Interview with Jeff Israely, Co-founder of Worldcrunch: International news brought to you in English “straight from the sources.”
First of all, how are you and your family doing during these COVID times?
Jeff Israely : I’m lucky: My loved ones and I are doing well. And despite the tricky circumstances (for example, working full-time in a small Parisian apartment with four people — including two teenagers!) we’ve figured out how to adapt. Great WiFi is the key.
Of course, the second wave is weighing on everyone.
Tell us about yourself, your career and how you began Worldcrunch.
Jeff Israely : I’m an American journalist who arrived in Europe more than 20 years ago. I was bureau chief for Time Magazine in Rome and then in Paris. It was in Paris that I decided to create Worldcrunch in 2011 with Irène Toporkoff, a French businesswoman who’d held top posts in the digital sector.
In France, everyone knows Courrier International, a weekly magazine that translates news articles from around the world into French. This concept and format didn’t exist in English. In a nutshell, Worldcrunch is international news coverage brought to you “straight from the sources.”
So after years as a reporter, where my main concern was to get the story and deliver it on time. I’ve had to learn how to juggle a dozen priorities at once!
How does Worldcrunch innovate?
Jeff Israely : The first challenge is to find an economic model for information in the age of the internet and declining trust in traditional media. In terms of content, there’s a whole process to innovation: In theory, there can always be a new, more creative way to tell a story, to transmit information to increasingly busy, connected people. But we must balance that with certain basic features that must be maintained, like storytelling and credibility.
How did COVID affect Worldcrunch, and how did you manage the crisis?
Jeff Israely : The nature of our media means from the beginning, we’ve been working with contributors from all over the world. We already had the chance to adopt good teleworking habits, which made the switch from our physical Parisian office to 100% remote work easier. Of course, the confinement meant that we had to improve our virtual collaboration process in the space of a few days.
That said, we miss the in-person connection among our teams members — on both a personal and professional level.
Did you need to make any difficult choices, and what lessons did you learn?
Jeff Israely : Luckily, for the moment, the company hasn’t suffered too much from the crisis — but we’re still being cautious about the economic effects of the pandemic’s second wave …
On the editorial side, this global health crisis has also confirmed our added value as a media, as we were able to bring local experiences and points of view to an international audience. Now more than ever, we’ve realized the importance of working with great people — journalists, of course, but also a tech team capable of making changes within a few hours, investors who take the time to check up on the company, clients who openly discuss their internal problems caused by the crisis.
How do you manage stress and anxiety during this period, and what are your future plans for yourself and Worldcrunch?
Jeff Israely : It’s important to not project your own stress on the other members of the team. Absorbing the “existential” incertitude of the company is part of the job — it’s even necessary so that everyone can do their job in the right conditions.
Today, our business model is divided into three activities: a news website (Worldcrunch.com), a content agency (Worldcrunch Story Lab) and an innovation hub. The daily challenge for us is finding a balance between these three aspects, which are sometimes but not always connected. The most important lesson: Whatever the sector, the future will be digital. It’s our job to make sure it also stays human.
Who are your rivals and how do you make your company competitive?
Jeff Israely : In terms of our media, we don’t have any direct competitors even though we operate in the world of quality, general news in English. However, we’re all living in the “attention economy,” so technically, we’re in (friendly!) competition with everyone. Whether it’s journalism or communications, we’re all on the same turf, using the same tools, types of content, methods for capturing the attention of readers and clients. So our work is to stand out by finding ever-more intelligent, creative solutions to attract, keep and merit that attention.
A final word?
Jeff Israely : Later this year, we’re celebrating Worldcrunch’s 10th birthday… and even if we’ve grown a lot (from our successes and our failures), we still see ourselves as a startup!