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