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Winterford: Trust is everything

By Philip Sim in Media News on
As Brett Winterford and Patrick Gray bemoaned the state of online tech news over a beer in a Byron Bay pub, Winterford admitted to Gray that he felt like he had contributed to the “problem” when he was last in media.
 
“I was having a beer with Pat and we just started talking about our disappointment with where online media had gone,” Winterford said. 
 
As reported at Influencing yesterday, Winterford has just joined Gray’s Risky.biz team with a remit to create written content targeting global policymakers in the cybersecurity space.
 
“I said to him that I felt like I had presided over some of the problems by being part of the generation that chased the clicks too hard,” he said.
 
During his stint as a journalist, Winterford achieved as much as any business technology hack might hope for. After a stint as a daily contributor on the AFR’s tech pages, he became editor-in-chief of the award-winning iTnews site.
 
Then in 2016, at the top of his game, he quit for a corporate gig at the Commonwealth Bank where new challenges, and no doubt, a bigger pay-packet lay before him. From there, he became a senior director at security vendor, Symantec, taking him on a journey from reporter, to user, to supplier.
 
As such, he has been afforded a unique insight into how journalism is created, consumed and acted upon, particularly within the infosec industry.
 
And his big takeout seems to be a recurring theme of trust.
 
“I think it’s way too easy to lose the trust of an audience by taking shortcuts,” he said, adding that he felt readers were becoming so sceptical, that there was a real desire to have transparency and understanding around the process that goes into reporting.
 
The weekly newsletter that will be Winterford’s primary ongoing output is to provide a  digest of hot infosec topics and stories, but it will be done in a way that puts the news under a microscope and analyses it not just for importance, but also for reliability and misinformation.
 
“[Our audience] cares very much about accuracy, so we’re going to exhibit real care for ensuring the information they’re getting is vetted,” he said. Given how important cybersecurity has become, journalists covering the sector have a real “duty of care” to get facts right, but that doesn’t always happen according to Winterford.
 
The weekly newsletter format is tried and tested, and Winterford believes it addresses the other major challenge for readers - the over-abundance of information.
 
“As a practitioner, the biggest challenge is the level of noise,” he said. Curation and pinpointing exactly what is ‘need to know’ would be critical to the newsletter’s success, he said.
 
Winterford said his experience as a consumer of media did reassure him that the work that journalists contributed was important.

“Tech media plays a huge role in helping organisations, not just around big purchasing decisions but also day to day things like patching,” he said.

“But because it plays such a huge role it’s so easy to disappoint and that’s a massive challenge for all of us because people are losing trust in all types of institutions and media is one of those,”
 
“I think the brands that are standing out now are the ones that doubled down on quality at the time that the rest of us were making compromises.”
 
Winterford’s new role is not reliant on any commercial success because it is being funded by the Hewlett Foundation, a philanthropic organisation started by HP co-founder Bill Hewlett and his family.
 
As such, Winterford isn’t going to find himself in a place where those compromises have to be made. And he admits that the unusual funding model was a key attraction to drawing him back into media. 
 
“I kept saying to Pat, ‘I just don’t know what the model is that works’ and that I would dive back into media if I knew what that model was,” Winterford said. That was when Gray spitballed the idea of partnering with the Hewlett Foundation.
 
Gray reckons that Winterford “might have been a bit sceptical I could make it happen”.
 
“I think he was thinking ‘That sounds like an awesome job’ but I don’t think he was really expecting it to materialise,” Gray said.
 
Winterford said he “wasn’t particularly desperate to come back to media, but it was all about finding the right job” and knowing firsthand the influence that Risky.biz had, together with the journalistic freedom the role afforded made the opportunity compelling.
 
“It already felt like Risky Business was a part of my life, because I listened to it every week and was well aware of the kind of people it introduces you to - we’re talking about some of the smartest people on the planet.”
 
Winterford said he enjoyed his role in the corporate land and noted the skills that make a good journalist translate very well to almost any corporate position.
 
“A journalist’s ability to build instant rapport with someone is pretty crucial when you’ve got to manage large complex change projects,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to win over the right people face to face.”
 
Advanced writing skills were also a valuable asset which he found when having to do things like compiling succinct reports for boards.
 
“Also, just being able to sell an idea. When you work in publishing, you’re basically selling ideas, you’re creating communities around an idea.”
 
He said he would need to rediscover the rhythm of publishing, but otherwise, he wasn’t expecting to reinvent the wheel, given Risky.biz’s loyal following.
 
“Really, this is a gift we’ve been given to try some different approaches. Ultimately, though, I’m very cautious about the fact that the audience loves the title exactly as it is, so I’ll be treading very lightly in a lot of ways.”

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