Walden Siew isn’t afraid to dive into a complicated financial topic. Early in his career, he wrote about corporate bonds for Bloomberg, not exactly a finance journalism no-brainer. He’s also worked for Reuters, LinkedIn and the Employee Benefits Group at Arizent (formerly SourceMedia).
Siew recently left Investopedia for The Block, where he’s serving as executive editor. The Block aims to be a “trusted moderator and authoritative voice” in the rapidly evolving digital assets space (which includes cryptocurrencies).
Walden’s impressive journalism background, combined with strong leadership chops, made him a natural fit for The Block, where he’s leading editorial strategy and managing news content. This is a rare opportunity to be at the forefront of covering something with the potential to reshape our daily lives. How often does that come along?
I talked with Walden, a graduate of both Boston and Northwestern universities, about his new role, going “down the crypto rabbit hole” and the job that he regrets not taking.
Dawn Wotapka: Tell me about your new job.
Walden Siew: I’m an executive editor for The Block, the leading information services brand in digital assets. The Block was founded in 2018 during a time when there was little information — or just outright misinformation — about the space, so we aimed to be the trusted moderator and authoritative voice for those who invested in, made decisions about, or sought to understand digital assets. We continue to live that mission today by helping retail and institutional audiences make smart decisions through our news, research and data products. I joined in September to oversee our markets, companies, NFT and gaming teams, along with our podcast crew — and to manage our news site, TheBlock.co, to expand our reach to new audiences.
Dawn: What is your vision for The Block? Who are your readers?
Walden: We like to say we aspire to be the first and final word in digital assets. We want to be your first read in the morning, and the final authority when someone who’s either crypto-curious or an expert in the industry wants to know what is going on. And we do this through our team of reporters, editors and research analysts in the industry who support and drive all of our news, research and data product lines.
Our readers are a mix of both the professional and the general public with an emphasis on the professional financial audience. This includes a mix of TradFi (traditional finance) and DeFi (decentralized finance) leaders who are building the new financial order — the technologists and TradFi market participants, the C Suite crowd and the decision makers of Fortune 500 companies, policymakers and regulators.
My focus with the “.co” site is to create a go-to destination for those who’ve been involved in the industry for a long time and those who have only recently started to participate or engage in the space.
Dawn: What does the mainstream media get wrong about digital assets?
Walden: In some ways, digital assets are like any other asset class. In other ways, this industry is an entirely new animal. I’ve always been interested in innovation in finance and at one point in history, stocks and bonds were the new new thing in finance. More recently in debt markets, structured finance and credit default swaps became the hot new innovation.
Today, digital assets like cryptocurrencies and tokens and NFTs are capturing people’s imaginations because of the great promise of blockchain technology and how it has emerged as the latest disruptive force, which is why it’s attracting many of the best and brightest — and certainly the most colorful characters in finance. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been drawn in. Like any asset class I’ve covered, there are pros and cons; there are great fortunes to be made and lost, and we get to cover that on the front lines. We’re seeing that with the stunning implosion of FTX, the fall of Sam Bankman-Fried, and the liquidity crisis we’re now seeing in the industry. There are some amazing stories to tell, and it’s endlessly fascinating.
Dawn: What do those of us who aren’t in the know need to understand about digital assets? Now is your chance to educate everyone.
Walden: One thing I often explain to friends who can’t grasp crypto is that crypto often doesn’t make sense when you live in the United States in particular, because we typically don’t have to worry about not being able to get money from our bank. For those who live in the so-called Third World, in war-torn countries with corrupt governments, crypto makes a lot more sense. On top of that, crypto is just one aspect of digital assets, and is still evolving.
I love the quote from Winston Churchill in 1942 during a crucial moment during World War II, when things looked dire: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” That’s very fitting to where we are in terms of digital assets and bitcoin, which was born in 2008 in the aftermath of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. We are still in the very early stages of a nascent industry, and the collapse of FTX may mark the end of the beginning of this first stage.
Dawn: You have such an amazing background. What has been your favorite job until this point and why?
Walden: My current job is my favorite so far for the reasons I’ve mentioned (but) every job I’ve had has been interesting in some way — even the bad ones. That spans from my first job as a reporter, to my first job running and building a new team at Thomson Reuters, which was one of my most formulative experiences. We started a new online global market community there to highlight all the best content on the wire service and Reuters site — and to start conversations around those stories and topics for a professional audience. That job led to tremendous personal and professional growth for me — and was a good foundation that led me to several other roles in my career.
Dawn: You spent a few years in print before switching to a largely digital career. Why didn’t you stick with print?
Walden: I was following the money and the best stories. The money was in business journalism, and that’s largely where most of the jobs were.
Dawn: Each of your jobs has been so different. How do you go from LinkedIn to Employee Benefit News to Investopedia?
Walden: My career has evolved along with the industry. I started as a reporter and over time I wanted to develop and learn about different interests in finance and markets as both a writer and editor, which started me down the editing and management track.
So as I mentioned, the work I did managing the online community at Reuters led to the job at LinkedIn, where I helped manage the fintech community and LinkedIn Influencers and various content and initiatives. As my career led to different beats in the financial world, I also needed to learn more about managing people and HR issues, so that tapped into a longtime interest I had in workplace culture, especially in the media and tech industries.
I was approached to run to EBN as the editor-in-chief, which I wanted to try, and it turned out to be one of the most interesting times to cover workplace culture. We were in the midst of the opioid epidemic and other healthcare crises in the U.S. There was the convergence of so many generational groups working in corporate America, and then of course with the start of the Covid pandemic, that became one of the biggest stories, which I got to cover for three years.
After that I had the opportunity to get back into financial journalism at Investopedia as an editorial director. I worked with top-notch talent there and managed a network of freelance staff to expand their news coverage — along with their growing crypto content, which started me down the crypto rabbit hole.
Dawn: You have a master’s in journalism. Do you think this advanced degree is needed?
Walden: I’ve actually written about that topic in a piece, “Do you need a graduate degree in journalism?” The short answer is, it depends.
Dawn: What advice would you give your younger self?
Walden: Take more risks, especially earlier in your career. I had the opportunity to work as a foreign correspondent in Asia earlier in my career and decided against the offer, which is one regret. But that decision has led to me saying yes to other opportunities later and taking different kinds of calculated risks along the way.
Dawn: Who do you credit for helping you get where you are?
Walden: There are many people. Lincoln McKie was one of the first to hire me. He was the senior editor of The Lowell Sun, which was my first real taste of a working newsroom. He gave me the smallest opportunity as an intern after I had already graduated from college. I still remember my first A1 story, and the brief conversations that we would have from time to time. That regular attention is crucial to nurturing the next generation.
I did a stint on the business desk as an editorial assistant and wrote a story about a big snowstorm in New England, and how it was boosting the local business. It landed on the front page with what I thought at the time was the most brilliant headline. I laugh now thinking about it, because it was so cliché.
Dawn: What was the headline?
Walden: “There’s no business like the snow business.”
Dawn: Outside the newsroom, what keeps you going?
Walden: Cycling and food are two passions of mine. Years ago I started a habit of walking and talking with colleagues during my lunch or coffee breaks to hash things out and get different perspectives. When I grew bored with walks, I started doing the same thing on long bike rides. Much later, I rode my first century ride, a 100-mile ride from the George Washington Bridge to Bear Mountain via the GFNY group.
Today, I cycle so I can eat well — and it’s just great exercise and a form of meditation for me. More recently, I have been curious about other stories from fellow riders, and I started writing for GFNY where I chronicle some of those stories via rider profiles. They are very similar Q&As to your Talking Biz News interviews.
Dawn Wotapka is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who loves to read and write. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children. She is a slow runner and an avid Peloton user. To submit tips for her Media Movers column, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to connect with Dawn on LinkedIn.