Former Axios Reporter Sam Ro is Joining Substack
Former Axios markets reporter Sam Ro announced Thursday that he was becoming the latest journalist to join the growing number of industry insiders setting out independently on Substack, the online publishing platform.
The move for Ro comes after a 15-year career of reporting on global markets, which he began as a researcher and contributing writer for Forbes’ stock-picking newsletter. He joined Business Insider as an editor five years later, and took the helm as a managing editor at Yahoo Finance in 2016. He joined Axios earlier this year to author its markets newsletter but announced in September that he was leaving for a new opportunity, without addressing speculation about where he was heading.
In an exclusive interview, Ro spoke with Mediaite about the move to Substack, and how he plans on building his new brand, tker.co.
Mediaite: What prompted the move to Substack after you spent more than a decade in coveted positions at traditional outlets?
Ro: I’ve toyed with the idea of going independent for a while. I started thinking about it pretty seriously late 2020. I’d accumulated a healthy amount of savings. And I had and continue to have no major liabilities: no mortgage, no student debt, no kids, no major medical issues. But at the time, it wasn’t enough savings to buy the time I thought I’d need to make this a viable bet.
Substack’s pro deal offer was going to give me the extra runway I thought would enable me to give this a serious try.
What is Substack enabling you to do that traditional media did not?
Substack gives me full control over how success is defined. I define the “KPIs.” I can have subscriptions and revenue go sideways or even trend lower for the next 30 years, and that could be totally fine so long as I’m breaking even. You can’t do that at traditional media without getting hell from someone above. Anyone who says otherwise is full of shit.
Who you do see as your audience?
In financial news, there’s an audience for coverage on the markets and the economy but with the noise dialed way back. The folks who want to stay somewhat current, but just don’t have the time to sift through all of the news or read every daily newsletter. They also want unique perspectives and some depth in what they do spend time reading. I know these people are out there; they’ve been messaging me for years.
My audience consists of people who aren’t full-on news junkies and don’t have time to do deep dives on what’s going on in the markets and the economy. These are smart people who just don’t have enough time in their day or they just have better things to do with their time. They scan the news and the research reports, but also check in with people like me who’ll write or Tweet about the most important news and topics. I’m the news junkie and I’m the guy doing the deep dives. My output is a curated experience that gives readers the benefits of doing all that work, but without having to commit the time.
What kind of information do you think you’re going to be presenting that gives you an advantage over the competitors?
Most of what I write won’t look too different from what I’ve written in the past at Axios, Yahoo Finance and Business Insider. I get excited about interesting things I learn about the economy and the markets, and that’s often captured in headlines as I try to recreate that excitement for readers. I don’t expect to break a lot of news. My main advantage: I think I’m good at getting people to pay attention to something important and interesting that they might’ve overlooked because it was buried in another story or the headline on the story was boring.
However, I plan to scale back the volume. I expect to publish about two to four times a week. I wrote about 130 items in my three months at Axios. That’s probably about how much I’ll write over the next year.
You have a point about the need for modern media to emphasize a high level of volume. How do you think that affects what mainstream outlets produce?
I think the core challenge is how you balance scale with delivering a valuable reader experience. High volume gives you more opportunities to reach more readers. The tradeoff is you might have to give some of your audience a poorer quality experience.
I don’t have anything against big, traditional news sites. I’m actually a huge fan! I subscribe to all of them. But I do sympathize with the non-news junkies who are trying to navigate the headlines.
What would success on Substack look like to you a few years down the line?
Ro: In one year, success would be progress toward breaking even. I think if I’m more than halfway there with paid subscribers by September 2022, then I’ll keep doing this until September 2023.
In five years, if I’m still just as excited to cover the markets and the economy that I’m able to keep delivering a great experience to my subscribers, then that would be success.
I do have a bull-case scenario where I’ll have hired at least one editor and at least two more writers to best serve a bigger audience.
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