Rob Stott: how to make it as a pop culture journo (without being clickbaity)

Junkee's Rob Stott wants “snackable, yet valuable news”. Photo: Nour Ahmad.

Junkee has set its own bar pretty high: it claims to be ‘Australia’s smartest and most original pop culture title’. What a mission!

But, after three years of working as the managing editor of Junkee, Punkee and AWOL, managing editor Rob Stott has heaps of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ on how to stay on top of the game. (Spoiler: It takes a lot more than a passion for blogging about your favourite Netflix show)

“Writing is not enough anymore. You need a specific interest, you need to have digital skills, but most of all, you need a deep understanding of how news travels online,” Stott told Macleay College students at a guest lecture.

Rob Stott, managing editor of Junkee, Punkee & AWOL. Photo: Nour Ahmad.

Most of its audience finds Junkee’s articles on Facebook. “Junkee is coming to the readers, the readers don’t come to Junkee,” explained the 31-year-old.

On a busy social feed it’s not easy to stand out. Naturally, online journos must understand “what it takes to make a person click and share a story – which is even more important, because that’s how you reach the next circle”.

But once you crack that code, one piece can make “a huge difference,” said Stott.

Sometimes it’s the story that you expect the least to go viral – like junkee’s story about Dakota Johnson shutting down Ellen DeGeneres: “For whatever reason it resonated with our audience and it really broke through.”

Stott might not seem like the stereotypical pop culture journo. Besides his zero interest in music, his background is politics and breaking news. “I’m 31 – everyone in the office calls me Daddy,” he laughs.

“If you’re willing to work hard, you will be rewarded down the road,” says Rob Stott. (Photo: Nour Ahmad)

But when it comes to his career, it’s fair to say, Stott is a digital native. With 10 years of working experience he considers himself “very fortunate that I never had to work for a newspaper”.

Stott said in new media it’s essential to shut your own ego down.

“I have always felt digital teams work together, share contacts. In print, I’m not sure that culture exists so much,” he said.

Looking for strong, diverse opinions

But how to keep up the pace when new internet trends seem to pop up every week?

“It’s really hard to invest in those new platforms because you have to build an audience from scratch,” he said. “Be careful where you invest – we know what we’re good at so we stick to that.”

When it comes to standing out, Junkee is all about strong voices. It doesn’t hold back with its “leftie” opinions: “We have clear positions, and we’re not hiding from it. We don’t pretend to be balanced. Young people certainly lean to the left. There aren’t any debates on climate change, or marriage equality. For us there aren’t two sides anymore.”

Therefore, it’s important for Stott to ensure his team is just as diverse as its audience. Junkee targets readers between 15 and 34 years old.

“We need people in our newsroom who think like them and sound like them,” he added.

Less work ethics?

When asked how he feels about the common critic millennials have no work ethics, Stott rolls his eyes. The stereotype of young people not willing to work hard anymore, “is such bullshit” he said, adding journalists are constantly asked to work more with less.

But even in 2020, the first advice for young journalists is still very basic: “Just write heaps.”

Experience is valuable: “If you’re willing to work hard, you will be rewarded down the road.”

Mistakes teach valuable lessons

Speaking of experience, mistakes will always be the best teachers.

Stott shared his own personal failures when he started out 10 years ago.

“I almost got fired at my first job as a morning editor,” he confessed. “Because it took me a long time for me to change my mindset, realising that I wasn’t in university anymore. I wasn’t just submitting an essay, that’s gonna get marked by a teacher.

“When I started I kept on making really small mistakes, like silly typos or not fact checking things. I had to understand, that I’m the only one responsible for my own work and my own mistakes.”

For Junkee media the year started off with a big hit: After winning the pitch it will create all social media content for Netflix ANZ.

What else is up for 2020? Well, clickbait stories definitely are not on the agenda.

“Clickbait means promising something in the title that the story can’t hold. We’re not about that,” he said.

Junkee wants to focus on “snackable, yet valuable news”.

Which means “producing content that will cut through and start a conversation – no matter if that’s politics or music”.

Well, that sounds like exactly Rob Stott’s kinda jam.