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5 Questions With: Martha Nelson of Yahoo

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Photo provided by Martha Nelson

“Yahoo.” The name is ubiquitous, iconic, and recognized by nearly all internet users. Founded in 1994, the technology company was a pioneer of internet publishing, search engines and email, forever changing the way people communicate and get information. Yahoo’s evolution over the years has been in direct tandem with the ever-changing nature of the digital ecosystem, putting the media giant in a unique position as the litmus test for the new internet standard.

Considering Yahoo’s long history (at least in internet years) and standards for quality, it’s no surprise that it is the highest-read news and media site and the fourth most visited website globally as of June 2015. With its internet business recently acquired by Verizon for $4.8 billion, Yahoo continues to champion journalism worldwide as a top publisher.

Martha Nelson is the Senior Vice President and Global Editor-in-Chief at Yahoo. Her track record in the editorial world dates back to 1983 and includes some of the most recognizable print publications. A major part of her rise to veteran status happened at Time Inc where she worked for Who Weekly, InStyle and People Magazine. In 2010 Martha became editor-in-chief at Time Inc, a position she held for about a year before heading to Yahoo. She has been with Yahoo for just over a year now.

Digital Media Wire had the pleasure of talking to Martha about her inspirations and her marathon run in publishing and journalism. In the interview, we discuss her thoughts about working in media, Yahoo’s unique approach in media, how video is changing the digital publishing landscape, and what’s next for the company. There may have even been mention of Gloria Steinem and eSports – you’ll have to read to find out. Check out the full interview below.

Photo provided by Yahoo!
Photo provided by Yahoo

1. Have you had any important mentors who have influenced your career?

The answer to this question is usually a tribute to one’s elders and betters. However, I’ve always learned as much from the people I’ve hired as from the people who hired me. If you recruit people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than you are, you’ll always be learning…and trying to keep up with them.  But as for my elders and betters, I was lucky to work with Gloria Steinem early in my career.  She inspired awe with her passion for social justice and quick wit. Today, Gloria still makes me laugh and think in equal measure, and continues to inspire me by her unwavering commitment and her compassion. Then there’s John Huey, the former editor of Fortune and Editor in Chief of Time Inc., who is a rare combination of great journalist, wily corporate strategist and Southern wise-ass. He would probably hate being called a mentor, so I’ll just say he was a fantastic colleague, and always great fun. (That would be an interesting dinner table—John Huey and Gloria Steinem.)

2. What do you love most about working in media?

On the best days, working in media gives you permission to be creative, indulge your curiosity about the world and, at the same time, provides you with a sense of working for a larger purpose. (I do believe in journalism as a force for good in the world.)  Plus, the people are appealing; media attracts a lot of characters and more than a few narcissists, but in general, we get to spend our days with smart, questioning and thoughtful people. A life in media also introduces you to all kinds of people and opens doors to amazing experiences. No one looks at a career in media and says,”That was a bore.”

Photo provided by Yahoo!
Photo provided by Yahoo

3. How does Yahoo’s approach to media set it apart from its competitors?

At Yahoo, we are advantaged by our technology and our scale. We bring our audience a unique combination of outstanding original journalism and aggregated content from around the web, all personalized for each user.

4. How is the role of video evolving in digital publishing? How is video changing the old media landscape?

As technology and platforms evolve, the creative opportunities in video are expanding at a fast pace.The lines that once separated text, video, and photos are disappearing as new forms emerge. Both digital publishers and traditional media are accelerating video production, in pursuit of eyeballs and ad dollars. There has been an explosion of short-form, low cost video, a growing interest in live production as well as some great experiments in VR.  On one end, you have brilliant, highly produced shows, and on the other, automated production pumped out at super-high volume. And in between, you will find everything.

Photo provided by Yahoo!
Photo provided by Yahoo

5. What’s next in your plans for Yahoo?

These are very exciting days for Yahoo and there are great opportunities ahead as we prepare to join Verizon. Across our core properties—news, sports, finance and lifestyle—we are doubling down on live programming and other forms of video.  For example, in sports, we have invested in live streaming of NHL, MLB and other games and have made upgraded the Fantasy Football experience.   Plus, we have an exciting new venture in reporting and live streaming of esports, not to mention the launch of our NBA site, The Vertical with Woj, led by Adrian Wojnarowski. In news, finance and lifestyle, the teams are at work on equally impressive projects and launches to engage our audience.


Martha Nelson will be speaking at Digital Media Wire’s New York Media Festival in NYC on September 26-29. Purchase tickets here.

-Edward Heinrich