RonAmok!

The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.
May 20, 2010

Mike Santarinin, Publisher Xcell JournalOn March 29th, David Meerman Scott wrote a blog post called “Brand Journalism,” where he discussed the communications skills companies must acquire in order to excel in the online world. The post reminded me of one that I wrote about Mike Santarini, a displaced trade journalist hired by FPGA manufacturer Xilinx. David’s post prompted me to follow-up with Mike to learn what it has been like being an embedded journalist for the past two years.

Mike The Journalist

Mike Santarini spent 13-years writing for trade magazines such as EETimes and EDN before being laid off in February 2008. At first glance, his story sounds cliche–experienced journalist caught in the cross hairs of a decimated print industry–but that’s where Mike’s story takes an unexpected turn. Instead of finding a job with another struggling publication, he accepted one with an electronics company that he covered as a trade journalist. One week after his unceremonious ejection from EDN, Xilinx hired Mike to take over the manufacturer’s 21 year old publication called Xcell Journal.

Mike The Embedded Journalist

During its 21 years, Xcell Journal grew from a simple company newsletter into a quarterly “engingeering-practical” magazine with a readership of approximately 40,000. Although that circulation sounds envious, as a trade journalist, Mike understood that the quality of that number was very important and so, after a little investigating, he found that the Xcell Journal mailing list “…wasn’t being scrubbed, and it was being sent to dead mailboxes at the four corners of the earth.” After some vetting, today, the magazine has tightened its circulation to approximately 25,000 (~20K online and ~5K print).

Xilinx's Xcell JournalI found it curious that, in the age of online content, Xilinx would still print hard copies of the magazine.

Mike explained that Xcell Journal is designed as a magazine that engineers can retain for reference. By printing Xcell Journal on high quality, “heavy cardboardish” stock, the print version delivers a rich reading experience.

The comment reminded me of Seth Godin’s concept that “books are souvenirs,” which Mike validated when he said, “Xcell is a treasured commodity. Engineers are known to keep a library of past issues that they use for reference.”

But if only 20% of the readership receive copies of the print version, how does Xilinx qualify these special recipients?

“Through the sales department,” Mike explained. “It’s a great model because we’re getting ROI on the print versions and getting them into the hands of our customers/potential customers.”

Journalist vs. Embedded Journalist

Moving from traditional journalist to embedded journalist has been educational. “There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t know about the company,” he said. “I now have respect for the humongous effort it takes to get a chip conceived, roadmapped, designed and brought to market.” This revelation surprised him because, as a journalist who covered Xilinx, he expected to know more.  However, by being embedded within a company, Mike had access to stories that he never could have as an external journalist.

Embedded Journalism as a Career

I asked Mike if he would recommend this line of work for other journalists.

“Yes. Right now there are lots of opportunities for good journalism in industries.” He also added a few caveats.

“You have to make sure before you take the job that the company is creating technology that you truly think is innovative. I got lucky because I joined a company that invented the FPGA and is the leader in the biz and has a very bright future. I’m not sure if I was in a position where I had to promote a third-place me-too technology and constantly perfume the pig that I’d take the job. I think there are a lot of great technologies and companies out there and thus a lot of great opportunities out there for embedded journalists. There are a ton of great stories that aren’t getting told and sometimes companies don’t realize they have a great story or realize it isn’t being told to the outside world.”

A New World

At the end of the phone call, I asked Mike if his experience as an embedded journalist has been favorable. “Yes,” he answered, before adding something more interesting.

“In a way, I can’t go back because of it.”

Photos Courtesy of Xilinx

Filed under: Mini Case Studies
  • http://www.puredriven.com Patrick Garmoe

    I spent 10 years as a journalist, and do believe social media and blogging is creating a whole new field for journalists. Yeah, you're not unearthing corruption, but in most cases journalists weren't doing that for newspapers either. They were writing about the local fire last night, or city council meeting. And how fundamentally different is that from writing real news about what's going on in a company?

  • Anonymous

    I think a Journalist should have an impartial view and his writing should reflect that. An embedded journalist is a misnomer. It just means you are someone else's mouthpiece. Whether you covered a story in Baghdad, the BP disaster or writing a newsletter for a profit driven company – all come under embedded 'journalism'

  • Mike Kilroy

    I think it's a great idea. I also think that companies will get “looser” about “negative” news because it's a great place for them to respond (which is all we ever asked for in traditional PR).

    I also think there's a number of companies that could benefit from regularly updated news site that covers their world and how the world is affecting them. It may be the former journalist in me, but I still think the world still needs editors to boil down the best information — search engine bots don't care about the quality or utility of information.

    And a company news site (as opposed to a static press room), can lead customers, partners and even employees into new areas of the company they didn't even realize existed, as well as lead audiences to content from every area of the company.

    In other words, why does IBM have hundreds of blogs but no central clearinghouse that tells you what IBM believes are the best of the day? Readers are still readers — make it easy for them, give them something useful and interesting, and they'll come back.

  • http://www.xilinx.com/publications/xcellonline/index.htm Mike Santarini

    First off, thanks Ron for thinking of me and for writing this. Anonymous, I agree “embedded journalist” is a misnomer for what I do. What I'm trying to do here at Xilinx is tell the story of Xilinx, shed light on the cool things customers have done with Xilinx products and offer customers and readers of Xcell high quality old-school trade magazine content that helps them get their job done faster and more effectively. When I was first hired here and started attending meetings with various folks and sometimes customers, I found myself constantly saying “this is a great story–why aren't we telling this story?” Certainly when we have a big launch, we go the traditional route and pitch it to the press but we often find that editors either don't have the print space to write as in-depth as they used to. Many professional BtoB journalists today (especially those mainly on the web) are slaves to quantity over quality, and don't have time to write old school trade features because they have to cover a broader number of beats faster and they have to blog on top of everything else–and above all there are fewer of them and more so far fewer specialists than their used to be. So in a way I’ve taken it upon myself to tell the story in Xcell.Having a mag focuses solely on FPGAs and specifically Xilinx FPGAs means I can offer content that is immediately useful to readers. Sure we tell the marketing story in-depth but we also provide readers with deep technical content. Readers can cut code from an Xcell article and paste it into their design and run the code…you couldn't do that with a lot of indy pubs because in an effort to be (or at least appear) impartial, they don't want to run vendor-specific or vendor-tool-specific content. So in a sense true journalism impartiality can be limiting too…What I do is just another arrow in the marketing quiver.

  • http://ronamok.com ronploof

    Thanks, Patrick, Anonymous, Mike and Mike. I love Mike Santarini's “…in a sense true journalism impartiality can be limiting too…” AMEN!

  • http://www.chipdesignmag.com/blyler John Blyler

    Ron. How is “true journalism impartiality” a limiter?

  • http://www.chipdesignmag.com/blyler John Blyler

    “slaves to quantity over quality … ” for all the reasons that you list, Mike, plus the additional burden for editors to be marketing and sales folks, i.e, directly help with the revenue stream. Talk about bluring of lines.

  • http://ronamok.com ronploof

    Hi John,

    Mike's comment about publishing code that people can cut and paste directly into their design is a good example, but what about when we are seeking advice?

    When I have a problem that I know a friend can help me with, I do not want an impartial answer. I want his experience. I want his opinion. Both are invaluable to me. In this case, true journalism impartiality is a limiter to the wisdom that I seek to get my problem solved.

    The question comes down to one of trust. Can we trust an impartial source of information? I say that as social beings, we do it all the time.