Telum Talks to … James Craven, Managing Director, Hybrid News Group

Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?james-craven
I’m from Sydney but I’ve worked abroad in Asia, New York and the UK for about 15 years. I’ve spent my career working on advertising and media campaigns. Prior to starting Hybrid News Group, I spent five years as the CEO of a £20M media and events company. Life for me is pretty much about my family, friends, work and trying to keep that dichotomy on a healthy balance. I base myself at our main office in the UK and travel every eight weeks to our Kuala Lumpur and Sydney branches – so a third of my life is on the road.
 
Could you share with us the background and core operations of Hybrid News Group and what inspired you to start the Hybrid News Group?
We set up Hybrid News to create engaging, independent content for Millennials and Gen X readers in emerging markets. We were focused on the growth of wireless Internet across developing economies, the use of mobiles and tablets and the change to consumer behavior. As a company, we’ve adapted and changed as the market changed around us, but our core focus of engineering stories and ads that are seen, read and shared widely remains the same. 
 
What is the current editorial team structure in Hybrid News Group?
Currently our team is ten full time Journalists and Editors and we work with dozens of Freelancers globally. We’re hiring right now, bringing more of our content in-house, and our goal is to have thirty of our own Journalists in 2017. As a company, we’re dedicating more of our resources to news, opinion and analysis. Our editorial process is managed from our Kuala Lumpur office and we’re particularly focused on developing the interplay between our editorial and digital marketing teams. We use data-driven metrics so digital and editorial can collaborate and build our audience. 
 
What big goals do you have for 2016 / 2017 or what should we expect next from Hybrid News Group for Malaysia?
Kuala Lumpur will continue to grow as our editorial hub. We will also expand our digital team of developers, designers and ad optimization executives. Our focus will be on sharpening our editorial direction, higher quality content and building bigger audiences. Across our portfolio, our next audience goal is to go from 5 million unique visitors per month to 10 million. We’ve built a data analytics dashboard for our clients called Campaign Hub and we’re developing our data insights technology further in 2017.
 
What do you think is the major difference between journalism industry in Malaysia and other countries?
We set up in KL because there are great Journalists here, lots of talented, intelligent people. We’re encouraging our Journalists in KL to take risks and to constantly ask “why” and “how”. We’re encouraging curiosity and critical thinking. We want them to show the capacity to look at regional or world issues from different cultural and political perspectives. Local news coverage in Malaysia can be pernickety with intense coverage on a few local stories…at Hybrid News, we’re focused on the geo-political issues and what divides or combines the region.
 
How do you juggle different news sites at the same time (Asian Correspondent,Travel Wire AsiaTech Wire Asia and Study International)?
It can be difficult because our readership has grown dramatically for all our websites and that increases the workload. We create sponsored content campaigns for our clients and that requires a lot of “discovery” and research. We have an Editor-in-Chief who oversees the whole process with Editors and Assistant Editors on each of the websites. We encourage range and scope with some of our Writers so they can contribute to multiple sites. Freelancers are brought in as required, and for opinion and analysis. The team in Kuala Lumpur, the UK and Bogota are creating and delivering really well. 
 
Most of your news sites are focused on Asia, among all regions, why Asia?
The level and the rate at which Asian countries are adopting Internet and smartphones is enormous. At one extreme you have China’s mature social media ecosystem and at the other you have emerging economies in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. Internet penetration across the whole of Southeast Asia is still only 40%, so there is a long way to go. I think there are significant information, news and content gaps remaining for upwardly mobile Asian audiences. We will continue to develop niche Internet brands in this incredibly exciting market. 
 
Could you please tell us what is your inspirations behind all these news sites?
Asian Correspondent started because we felt there was a gap in the independent coverage of serious regional issues for millennial and Gen X readers. Plenty of state-run press and media establishment, but we did not see a lot that spoke to a large and growing generation of digital news readers. We’ve developed organically from this idea, trying to build niche Internet brands for upwardly mobile audiences. 
 
For example, TravelWireAsia.com is inspired by the emergence of the free independent traveler (FIT) – a more independent and digital-centric style of traveler. TechWireAsia.comis all about how entrepreneurs and business managers are leveraging digital to grow their businesses. 
 
How does Hybrid News Group work with PR professionals and what do you want or not want to receive from them?
We are always looking for ideas and if PR professionals have a good story then we want to hear it. For example, right now some of our Journalists are exploring the role of multi-nationals in Asia and the social impact of foreign investment on developing economies. So we’re working with a lot of PR execs on corporate and social responsibility case studies and stories. 
 
What are the traits of your favourite PR people to work with?
The best PR people I’ve worked with are able to highlight the “human interest” element from whatever they’re trying to do or whatever they are trying to push. Our value proposition is that we can engage smart millennials and Gen X and help brands to engage with them on a deeper level. But there has got to be an angle, story or point of difference. 
 
What have you been most satisfied in your life? 
Everything. Great family, friends and business. I’m lucky. 
 
Do you travel to Malaysia often? Who will you meet / do when you’re in town?
I’m in KL every eight weeks for a week. I usually stay at G Tower or the Intercontinental right around the corner from our office at Binjai 8 in KLCC. It’s usually pretty jam-packed schedule with staff meetings and various projects we’re working on. I’ve got contacts in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia and I’m getting to know a few more people in local media and news here…so there’s rarely a dull moment. 
 
What does a day in the life of James Craven look like?
Up at 6am, tea, boiled eggs, yoga, push-ups, in office by 7.30am, sales meetings, story idea sessions, interviews, analyze traffic data, web designs, project concepts, speak with clients, working lunch, review growth drivers, budgets, forecasts, pint of lager at my local, tuck my kids in, hang with wife, sleep, repeat.    
 
What are three things people might not know about you?
I met Colonel Sanders. I cover my eyes when a movie gets scary. I don’t like being the passenger in a car. 
 
Philosophy of life?
Think independently, push when you see potential, take your ideas as far as you can. 
 
How do you prefer to be contacted?
No specific preference. Call me direct or email at james@hybridnewsgroup.com. You can reach our KL based Editor-in-Chief, Clara Chooi at clara@hybridnewsgroup.com
 
Coffee, lunch or drinks?
Yes and in that order. 
 
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Telepathy would be useful in the media, and invisibility for when I screw up

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