Hausmann: Yeah. Do you have a particular example of when you tailored a piece of news content or a certain type of news content to a channel that drove high engagement that you drew a particular learning from?

Merrill Brown: I said I'd throw something about The Onion in here, and our company's been very reluctant about TikTok at the moment, but I just went over the TikTok strategy at The Onion and boy have they figured something out in beautiful 30- second snippets. I don't know if there are TikTok users in the room, but it's pretty commercial free and TikTok, the entity has only recently created a monetization strategy. But when you start realizing how much TikTok content is consumed by people under 30 and how standard it is for them in their daily lives, you realize, I mean we're right now at an inflection point where, for better or for worse, TikTok is becoming a very, very important stream of content and also potentially, although it's not there yet, a important source of revenue and monetization. So I'll bet there aren't a lot of people who in your business lives today are using TikTok in this room today, but I would be thinking about it because customers are there, young people are there, and part of, again, this persona development I mentioned before is going to be built in TikTok going forward. And if not TikTok because it's corporate background and so forth is somewhat problematic, there'll be another TikTok.

Clay Hausmann: Yeah, well, we may not be the snapshot of a TikTok user conference, but we certainly have to think about it and incorporate it into our planning.

Merrill Brown: And just to follow up on The Onion thing for a moment, to give you some sense of the scale of The Onion brand, and I don't want to dwell on it, but I just have numbers from it. We have 11 million Twitter followers for The Onion, 6 million Facebook followers, 4 million Instagram followers, getting close to a million TikTok followers and 3 million YouTube subscribers. So you put all those numbers together, they're consuming lots of that content every day. But in any event, social media is here to stay. It's not going to go away. And I just gave you the litany of sites and capabilities that our site, The Onion, has.

Clay Hausmann: Now I'm kicking myself because I'm realizing I should have prepped you to come with the top five Onion headlines of the month or something. You have been on the digital transformation curve, went back 1996 as msnbc. com. What have you learned in that transition? Help us pinpoint some learnings about transforming an industry to a digital platform or getting a mindset. What have you learned along that way in terms of the shift to digital?

Merrill Brown: Well, I would say in the media business, there's still an evolution going on about incorporating fully digital training and digital thinking into everyday business life. It's true across many industries, and believe it or not, it's still true in the media business where there are writers or people who shoot video or people who have individual skills and still believe their niche, being in that niche is sufficient and for the company's goals. When in fact, and I've been talking about this now for close to 20 years, digital transformation has to incorporate everything going on in the organization. It can't simply be at the beginning there was everybody would take solace in the fact that the digital guy and woman are over in the corner, we're taken care of because we've got them over there. And there is still lots of that in business and there's still way too much of it in the media where there's the digital group and they're the other people who do the real journalism work, and that's as broken today as it's ever been. One of the things I'm trying to break down is the barrier between the technologists and the people who gather the content and that barrier, even in a relatively sophisticated company like mine, still exists. They speak different languages. You talk to content creators about product and they don't really know what the word means. Product development to me is central to everything we should be doing. And you use the phrase product or product development when you're talking to a writer or a creative person or a marketer, and often they don't even know what you're referring to. The critical thing in all of this, and it's ongoing and it's going to continue to be ongoing, is breaking down the walls and separate product and technology and content development and marketing and getting everybody in the same room and realizing the skills need to be both inherent in the talent in the room and the knowledge needs to be shared across disciplines. It doesn't happen enough.

Clay Hausmann: Yeah. Merrill, you promised some learnings from the stakes, so if I could put you on the spot a little bit, was there a particular experience that you had in this shift towards digital transformation or shifting your content strategy that you learned the most from that you said, " I'm not going to repeat that again," and that's a great teacher?

Merrill Brown: There isn't really one thing that comes to mind in that regard. But I did learn, you mentioned that I set up msnbc. com, which how many people in the room... everyone in the room probably knows what MSNBC is. How many people in the room know what the MS stands for? It's about 5% of the room. It's not the women's NBC network, which some people think. MS stands for Microsoft. And MSNBC began as a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC. And my task there when I went to work for them was to go to Redmond, Washington and build a 250 person newsroom on the Microsoft campus. And I learned there in 1996 when I got to Seattle and realized what it was we were going to undertake to do, the importance of getting, and same thing, this is now 27 years ago, of getting technology and content speaking the same language. And it's been something I've worked on ever since with mixed results. But I was forced into that situation on a technology campus to put content and technology together, and we did so with some success at the time, but it's a lesson I've lived with ever since. I didn't get it at the time. Hopefully I've figured some of it out since.

Clay Hausmann: That's excellent. Let's talk about data and analytics for a minute now. In your role today, do you have analytics that reports to you in your organization or they are a partner? How does it work in your team?

Merrill Brown: The audience analytics team is run in the office next to mine, and they are very prolific and very involved in everything we do. And if there's been one very dramatic change in the last 10 years in how people produce news and information, it is the role of analytics and the data in making those decisions. So there used to be, in the old days, editors would make something called editorial decisions. And if you ran a magazine, for instance, your research would consist of six people in a room in a focus group who would put post- its on the sides of the pages to claim to have actually read that story. And ads were sold and billions of dollars of advertising revenue were based largely on where they put those post- its and whether they saw the inside back cover of the magazine or not. And when you think about that and how much commerce revolved around a system built on post- its and magazine covers, same thing was true in the newspaper business, but in magazines it was very vivid because there was so much money floating around the magazine business right down the street here, as a matter of fact, at Time Life. So if you think about that approach to analytics and you think about what I do every day, there's a big board which shows how many eyeballs are actually on a given story at a given moment at our largest sites. I get data on how much time is spent on every story I get data on so- called completion rates, meaning how far into the story actually the average user or some of the users have gone. We know by minute how much traffic there is on our website. We know when we adjust the story or send out a breaking news alert, how much traffic at that moment is going to the site. We know how deeply in the slideshows people click, whether it's four slides or six slides. And all of this might be self- evident to many of you in business that of course that level of analytics is the case, but understand when you are reading the news and you're looking at Yahoo Finance or looking at health news sites or the various things you read every day, the decisions that you're seeing that editors are making are based, yes, in part on their editorial instincts and their backgrounds and their education and their histories and so forth, but they're also based on the fact that they're sitting with minute by minute information knowing what it is that people are consuming today, last week and at that given moment.

Clay Hausmann: That was actually the exact next question I was going to ask you and you started to address it. But in that balance between instincts and analytics, what leads in terms of decision- making about editorial strategy? Is it analytics that goes first? Is it still an arm wrestling match in editorial meetings? How does that balance work out?

Merrill Brown: It is an arm wrestling match. In fact, there's an enormous debate going on about how this data should be used. We have a thing that we informally call a scorecard and it evaluates the performance of every single writer and editor in terms of their monthly output, how many stories, how much time is spent on those stories, how many pages do those stories yield, and it's a wonderful and valuable tool. Senior management might like to see it be the dominant tool in how we evaluate people, but that's not appropriate either because there are stories about things like, oh, climate change, which don't draw as well as stories about say, Taylor Swift, and those judgements have to be made intellectually and professionally and so forth with data a part of it. For sure, we've got to write about Taylor Swift, but we also have to write about climate and COVID and all the things that are somewhat more difficult. So that balance exists, but at least now it's not based on post- its on the side of a page or someone filling out a notebook about what television show they say they watch, but it actually is based on real user experience. We've got to work harder at it, and we also have to figure out new ways to engage people. Typically, media is distanced from people. We make decisions in lofty towers like some of the buildings right out here, and we're not engaged with people. And whether it's local media or media like ours that focuses on distinct interest groups, we've got to be engaged. We've got to take their feedback seriously. When I was a newspaper reporter, if I got a letter a week, I was feeling lucky about reader feedback. Well, today we get mammoth amounts of feedback in all sorts of ways, and editors and people in the media business who don't take it seriously are contributing to mistrust. So I respond to lots of mail. I look at the comments on our sites to see what people are saying. I insist that our editors do the same and they respond to readers who have constructive things to say. Not all of them are constructive, of course, they call us names and scream at us and so on and so forth. But I think we've got to be engaged. In fact, in academic curriculum now in journalism, we teach this. We teach people how to deal with public feedback in a way that would've been unheard of, as I said, when I was a newspaper reporter, getting a weekly letter, often in crayon.

Clay Hausmann: Yeah. Well, let me finish the business portion of our conversation with a question about future trends. So obviously you have been probably on the leading edge within your industry of where things are going to move with core TV and msnbc. com with AI and analytics. If you do a little bit of future casting, maybe what's the next term that we're going to think of as a buzzword five years from now where you're like, oh, " God, that's used everywhere?" But what will be the next trend around this?

Merrill Brown: Well, there are two things, one is a business model point and the other is a technology point. The technology point is obvious, and that is everybody in my field is wrestling with the challenges of AI and machines writing stories. I'm dealing with it every day. We have multiple task forces. There are a variety of investments going on. Google has presented large media companies like ourselves with a series of tools that could virtually do 75% of our work for us. And so we can't get away from the importance of AI and how to deal with it. Our approach to AI is to do everything we can to focus it on work that we don't want our journalists to do. Whether it's building slideshows or whether it's gathering analytical data about sports, we want to use it properly in a way that's empowering to our writers whenever we can do that and freeing them of tasks that may not necessarily maximize their skills. The other important second part of that, which is a business model point, is for better or for worse, our industry is moving very, very rapidly toward nonprofit. And in that regard, I'd just like to call people's attention to the fact that there's a local news organization in your communities, maybe it's tiny, maybe it covers your county, maybe it covers your town, maybe it covers your city, that is going to need our support because nonprofit is a really important part of the business" future of the industry." So you're going to be hearing more and more about it. The leading investigative news site in the country right now is a site called ProPublica. Perhaps you've read of them lately in particular about the work they've done investigating the United States Supreme Court and various corruption allegations about Supreme Court justices. They've done that work. No matter what the category is, you see nonprofits paying more and more of an important role, especially as the local newspaper continues to fade into sort of business oblivion. So AI and then the importance of nonprofits and everything we can do as engaged citizens to help support them, we're helping at least address some of the misinformation phenomenon we just talked about.

Clay Hausmann: That's great. I mean, I think those are both parallels to our industry where we talk a lot about the balance between AI contribution and human contribution and making sure our users of AI I understand that it is there mostly to do the grunt work that you don't want to do so you can use your background and expertise to do the more value- oriented stuff and also the mission- driven activity.

Merrill Brown: Right.

Clay Hausmann: So the reason why I said the last business question I will ask you is that even though this is not a TikTok user conference, Snapchat, this is a very avid listenership of our podcast. I ask a couple of non- business questions of the guests. If you could interview any historical figure, dead or alive, who would it be and what is the first question you would ask them?

Merrill Brown: Having just read a very long book on this person, it's pretty easy because he's so on my mind, it would be Abraham Lincoln who went through an extraordinary period of American history, a period I think that is very instructive to us right now because of what we're living through and what we might face going forward. I guess what I'd most like to know is something about his decision- making process as he hit really critical points in how he managed the end of the Civil War. So Lincoln's on my mind. Lincoln might be on a lot of our minds these days, but it would be Lincoln.

Clay Hausmann: Yeah, and that would be a fascinating conversation. Many questions to ask Abraham Lincoln.

Merrill Brown: Absolutely.

Clay Hausmann: Okay, so what is the most embarrassing on- air blooper or behind the scenes mishap that you have experienced in your media career?

Merrill Brown: Well, it's sort of a blooper and sort of a moment in time. I covered the Justice Department many years ago and the largest antitrust case the government had ever been involved in up to that point. That was the case around the breakup of the phone company, AT& T, a company some people in this room will remember, no one fondly probably. But I covered that story, the AT& T evolution and the creation of the now local phone companies and cellular companies in great detail. And I had a source who had promised to tell me when there were major developments in what was then the largest business and antitrust case in the history of the company. And developments were proceeding very rapidly, and he tried to reach me, this is pre cellular, obviously. And the night before they announced the settlement of the largest standing trust case in American history, breaking up one of the most important companies in America. My phone was dead and I had my newspaper, then The Washington Post, do some investigating of that, and we never got to the bottom of it. But I had a dead telephone. We never quite figured out why, my phone was fine the next day. But the night they were trying this source in the Justice Department was trying to reach me to tell me that this was all happening and coming down. Somehow my AT&T phone wasn't working.

Clay Hausmann: Perhaps a manufactured or created blooper.

Merrill Brown: Right.

Clay Hausmann: We'll see. Yeah.

Merrill Brown: So in terms of a scoop, that would've been, if I had the terms of the settlement ready to release and publish the next morning, that would've been a day ahead of everybody else, would've been as it was ultimately the headline across the front page of The Washington Post.

Clay Hausmann: Who knew? Coincidence. Coincidence.

Merrill Brown: Right.

Clay Hausmann: All right. The question everyone gets asked is their last question. So you are hosting a dinner party. You have just beaten Bobby Flay in a head to head cooking competition of some amazing dish. You are hosting four guests for this dinner party. Who are the guests and what is your award- winning dish you're serving them?

Merrill Brown: The dish would be a noraket with broccoli rabe and sausage, one of my favorite dishes. And the guests would be four writers, Gay Talese, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, and Gore Vidal, writers who were prominent during the years when I was growing up. And I'd like to hear them talk about the nonfiction, brilliant books each of them wrote and how they combined the ability to tell stories so well with great reporting.

Clay Hausmann: Wow. Is this like a three- day dinner? How long would this inaudible be?

Merrill Brown: I think about an hour and a half would be just fine.

Clay Hausmann: Okay. All right. Excellent.

Merrill Brown: Giant egos.

Clay Hausmann: Yeah. Excellent. Well, thank you very much, Merrill. I've been greedy with all the questions. Let us take a moment to open it up to any questions from the group that you might have for Merrill about anything that we covered or did not cover?

Speaker 3: Question, you rhymed off a lot of analytics that you get at The Onion and things like that. I'm curious about video consumption because we hear a lot about-

Merrill Brown: About.

Speaker 3: Video consumption. We hear a lot of that on the rise today. TikTok is an application that basically supports strictly video consumption. As we think about our customers of the future, ACPs of the future, should we be more focused on something like that in your opinion?

Merrill Brown: Absolutely. Especially if it's short and easily digestible. Short form video is going to be a boom business over the next 10 years, as TikTok and other formats are demonstrating. And if you can get messages into 30 to 60 seconds that are important for your customers, colleagues and so forth, you'll be getting lots and lots of eyeballs. Short form video is really important component of the video future

Speaker 4: Piggybacking of this question, and because this is also something we feel we face in life sciences, yes, short format is what is going to stick, but eventually format is getting shorter and shorter. I think now the average attention span is down to nine seconds before you lose that person unless you say something interesting. That's the current attention span. The problem is as we keep catering to the trend as opposed to fighting it, you will have other consequences like you lose context. And this has severe consequences on the pharma landscape where we do a lot of marketing related to medicine, disease state awareness and all of that. So how do you on the media side decide whether I should cater to the trend versus fight it?

Merrill Brown: Why is it need to be either/ or? Book consumption is very high right now. People are reading lots of different kinds of things in lots of different formats. A 30- second video clip is a very good way to get an appropriate message across, but people are reading. And one of the consequences of the phone is that we not only have our short form videos, but we also have our books in our pocket. So I would not be dismissive at all of long form at all because there's a lot of consumption of longer form stuff that's going on as well. We've got to be effective across all these different formats. Let me make one other point that I meant to make a moment ago, and that is one of the reasons I went to work for my company is that we are big believers in content around important categories. So the era of mass is shrinking and the era of targeted content is really important. So we have the number two site in the country about cars, Jalopnik, we have one of the top technology sites, Gizmodo, we have all these really interesting demographics and we don't put it all together in any way like the classic daily newspaper does or in the way The New York Times once did. We have all these very targeted, attractive categories, which is why it's such an interesting business proposition and I just wanted to make that point about the future. The future is about media that targets people with passions about issues or technologies or hobbies or whatever.

Speaker 5: So I guess I was curious, obviously you have tremendous experience either in your industry or in other industries as we go through the digitalization journey. Is there anything that you don't like, anything that poses a major risk in your point of view? Things that you're saying, " I don't like where this is going. I wish this will be managed in a different way?"

Merrill Brown: Well, a familiar theme, and one of the things that I mentioned a few times is I find it frustrating when people don't take training around these issues seriously and how breaking down these walls doesn't just happen magically or intuitively or by reading a paper. It's really important in organizational development these days that we take training seriously as a way to educate people across disciplines. And when people minimize training, it's very frustrating to me because training is so, so central.

Speaker 6: Okay. We have time for two more questions. I'll start here.

Speaker 7: You talked a little bit about your personality in the beginning, wanting to jump to some of the newer things and try them out, and that's a lot of what the people in the room are trying to do. Your personality, when do you know when to stop doing that? When do you know you went too far with a particular idea? When is it time to ditch it? Or is there just too much resistance to it?

Merrill Brown: Well, I mean, in a conversation like this, we've talked generally about successes. Not everything I've touched has been successful. I started a company 10 years ago that was designed to be a new platform for news to help entrepreneurs start news sites. It failed. I've had failures and that comes with, I guess wanting to be adventuresome, but I encourage people to take chances and by definition, nobody bats 1. 000.

Speaker 8: You mentioned the authors that are memorable to you, they're very different authors. James Baldwin is one of my favorite authors too. I'm curious as to why he made the list for you and what he taught you about what you're doing today?

Merrill Brown: Well, all these people, the consistent theme among these people is that they were adventuresome in building storytelling that was fact- based. And the writings, especially magazine writings that all those individuals did were of the moment, they were prescient in understanding the moment they were in, and their work was, in many cases, very much fact- based. And the ability to draw narrative stories together with real facts that help illuminate the issues of our day, I think is just so important.

Clay Hausmann: Thank you very much, Merrill. A lot of takeaways. Really enlightening and helpful, so thank you. Yeah,

Merrill Brown: Thank you, all.

Clay Hausmann: Thank you to Merrill Brown and to all of our speakers at the Aktana Innovation Exchange. It was a fantastic event with great learnings, a lot of feedback and a lot of perspective shared, and a ton of takeaways. We plan to do more of them in 2024, so please keep a lookout. You can visit the Aktana website or any of our social platforms to learn more.


How should the Life Sciences industry think about content development in our rapidly changing world of digital transformation and AI? Learn from one of the nation's top media experts, Merrill Brown, who has been at the forefront of digital content innovation at a global scale for the last three decades. From his early days as a beat reporter at the Washington Post, through to his most recent role as editorial director of G/O Media -- parent company of The Onion, Gizmodo and much more -- hear how the news industry has evolved -- and get a media guru's insights on how to deliver meaningful and impactful content to your stakeholders and customers.

Merrill was our keynote guest at our inaugural Aktana Innovation Xchange (AIx) on September 26th in New York City. Our live AIx audience got an inside peek in this lively fireside chat of what really happens in the leading newsrooms in the world. We hope you enjoy this entertaining and informative discussion -- and don't miss hearing "Merrill in Context" when we learn what historical figure, Merrill, as a renowned journalist, would most like to interview.