Explaining the strategy behind Barron’s Next
Alex Eule is a senior editor at Barron’s and the person in charge of Barron’s Next, the financial newspapers website that focused on millennial investors.
Eule has been at Barron’s for more than a decade as a staff writer and a senior editor. He also worked as an interactive news assistant at The Wall Street Journal. He graduated in 2006 with a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Barron’s Next publishes five to 10 stock-specific stories per day, most around 200 words, a daily video reacting to market movements, and personal finance stories.
While the topics on Next and Barron’s are the same, the format of Next’s content is a far cry from the in-depth analyses typically found between the covers of an issue of Barron’s, where stories regularly stretch past 3,000 words.
Eule spoke with Talking Biz News about Barron’s Next by email. What follows is an edited transcript.
How did the idea of Barron’s Next come about?
Barron’s has offered a unique kind of financial journalism for 95 years. We’re an independent and often contrarian voice in a financial world that too often gets wrapped up in hype and the next big thing.
We’ve been very lucky to have a loyal audience in print and online – and now we’re building on that to engage the next generation of investors. Millennials face more financial challenges than their parents ever did — starting with a staggering amount of student debt — but they’re also lucky to have more tools at their disposal, whether through low-cost ETFs or robo advisors. In order to make use of those tools, though, young investors need independent reporting and trusted advice. That’s Barron’s strength. We’re confident that, done right, our journalism can be as relevant for millennials as it was for their parents. Maybe even more so.
How is it different from what Barron’s is publishing?
One of the most exciting parts of Next is our new index called the Barron’s Next 50. It’s made up of the 50 stocks we think are most interesting to millennials, names like Tesla, Apple, Starbucks, and Under Armour. The index is a great way to track the “millennial stocks.” We plan to rebalance it once a year.
The Next 50 also forms the core of our daily coverage. By narrowing our focus to 50 stocks, we’ve made our coverage simpler and more accessible. Since our readers are already familiar with the products from companies like Tesla and Apple, it’s easier to explain the businesses and their revenue models.
Another key difference is that Barron’s Next is covering financial topics that Barron’s would never tackle, from how to invest in your 20s to whether you should refinance your student loans. The millennials on our staff were shocked by the fact that the basics of personal money management are never taught in school, and yet those are the skills required to invest in a 401(k) and to manage a massive debt load.
Why are millennials such an attractive reader to go after?
For one, it’s 75 million people, our largest generation, which is why everyone is trying to reach them. But it’s far more than that. This generation is at peace with technology in a refreshing but also sometimes scary way. In the financial world, technology has democratized investing and brought down the cost of buying stocks to nearly nothing. That’s a great thing.
But it also makes it easier than ever to make mistakes. We want to help make sense of the assumptions underlying technology. Why is a robo advisor buying a fund with international stocks? And why did it allocate 25 percent of your money to cash? These questions are as important today as ever before, but millennials don’t have human advisors to ask. We’re going to fill that role, while urging our readers to ask the right questions.
Do these types of readers want a different type of business news than older readers?
I think financial journalism sometimes emphasizes stock movements at the expense of company context. And that makes the stories less accessible. So, you might read an M&A story and never really get any context about the business itself. Or an earnings story may never relate back to a company’s products – things our readers care about.
Just explaining what a company does is sometimes the hardest thing we do. And we’re aiming to do it in a way that anyone can comprehend, millennial or otherwise.
Are there competitors for these types of readers? Who are they?
Everyone is trying to reach millennials; we know that. In coming up with Barron’s Next, we spent a lot of time thinking about what made Barron’s unique and how we could stand out from the crowd, even as we targeted a new audience. I think we’re doing that. The Next 50 index is a unique approach to thinking about millennials and the products they use. Our stories are often driven by the news, but our value is providing the context you need to understand that news story and make decisions.
So we’re not giving you 1,000 ways to think about something, we’re telling you the one way you should think about it. And that’s backed up by our commitment to independent reporting. We don’t have a stake in the game other than trying to inform and give good advice.
The stories on Next seem shorter than what I read in Barron’s. Is that by design?
The stories range from 200 to 500 words, usually. We’re also using video to tell stories, in 60-second clips. But we’ve worked hard not to confuse shorter with less sophisticated. The terms might be easier to understand, but we’re not talking down to our audience.
One of my biggest goals has been to simplify stories and financial concepts without dumbing them down.
About how many stories is Next posting each day, and what types of stories are they?
We’re about six weeks in, and we’re running five to 10 stories a day, usually. A core part of the site is our “Hot Stocks” coverage – that’s the daily coverage on those Next 50 stocks I mentioned. We cover earnings, Wall Street reports and product launches – all in a novel way.
Our Facebook earnings coverage focused on the stunning growth in users, while we used the earnings report from Starbucks to delve into the company’s mobile wallet efforts. The key thing is we always try to tie it back to the broader context. Most of our Hot Stocks stories have a “Big Picture” summary at the end.
The second part of the site is what we call Smart Advice – that’s where we’re doing all kinds of personal finance stories, general investment guidance and work and life pieces. One of our most popular stories was on the best day of the week to buy airfare. It turns out it’s Tuesday afternoon. The story fits one of our big goals, which we share with Barron’s, to provide actionable advice.
Who is writing for you? Is it Barron’s staff devoted specifically to Next?
We have a small, dedicated staff right now – we’re doing it lean and mean. But the great thing about being part of a larger organization – be it Barron’s or even Dow Jones – is that we’re getting a lot of support from our colleagues, both in the journalistic arena, and in technology, marketing and advertising. We’re a startup inside in a very established company.
What’s been the audience so far? Is Barron’s happy with it?
We’re pleased so far. The most promising part is we’re getting strong traffic from The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch.com and Barrons.com, as well as from our new social channels.
Anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t asked about?
I’m very excited to be working for a site that has a disciplined approach. I think that applies not just to our journalism but to the business side, as well. We’re not throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. We were profitable before we ever launched, thanks to a three-month exclusive advertising deal that our ad folks signed with Fidelity. That includes display advertising and sponsored content.
It’s refreshing to see quality content getting funded. And no one has ever asked us to pull any punches. We’ve already been awfully tough on lots of companies in our coverage. And that will continue.