Christy Tanner Ignites CBS News Digital

By Mary Ellen Holden WomenAdvancing Council Archives

Christy Tanner, Executive Vice President and General Manager of CBS News Digital, is leading the charge as the brand evolves to meet the demands of a next-generation news audience hungry for trusted information across digital channels.  In this era where "real news" and journalism are under constant attack, CBS News Digital is seeing double-digit growth, with unique visitors increasing 20 percent year-over-year on CBSNews.com and viewership of the CBSN live streams up 17 percent over the prior year.  I recently spoke to Tanner (pictured above) about her vision and approach to delivering relevant content to grow new value for CBS News Digital's audience and advertisers in this essential space.

Mary Ellen Holden:  What is your new role?

Christy Tanner:  I oversee CBS News across all digital platforms including CBSN (CBS News' 24/7 digital streaming service) as well as CBSNews.com, mobile apps and OTT.  Our digital brand and viewership continue to grow.  Our audience is young, diverse, urban and globally minded with an average age of 38.  They watch our programming for a blend of live news, fresh voices, compelling original storytelling and trusted knowledge.

Holden:  What was your path to this position?

Tanner:  Growing up, I always wanted to be in the news business.  I had a series of summer jobs as a reporter and photographer for local newspapers.  When I graduated college I became an editor for the Associated Press and then was a reporter for a daily newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, in Memphis, TN.  In the mid-1990's, as digital media began to explode, I went to Columbia Business School to focus on the massive disruption coming to the industry.  I've since had a variety of roles as a digital change agent in media companies.

Holden:  What informs your vision for the brand?

Tanner:  Growing CBS News Digital as a brand is all about journalism, breaking news and storytelling.  We deliver news and information when and where our audiences want it.  Our vision is reflected in two points of recent research: The Edelman Trust Barometer, released in January, showed that trust in journalism is up year over year, while trust in platforms -- defined as social media and search -- is down.  These findings echo our own research that found people come to CBSN to learn and to become smarter because they trust our expertise.

Holden:  Can you give me an example?

Tanner:  Our CBSN Originals documentary series goes in-depth on topics that our audience has indicated it is interested in, such as social justice, climate change, poverty and gender equality.  These themes happen to align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which are key issues that we are investing in.  We are particularly proud of Weaponizing Social Media, which premiered last week, about the Rohingya crisis and Nepal: The Lost Girls, about child marriage, which aired in 2017.

We trust the intelligence of our audience and we are very comfortable taking a deep dive into uncomfortable realities.  We believe that our audience will come along with us on these journeys -- and they do.

Holden:  How do you position these content initiatives to advertisers?

Tanner:  Everything we do is ad-supported and free to users.  When our sales team is approaching potential advertisers they often position our content in two umbrella frameworks, What to Know and A Better World.  These buckets cover most of our programming and are reflective of the fact that our audience is interested in knowledge, and not opinion.

Holden:  How do you develop audiences?

Tanner:  We have robust partnerships with device manufacturers, including Apple, Roku and Amazon, and we draw large audiences organically. OTT is a fast-growing source of viewership, along with desktop and mobile.

Holden:  Do you have a closing thought to share with our readers?

Tanner:  I'd like to spotlight our team, because they are key to our success.  We have about 150 people in CBS News Digital, and we are very collaborative, both within CBS Interactive and with our broadcast partners at CBS News.  We are always looking for journalism talent who balance a passion for news and information with an interest in technology.  We hire hybrids who can shoot, write and edit, and who can combine digital and linear broadcasting skills.  They must be flexible and curious.  We're in a space that's constantly changing, so our team must evolve as our audience evolves.

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