Unfiltered: #ChooseToChallenge with Louise Story
Womenflare is celebrating International Women's Day, a global day commemorating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, by kicking off Women's Empowerment Month in March!
Join us to hear the insights and experiences of women in all stages on their journey, as they share with us how they #choosetochallenge and help create an inclusive and equitable world.
Louise Story is The Wall Street Journal's Chief News Strategist and Chief Product and Technology Officer, overseeing brand-wide content strategy and product development. Prior to The Journal, she spent nearly 12 years at The New York Times, where she worked as a senior editor running live video, as an investigative reporter and as a co-author of key digital strategy plans. She’s also a filmmaker and produced a feature-length documentary, “The Kleptocrats”.
Guest: Louise Story, Chief Product and Technology Officer & Chief News Strategist, WSJ
Hello Cloudflare TV and happy Women's Empowerment Month. My name is Amada Echeverría and I'm on the Field Marketing and Events team here at Cloudflare and I'm here with Louise Story.
Hi Louise, thank you so much for being here today. Great, so we're excited about this special Choose to Challenge edition of Unfiltered brought to you by WomanFlare, Cloudflare's employee resource group, the mission of which is to inspire and elevate all those who identify as women.
In celebrating this month, WomanFlare is hosting episodes of Unfiltered throughout the month of March starting today and we'll be chatting with inspirational women about their insights and experiences and sharing how they work to forge a more inclusive and equitable world.
So without further ado, I'd like to introduce my guest again, Louise Story. Louise, thanks again for being us and I'd just like to introduce you further a little bit before we begin.
So you are the Wall Street Journal's Chief News Strategist and its Chief Product and Technology Officer.
So I'm sure you wear many, many hats and you're overseeing the brand-wide content strategy and product development.
And prior to the journal, you spent nearly 12 years at the New York Times where you worked as a senior editor running live video, as an investigative reporter, and as a co-author of key digital strategy plans.
You're also a filmmaker and your feature-length documentary, The Kleptocrats, is available on Amazon and Apple.
So a quick note for our viewers, if you have any questions, please feel free to submit them by emailing us at livestudio at Cloudflare .tv.
You can see the banner below and right, we'll get started. So Louise, before digging into the questions that relate to International Women's Day, I just wanted to bring to light for our listeners an incredible recent accomplishment that you must be very proud of.
I read that you're revamping the Wall Street Journal's digital strategy to get more traffic and you recently saw an 80% increase in Wall Street Journal traffic from Google.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the team you oversee in the newsroom and how their work connects to the larger content strategy?
Absolutely. So I work with other top editors to oversee the content strategy for the entire newsroom and what we do in our digital strategy as well.
And I also, as you mentioned, oversee our product development teams across the brand.
And really to grow your impact, which is what we want to do in journalism, we want to reach a lot of people with our work to help them understand the world better.
You have to work across disciplines and this is at the heart of my work.
I manage reporters and editors and set strategy for reporters and editors all around the newsroom, but I also manage the Wall Street Journal's engineers and data scientists and product managers, program managers, community specialists, and it really requires bringing all these different disciplines to the table, collaborating across the company when you want to focus on doing something like reaching so many more people, which we've been successful at through the work we've done over the past couple of years.
Great. And we'll dig right in now to the meat of the interview. Can you tell us a little bit more about your younger self?
And so what was your first big dream and how did that dream turn into the career you have now?
Sure. Well, I grew up doing theater, doing local community theater, and actually I performed in eight different operas as a child in the kids chorus.
And I thought when I grew up, I would be performing on stage and I dreamed of coming to New York where I now live, but to participate in the theater scene here.
And when I was in college, I tried out a few other things and I tried out the school newspaper and I came to understand that a lot of the things I really loved about theater are important in journalism.
And in particular, one of the things I enjoyed in theater was portraying other people, understanding different perspectives.
To be someone on stage, you have to step in their shoes and understand things.
And really that's what you do in journalism is you're trying to get many different people's points of view across.
You listen to them and you get their points of view across and you anticipate what they're going to do by thinking, what would this person do?
So that really shaped my thinking and shaped me as a reporter and editor and journalist.
And candidly, as I've gone on in my leadership career, I think it's also shaped me as a leader because working with people from so many different disciplines, one of the most important things I do is really try to pause and understand their work, their way of thinking to help inform how I can help guide us in what we're doing.
Great, thank you for that.
I always like hearing how skills from seemingly different disciplines are transferable, so that's really great.
So often women are told what they could or should be doing.
We even do it to ourselves. Tell us some advice that women shouldn't follow, in your opinion.
Well, I definitely think being told you can't do something is not a great thing to listen to.
And I was really lucky because when I was growing up, my parents always told me that anything I put my mind to, I could do and I could improve at.
And so that's the way I've approached the world. And I am a mother and for both my sons and daughter, I think it's important that I encourage them to think big.
And if they want to do something, if it's hard, just keep trying.
And I think that you can really improve in a lot of things that way.
So I think women, men, anyone out there, you shouldn't listen to people who say you can't do something.
Figure out, well, how can I do at least some version of it?
How can I work hard and improve at it? Fantastic. And we'd like to hear about a pivotal moment in your life and what was going through your mind.
And I know this can be a bit broad, but whatever you want to talk about, we're excited to hear.
I can think of a couple of pivotal moments in my career that will stick with me forever.
One was as I was finishing this large investigation that ran in 2015, in which we had uncovered a couple dozen people who had been accused of wrongdoing, serious wrongdoing around the world, all living in this one place and it wasn't really known they were there.
And so we were writing this series of seven stories and there were so many people involved, so many powerful people with such serious accusations that people were making their concerns.
There were people who had lawyers hired, warning the publication not to run it and so on.
But I had really done my reporting very thoroughly.
I'd worked on it for two years. And so in working with my editors and the lawyers, we really held our ground.
And in fact, it was all correct.
And one of the parties we wrote about led to the biggest kleptocracy case in history.
And it just really is important to when you have the information, stick to your ground.
And that's another reason that I think news organizations like the Wall Street Journal are so important in terms of them having legal expertise, institutional support for journalism, because it's not something you can always be on your own and take on investigative work of different targets.
So I think that's really important in a lot of the great journalism institutions like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times where I did the particular story I'm talking about.
So that was a pivotal moment, just, you know, stick to what you have and have conviction.
Another one was in 2013, I remember I was talking with a senior editor at the Times, who has now gone on to become the publisher there.
And he was getting some people together to start at the digital future for the Times.
And so I was talking with him and I had mainly at that point spent my time reporting, but I had always been interested in, you know, how do you focus on audience and how do you grow an audience?
And I just said to him kind of like an off the cuff comment, well, you know, we're all in the business of readers now in the sense that we all have to care about what readers are interested in.
It's not, you know, when the media business model has changed, it's not as supported by advertising anymore.
It's really important that we're relevant to our readers and a subscription-based model is central to a lot of media companies.
We're all in the business of focusing on reader utility.
And when I said that, it was a little bit like light bulb off in his head.
And he said, do you want to join this group helping us map out our digital strategy for the future?
And I hadn't thought of doing something like that, but I said, okay.
And that was a turning point for me because it did then set me off on a path of doing a lot of strategic work both there and then now at the Wall Street Journal.
Great. Love to hear about folks like you broadening their horizons and pushing themselves beyond their limits.
So you were an investigative journalist and there might be overlap with your previous answer, but what was your favorite story you ever broke or the most important one or top two?
Okay. Well, I'll start with a different one than what I mentioned before, which was I covered the financial crisis, you know, back in 2008, 2009, 2010, 11.
There were many years of covering it because there was so much to look into what happened.
And then also the recovery and the bailout of the banks and the homeowner recovery assistance.
And as I was looking with colleagues about what went wrong, how did this happen?
One of the things that I worked on with a colleague was a piece about the marketing of different mortgage bonds and whether investors knew what they were buying in terms of the bundles of risk.
And the reason this also mattered to the whole economy was because investors were pouring so much money into these bundles of loans.
That really was the money that trickled through and led to the over lending that led to the housing bubble and so on.
And so we focused in on a deal that Goldman Sachs had done and detailed how that deal had come together and what the marketing was.
And that went on to be, you know, a very large settlement with the securities and exchange commission.
It was the subject of probably the most famous hearing from the financial crisis, this 11 hour hearing with Goldman Sachs executives and people in the Senate.
And so that was a memorable story where, you know, you could see looking into things, asking questions when you spotted things, you know, led to serious consideration and ultimately settlements with the government and changes.
And it was impactful in financial regulatory reform and law in Washington.
So that was a big one. There've been many others.
The one I alluded to before, the largest kleptocracy case in history, that was something where I followed this chain of money.
I went to Malaysia and traced it back to all kinds of properties around the United States.
And in fact, funding of movies like Wolf of Wall Street.
And I was the first reporter to piece this together after I did and published it.
A number of other reporters, including some great journalists at the Wall Street Journal, continued writing on it.
The whole media really got onto it and did great work on it.
And that did lead to multi-billion dollar settlement with the DOJ and Goldman Sachs.
And it led to a change in government and fraud case against the former prime minister of Malaysia.
And as you mentioned before, there's a film. So I hope people are interested in that.
Check it out. It's called The Kleptocrats and you can find it on Apple and Amazon now.
Great. Thank you. That was bringing me to my next question about your film.
So you wrote and executive produced this feature length film in 2018 called The Kleptocrats, and it debuted at NYC DocFest, aired on BBC, toured to festivals in Australia, Europe and elsewhere, and read that it was sold to Estonian stars.
And again, another plug, you can stream it on Amazon and Apple.
Check it out. And so I wanted to give you an opportunity to talk more about about it.
Well, I mean, I will say one thing on it, which was really interesting and fun for me as a storyteller.
You know, it allowed me a lot of times as a newspaper news oriented writer, which is what I did in my reporting always was, you know, news oriented stories and investigations.
You spend sometimes a long time working on something, you shed light on a problem.
And then, you know, for example, in an investigation, you shed light on a problem, and then you kind of go away and things happen.
And maybe you fall in a little bit and then there might be a big settlement.
And in a separate story, you cover that settlement.
But the way news works is you've got these chunks of different stories, right?
And eventually, when it's settled, that story could run three years later after the initial piece.
And one of the things I really enjoyed working on in this film was being able to tell a story from the beginning, the middle and the end, the whole story right there in this one piece of work, which is not something that we're always able to do within, you know, digital news beats.
So I did really enjoy working on that.
Great. Thank you for sharing that. And so you've worn so many hats in the media and investigative reporter, masthead editor, technologist, filmmaker, manager of large reporting and video projects, media and audience strategist, radio production and design thinker, product leader, head of innovation projects, builder of large teams and senior editor with responsibility for a large daily news report.
So I'm curious, what core qualities or habits do you possess?
Or do you think you possess that have enabled you to pivot between different roles so seamlessly and that have made you so such a versatile person?
Sure. I'm a super curious person. I really, really like learning new things and hearing about them.
And I think, you know, as new things come my way, I don't, I'm not someone who thinks I know every answer to everything.
You know, if someone asked me what we should do, I think I can come up with, you know, something.
But what I really like to do is listen to other people, ask them questions, think about what they're saying, and then where needed, work with them to help point the direction that we should go.
And I think that that's really critical to being able to do a lot of different roles because in every role, I've come in as someone to learn and to help move barriers for other people and to help move the needle forward, but not where I'm saying, I know every single thing here.
And it's been just so great to get to learn from so many team members. You know, when I became chief product and technology officer here at the journal, I had not been an engineer and I came into this role and I also oversee our design team and I hadn't worked in design.
And, you know, at first a couple people did say, how are you going to do this?
You haven't been an engineer, but as you and I talked about before, I think you don't want to tell yourself you can't do something, right?
I believe you can do these things, but you have to approach them humbly.
You have to be ready to listen. You have to be curious. And so that's what I did.
I did. I listened and learned my team members and really they work as partners with me and the things we're doing in those areas.
Fantastic. And prior to covering Wall Street, you wrote about advertising and marketing for the times.
And also in 2015, you spent several months studying the motherhood plans of Ivy League female students and wrote an article on that topic that became the most emailed story of that year.
And it's really caught my eye. So can you tell us a little bit more about your findings and the story?
Sure. You're taking us way back here because it was in 2005 and it was a story that really generated chatter all over the Internet.
In fact, at one point I printed out everything that got written about it, different blog posts and different articles.
And I have a this thick showing all the different commentary that people posted online.
But basically, my generation, we are children of women who many were at the forefront of changes in the workplace where lots more women worked, some women stayed at home.
And we grew up with seeing mothers in either or scenario, some mothers working a lot and some mothers staying at home.
And I thought it would be interesting to find out from people who had all the options in the world to be at the top of their careers.
And they were still young, they were in college. What did they plan to do? Did they want children?
Did they want to stay home after having children? What did they plan to do?
And I thought it would just add some interesting stuff for people to kind of talk about where's our society heading?
So I picked a couple dorms at Yale University and the students are randomly put into dorms there.
And I contacted all the women in those dorms.
I heard back from most of them. And it was something like 62% said they wanted to have children.
And when they had children, they wanted to either work part time for several years or take a few years off.
And so I reported that.
And what was interesting was the reaction kind of was a little bit like people looking in the mirror, like people who thought it was great for women to stay at home, read the story one way.
People who thought women have advanced and these people are at Yale and they should go run big things, they read it another way.
And it was interesting. And I will say now, it's been almost 20 years since then.
And when you look at what's going on now, a lot of those women will have already made those choices.
And when you look at what's going on and also how the pandemic is affecting women's choices, it's not a clear cut world now where women just either work all the time or fully stay home.
There's lots of things in the middle and people come in and out and career paths have changed.
And so I think in some ways, these women were prescient and knowing that things would change and it wasn't a black or white answer on this.
Great. Thank you. And that brings me to my next question.
When do you feel most empowered as a woman to do your best work?
So I will tell you that I didn't really think about myself as a woman at work so much in most of my career.
I just thought about myself as a person. But I, in the past year, have had that change a little bit because whereas before the pandemic, I had everything pretty compartmentalized.
I went to work. I did my job, all my meetings, and my children, I have three children, were in their programs and different things.
They went and it was just separate. And I really didn't, I was lucky, I guess, their programs were great.
I didn't think about them so much while I was at work.
I just did my job and then I came home. And with what's happened with people working from home and schools being closed, I, for the first time, have really started thinking about myself as a working mom and not just a woman who happens to have kids because our life has become so much more intertwined now.
And so I do think about myself as a woman differently as I'm now, do you think about myself as a working mom?
And when do I do great work? Frankly, now it's when things are balanced, when my teams at work are doing well, our projects are going well, but also I know that my children and family are also doing okay.
So I try to just keep an eye on all those things.
Wonderful. And so the theme of women supporting women comes up fairly often.
And with that in mind, what does support mean to you and how have you supported women in your field?
So, you know, support to me is really being an ear, being accessible to people, letting people knowing that if they reach out, you're there, you'll listen, you don't always have the answers, but you're available to listen.
I think sometimes people in moments of challenge don't know who to reach out to.
So I do try, you know, very much to my team to be very accessible to them.
I also, I benefited from a number of people in the industry, you know, a couple of decades ahead of me as I was starting out, you know, always offering me really smart advice and feedback on how I might think about the future.
And so, you know, I hear from people on LinkedIn or in different places asking me things, and I try, you know, to be helpful to, you know, people who contact me, you know, whoever they are, because a lot of people helped me think through different paths I might take.
Great. Great. Thank you so much for that.
And so the theme for International Women's Day is Choose to Challenge, as we've discussed.
So when I think about how I choose to challenge, I think about pushing myself to grow every year.
And we're asking all of our guests this month that as well.
So how do you choose to challenge yourself, your environment, or the status quo?
Okay, so I like to take on new things. And we've talked about this already.
So I'm sorry to be repetitive. But that's just the story of my life. The story of my career is, you know, really trying to become highly competent, skilled, learn the discipline, learn the culture of something impactful, make an impact with it, and then stretch myself to learn something new.
So I challenge myself by not repeating things I've done necessarily, but putting myself into new context and into new situations where I need to listen, learn, develop, and become, you know, really adept at something, at something new.
Great. All right.
And, you know, we have some audience questions, and we do have some time.
So of course, we're an Internet security company. So our listeners were curious about how important cybersecurity is to your role.
It's important. I mean, cybersecurity is really important at all of our products at Dow Jones.
You know, I focus on the Wall Street Journal.
And those are the engineers that I manage. And for example, we did a lot of work in the fall related to the upcoming election to make sure that all parts of our site, not just the homepage, but section fronts and article pages had the right level of protection.
You know, we pay attention to different types of, you know, attacks that could come in and making sure we're on top of it.
So it's important. We work on it. It's one of our top priorities in terms of having a reliable platform is both people, you know, we think about whether people could change our content, whether people could knock our site out of service.
We also think a lot about privacy.
So whether someone could, you know, gain access to information that'd be private.
So these are all really important. And we work closely with engineering colleagues across Dow Jones on some things that are cross brand, but more hand in hand, and it's important.
Okay. Great. Great to hear. And how would you keep up with the latest trends or movements in your industry?
It was another question.
Well, I have some new different newsletters that I read that have, you know, all the different things people write about.
But also a number of people who are on our teams are great to learn from.
We have very active Slack channels where we're constantly pinging each other over things.
A number of our teammates participate in different hackathons in the industry.
And at these hackathons, they'll come back and they've picked up ideas.
And we have a weekly meeting we call the momentum meeting where we talk about things we've tried or things we've done.
And people who've gone to hackathons will come and present at those sometimes.
So really by both reading, but being active, you know, one of the things that I've led as CTO was also a broader push for us to use more open source in some of the projects that we're doing.
And we've made some changes to how we approach web rendering and different things, really drawing on kind of the libraries that are out there and what we can use.
And I think as you get more focused on that, you know more what's going on out in the broader, both technology industry, product industry, as well as news and digital news space, because you're participating.
And that's what we try to do.
Fantastic. And I like this question, who were some of your most important mentors and how did they help shape your career?
My most important mentors, I would say it's a combination of some colleagues that I got to write articles with where we had a co-byline.
There are a few amazing reporters who've been in the industry much longer when I was early in my career.
They had already been in the industry a few decades and I learned so much from them about how to be thorough, how to think about contacting people, how to make sure you're being completely fair and taking questions to everyone.
And then also I've had several bosses who have really mentored me, who took an interest and were not, were very clearly trying to get great work done by me, but also were really trying to stimulate and grow me and they would give me challenges, not just answers.
They would ask me and push me to figure things out.
And that really helped me grow in those tasks, but also helped me think through the kind of boss that I wanted to be as I progressed.
Great. Well, that's great. Great to hear. I'm fortunate to have that type of boss at Cloudflare as well now.
So really great to hear. All right.
And so I'm curious if you have any thoughts on leadership style and if you faced any challenges in developing and implementing your leadership brand and style, especially if it was different from the current style of leadership?
Well, you know, one of the things that's been interesting to me in the news industry at both places I've worked is just that the news industry and the technology industry in some ways are coming together because, you know, news companies make technology.
You know, we build our mobile app start to finish, you know, so that's, you know, so we are a technology company, but also we put out news every single day.
And this has been the case everywhere I work to news that as new cultures come in because you have different skill sets, different disciplines, there are differences in how news companies have traditionally worked and how technology and product driven companies work.
And so I would say the biggest thing on that with me has been thinking about how to help people from those different cultures communicate with each other, how to find the commonalities, how to find which differences are important to maintain.
It's not necessarily the case everyone can work the same way.
For example, on a news story, something happens, you know, right now, you got to get a story up right then, you know, immediately.
But, you know, the product development cycle is a different cycle, right?
And so just working across and leading across different cultures has been interesting.
And I've been able to find common bridges, I think, among people.
Fascinating. Thank you. So we have a minute and a little bit over a minute left.
So I just wanted to thank you so much for chatting with me today.
And I encourage everyone as well to, you know, please review the Cloudflare TV schedule and join us for our next Women, Flair and Filter Choose to Challenge segment this month.
And Louise, thank you so much for your time.
I'm sure you're incredibly busy, like you mentioned, with raising a family, but also with your amazing role at the Wall Street Journal.
So thank you so much for your time and for being with us today.
Thanks for having me. We all want to see more women in tech leading the way from the front.
I always try to give a hand of support to women in Cloudflare by making a space for them to speak up, supporting their initiatives and just being there in moments of doubt, inspiring them to never give up and keep their chin high.
I choose to challenge my own perceptions and those of others to discover how we can push through the barriers to create an equal world.