Meet Scarsdale Resident Chris Riback: The Busiest Guy on the Block

ChrisRibackIt’s not easy to define what Scarsdale resident Chris Riback does for a living. He’s a journalist, author, newsletter publisher, podcast host and primarily a co-founder of Good Guys Media, where he says, “Not only do I run the company, I’m also a client.”

He came to my attention when he launched “Chris Riback’s Newsletter,” a daily synopsis of all the domestic, international, business and “feel good” news you need to know, and I got hooked!

We decided to see what we could find out about this Scarsdale dad and here is what he shared:

How did you get your start in journalism? How have you seen the news business change over the years, and if you had it all to do again, would you still choose this career path?

I started in journalism in high school (outside Chicago) — we had a radio station and I interviewed local celebrities, called some high school games and covered news and politics. I had the bug. I continued working through college, later spending two summers reporting from Romania, and then to ABC News, 60 Minutes, and writing a book on public policy. Yes, the business has changed… but which business hasn’t? Tech has disintermediated everything, and media is no exception. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad.

I did not stay, however, in media. By 2000, I saw that (because of the Internet and the ease of content production and global distribution) any brand (or person) could act like a media company. After all, anyone (or any company) can access the three pillars required for a media company: Content, distribution, and audience.

That led me to more than a decade in financial services and then to launch my own business built on helping brands act like media companies.

From our conversation it was evident that you are running many ventures at once. Tell our readers about all of your businesses.

I really have one business: Good Guys Media Ventures, where we help brands — companies, non-profits & individuals — act like media companies: We help them capture ideas and insights, turn them into content, and then distribute through digital channels to build and influence audiences that matter.

But to borrow from the old ad: Not only do I run the company, I’m also a client. I maintain my own branded digital media properties: Chris Riback’s Newsletter & Chris Riback’s Conversations.

For the newsletter, my thesis is straightforward: There is too much content. We all need a good editor. I can be one. My goal is to help subscribers save time and stay smarter.

To do this, 6 days a week I offer the ideas, trends and events you need to know. I read (mostly) everything so you don’t have to. I try to factor in: What you surely already know, what you might have missed, and what bears repeating — but with a boiled-down emphasis on what’s essential. I try to add engaging videos, tweets, graphs, and more.

I augment the product with podcasts, live events, book offers, and access to additional content. Luckily for me, newsletters have become an incredibly effective way to distribute content via subscriptions (I have a free product and paid subscriptions).

The podcasts are Chris Riback’s Conversations, which are wonderful conversations I get to have on public policy, business, tech, international affairs, science, education, and the arts. Guests include Nobel Prize winners, US National Medal of Science laureates, CEOs, scientists, technologists, Congress members, Presidential Cabinet members, economists, academics, educators, and more. I’ve been very fortunate to access some of the top thinkers of our day.

For example, I recently did one with Walter Isaacson on CRISPR and Nobel Prize laureate Jennifer Doudna. My last live event (a series I do in partnership with Cornell’s Institute of Politics & Global Affairs) was with Gen. H.R. McMaster; my next one is Apr. 12 with Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

You explained that Good Guys Media Ventures helps brands to act like media companies and to use content to influence their customers, prospects and policy makers. Describe one of the more successful or interesting branding campaigns you have done.

Well, as you would expect, I love all my children equally! I’m proud of the work we do — the range of industries, content formats, distribution channels, and audiences.

For example:
For one financial services company, we’ve developed a several digital properties — website, newsletter and podcast series — that explore ideas that drive global business.

We have an ongoing podcast series with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation — extraordinary conversations with the world’s leading scientists, researchers and physicians.

We have another podcast series with an education non-profit, Turnaround for Children, that addresses how to transform 21st century education using 21st century science. A recent guest was a former U.S. Secretary of Education.

Another client is a leader in global supply chain management — including vaccine distribution, cell & gene therapy, aviation, and more.

What are your thoughts on the blurring of lines between “news” and “sponsored content”?

Content from brands isn’t news. It’s ideas and insights — using the knowledge they uniquely can access to stay relevant with and influence the audiences that matter to them.

Media is a straightforward business: A publisher uses content to build a desirable audience, and then seeks to monetize that audience. Traditional media properties (NYT, CNN, Scarsdale 10583, etc.) monetize their audiences through advertising, subscriptions, merchandise, live events, etc.

A brand that acts like a media company has a huge advantage — it already knows how to monetize an audience. For brands, these audiences include customers, clients, intermediaries, policymakers, influencers, community leaders, entrepreneurs, educators, employees, and more. By using meaningful, useful content that benefits their audiences — makes them smarter — the brand can deepen relationships, stay relevant, become the “first call,” and activate their already-proven ways to drive revenue.

Acting like a media company simply means using the thinking, strategy, tactics of a publisher (which isn’t what these brands normally do) to build and stay connected with those audiences

You recently launched an e-newsletter that aggregates news. How do you summarize so much news on a daily basis?

I read a lot! But I hope what makes the newsletter useful isn’t what I read, but rather how I edit. A great briefing does more than explain what you should know — it omits what you don’t need to know.

That approach is the exact opposite of most media properties, whose business model depends on endless content (more web pages = more ads to be sold against those pages).

I have to earn and keep trust with my subscribers: Here’s what matters; here’s how it connects; I won’t waste your time.

Do you write the newsletter or do you have help?

I write the newsletter.

Who are your readers? Have you been successful at selling subscriptions?

My readers are people who want to save time and stay smarter.

They surely have a couple of deep interest areas. But they also want to be aware of important ideas, news and events outside their specific interests areas — the ones they likely miss because there’s just too much content out there.

They want the context — the ability to understand quickly how things connect. For example, how do the various economic, social and military interactions with China connect with Hong Kong’s political changes? How does the freighter stuck in the Suez Canal connect with the exponential rise in maritime trade via globalization? How does an Amazon union vote in Alabama connect with Congressional hearings with tech leaders?

They also want to know: What am I missing? They want the wide range of sources that they surely don’t have time to read. After all, most publications’ newsletters do exactly what they should: Promote their own content. My relationship is directly with the readers. I earn their trust through good editing and strong connecting, not by promoting a particular news brand. So far, that approach has driven subscriptions.

But like any business, you have to be motivated by the service you provide to people.

For example, I recently received this note from a subscriber: "I have to tell you that [your newsletter] has “won the battle” of my morning emails. Yours is the only one I read now, and it is ALWAYS informative. Truly. I count on learning something new when I read it, and I look forward to its arrival.”

Another subscriber tweeted: "I’m honestly not sure who turned me on to the daily newsletter from @chrisriback but it has become my first read right after listening to @UpFirst."

Another subscriber wrote: "I want to tell you how much I enjoy your newsletter. It’s excellent and my first source of the day for news. I appreciate the way you’ve broken it into sections, your source links, and the 'good news' section.”

Needless to say, that feedback makes my day.

Please share excerpts of a couple of the stories that were most popular with readers.

Two areas that have been incredibly popular surprised me — for different reasons and in positive ways.

One is Smart Links. These are 6-10 headline links that I include every day, whether important items that don’t merit a full excerpt or are personal interest items. Examples include "Here are America’s highest-paid private-college presidents,” “Do you have e-charisma on Zoom? Here’s how to get it,” and "Japan’s Kyoto cherry blossoms peak on earliest date in 1,200 years.” For example, I liked the cherry blossom one because it wasn’t just about the blossoms… it connected to global warming. I mean, the earliest date in 1,200 years?! Other headlines covered vertical farming, touchless airport technology, and Apple’s AI acquisitions.

The other is a section I call Good News. It’s just what it says: two pieces of good news to make us feel better about the world in small and big ways. One piece was about a Baltimore restaurant owner who drove 6 hours to cook a favorite meal for a terminally ill customer. Another offered a video of a father who finally relents to his young daughter’s demands and jumps into the muddy puddle she’s playing in… and ultimately dances like a child himself. It carried a comment: “Some dads are better at dadding than others..."

The popularity of Smart Links means a lot to me, because it confirmed an editorial hunch — I believe there’s a significant audience of people who want to stay smarter. I believed packaging content with that theory in mind would be popular — especially headlines and ideas that likely fall outside the regular content stream we all get. So far, so good.

The popularity of “Good News” means a lot to me, because it confirmed editorial research. Early in this effort, I saw data that showed people want and don’t get enough stories that make them feel good. More specifically, during the pandemic as well our divided political times, I felt we all would want stories that restore our faith in humankind (or make us laugh). My test for what qualifies: Does this piece give you a warm feeling?

On a personal note, how long have you lived in Scarsdale and what do you like about living here?

We have lived here nearly 20 years, and what I like (love) about living here is that it’s a community. We are very fortunate to raise our family in the company of wonderful friends and neighbors, sharing good times and supporting each other through the tough ones. We’ve become connected with so many people, and we’ve all become central to each other’s lives. Anyone reading Scarsdale 10583 already knows: This is a most special place!

Have you found yourself working from home this past year?

What have been the best and worst parts of this most unusual year for you?

The worst part is the obvious: A pandemic that has taken so much from us. Lives, time, opportunity. Everyone lost something; some, of course, lost everything.

The best part was that society slowed down. We all had the opportunity to reconsider what matters to each of us. I greatly, greatly appreciated the extra time with my family. I loved the walks, extra meals, and bonus memories. What an incredible opportunity to push “reset.” I didn’t take it for granted.

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