Dawn Wotapka's Media Movers

Media Movers: Crain’s New York’s Cory Schouten

February 1, 2023

Posted by Dawn Wotapka

Cory Schouten

Since its inception, Media Movers has featured smart, thoughtful and passionate journalists. Cory Schouten is no exception.

Cory worked at the Indianapolis Business Journal back when weekly biz journals had to be scrappy enough to beat the local daily. Now, he’s EIC of Crain’s New York Business at a time when it has to be scrappier than ever: New York City brims competition in a burgeoning digital sphere. Print remains, but smart editors reserve this smaller-than-ever resource for thoughtful analysis and features with a longer shelf life.

Cory’s career prepared him for this challenge. He came to the Big Apple for a prestigious fellowship and then helped The Wall Street Journal infuse newsletters with the respect they have always deserved. He’s also helping  the next generation of journalists to reshape the industry.

I felt fortunate to learn more about Cory’s day job, living through culture shock and his north star for inspiration. (This column has a lot of readers from PR, so I also asked about how to pitch him. You’re welcome!)

Dawn Wotapka: Tell me about how Crain’s New York Business, which was once a weekly publication, has adapted to digital. (It now receives more than 211,000 unique visitors per month, per Muck Rack.)

Cory Schouten: We’re fortunate to cover the best city in the world for business – a place with entrepreneurial energy that never stops. So an always-on digital strategy really is the only way to cover the companies and people making moves here. We get to do local news in the media capital of the world for an audience of leaders and strivers invested in knowing what’s happening right away; understanding how the city works; and what policy moves could make it a better place for all of us. It’s an enviable position.

Dawn: What’s next for Crain’s?

Cory: Our audience is growing! We’re welcoming a new generation of readers and investing in great journalism around core coverage areas including real estate, health care, finance, politics and tech. We’ve added exciting new regular features including Chasing Giants, which profiles upstart companies, often helmed by women and people of color, who are taking on industry Goliaths; Power Corner, a lively and revealing interview series with local leaders; and Crain’s Forum, a showcase for our best deep-dive and data-driven journalism. These are stories that reveal fresh insights on the biggest issues shaping the city’s future, from affordable housing to climate change to health equity. We’ve also launched a live journalism series, giving me a chance to interview the likes of Mayor Eric Adams and Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on stage.

Dawn: You worked with newsletters at The Wall Street Journal. Why are newsletters only now getting the respect they’ve always deserved?

Cory: Newsletters have been media workhorses for a long time. But in earlier waves of digital innovation were often overlooked as too old-school or obvious. The numbers tell the story: Good ones drive loyalty and habit, and audiences love them. Most of the new digital-media entrants are building around newsletters. So it’s heartening to witness a shift in the respect level in our industry for newsletters – both the skill it takes to write and curate them well, and the expertise to orchestrate them successfully from a product and tech perspective.

Dawn: You also initiated and led the Journal’s New Formats team. What do you think is next for journalism?

Cory: Two themes here. First, I’d like to see us lean into our role as a filter amid an overwhelming information environment. How do we get our audiences what they need to succeed and be informed, when they need it, without making their lives more stressful? We can be useful and build trust by respecting their time, showing our work, providing timely and differentiated information, and making good use of digital tools. Productivity tools with near-universal adoption – think email, text messaging, and calendar apps – are great platforms for innovation.

Second, a lot of journalism in the U.S. would benefit from a more global perspective. The decentralized finance system crypto fans have pushed has hit some well-publicized headwinds. But for journalism, the decentralized future is here: Most of the stories we cover – from markets to climate change, technology to health care – do not confine themselves to geographic borders. We can learn a lot from journalists abroad, including those I met last year while teaching workshops in Norway and Denmark. They’re doing something right there – surveys show the public’s trust in the media is pushing 70 percent.

Dawn: You made the move from Indianapolis to New York City, which had to be an insane culture shock. What was that professional transition like?

Cory: There’s no question New York City is a critical character in my story, the place where I found myself personally and professionally. I love it here, even on the most annoying days when the next train is 15 minutes away. That said, I still embrace the Indianapolis part of me and have no interest in running from it. Uber drivers are always curious where I’m from when I thank them for picking me up and ask how their day is going. One surprise about New York has been how under-covered the city is given its outsized per-capita media population. There are a lot of great stories for us to cover in Crain’s New York Business.

Dawn: Tell me about your time as a Knight-Bagehot fellow. Would you recommend the program to others?

Cory: I could not recommend it more highly. I devoured the MBA courses, even the ones that made my head spin, and I left with an entirely new way of looking at the media business. I also got to meet some lifelong friends and join an incredible Bagehot alumni network.

Dawn: Speaking of education, you taught students in 2011-2013 and now teach at Columbia University. How has journalism education changed in that decade?

Cory: The programs I’m familiar with are evolving to emphasize digital and audience-oriented models, like many of our newsrooms. That’s great since understanding the latest tools and tactics is crucial. On the other hand, many of the core attributes of great journalists – curiosity, resourcefulness, fearlessness – can be taught and modeled without frequent syllabus updates and honed with real-world experience. My recent business-of-media students bring lots of non-journalism experience, great questions and storytelling instincts, and are less intimidated by numbers and business topics. No one asks anymore why a journalist needs to learn about business.

Dawn: What advice do you give young journalists?

Cory: Figure out what you stand for, and stick with it. I keep my North Star on a Post-it note on my laptop: “Assume good intentions, learn every day, have fun.” A few other points that feel important: Don’t be a jerk, deliver at least one big story you’re really proud of every year and use your vacation days. You wouldn’t give part of your salary back, so don’t do it with PTO!

I’m hopeful that today’s industry leaders will resist some of the patterns of leadership that made newsrooms such hard places for people to succeed while living balanced, full lives – especially women and journalists of color. Companies that prioritize work-life balance, respect and kindness can deliver better journalism that resonates with a wider audience.

Dawn: A lot of PR people read this column. What advice can you give them about pitching to Crain’s?

Cory: Tell us something fresh or insightful about the future of power, money and property in New York City. We ask our reporters explicitly to include numbers, people and places in every story they file, so persuading clients to include those details will boost your case. Relationships matter, too. We’re always happy to hear juicy tips that go beyond client pitches!

Dawn: What do you do for fun?

Cory: I’m a traveler. I love the plane time in the air between places… peaceful moments to reflect and assess. And exploring new cities and countries feeds my curiosity like little else. I enjoy hiking, for mind and body and the thrill of looking at natural scenery that generations before me and generations after me will enjoy. I take a few deep breaths at the top and take a mental picture that comes in handy when an intense deadline is looming.

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 dwotapka@gmail.com. Be sure to connect with Dawn on LinkedIn

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