Forefront sat down with The Block’s News Director Frank Chaparro in the first edition of our new Reporters on the Record series. He tells us why the Facebook Libra story was a gamechanger for the online crypto-focused publication, how they “flooded the zone,” and why communications professionals need to get onboard with social media. Over the coming months, we’ll speak with a variety of business and financial journalists to learn more about what makes them, and their publication, tick.
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How did you get your start in journalism?
I’ve never taken a single journalism course and, in college, I didn’t set out to be a journalist. I went to Fordham University where I took up theology because I had a very strong interest in philosophy and how different faith traditions think about money. While fascinating, there’s not much employment in that. So, I took a job at the NPR affiliate station, WFUV where I made a solid $9.20 an hour reading the evening news. I had the perfect face for it, and I think the right cadence in my voice.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]For communications professionals having a social media presence, makes you stand out. It makes you relatable and you’re not just another email in the journalist’s inbox.[/perfectpullquote]
I did that for two years and wrote a lot of different stories about local New York City politics, anything from the MTA to city hall, won some awards along the way. It got to a point, however, where I kind of got bored or maybe disillusioned with politics, so I dove into finance and worked at the Nasdaq. After that I was like, “all right. I want to be in finance in some capacity. Either do financial news or go to Wall Street.” I applied to work at a bunch of banks — including Deutsche — as I was leaving college, and I probably got denied from every single bank that I applied to. But I got an internship at Business Insider, and that’s where I started.
What’s the most memorable or biggest story you’ve broken?
The Facebook Libra announcement saga comes to mind. Several media outlets were being briefed prior to the announcement, and early on I realized that we weren’t in the loop on those briefings. My instinct was that we weren’t going to get looped in, ever.
So, I set out to find out what was going on and why we weren’t included. I ended up getting all the information a few days before the announcement from my sources and The Block managed to break the entire list of Libra Association members. We had the entire team, both research and journalism, combing through the technical white papers. The whole team was firing on a thousand cylinders for a story that other publications had weeks to prepare for.
And it was a pivotal moment in The Block’s history as a company, we got to demonstrate the value we add with our team’s unique expertise and it just speaks to the tenacity of the team. Because we got the scoop. And then when the news broke had the best analysis — probably over a dozen pieces in total.
It was the first time we had a library of content around a specific event. I had an editor at Business Insider who used to describe this type of thing as flooding the zone. We flooded the zone on Libra.
How do you feel about social media and how important it is to your personal brand?
I think the unique thing about The Block is the way we’ve been able to leverage social media in a way that no other serious media entity has been able to. We joke, we meme, and we engage with our audience. By doing that, we’re able to really become a part of their lives and tap into what their needs and wants and desires are and then deliver content that reflects that. Social media is a huge part of connecting with your audience today. We think if you don’t develop that brand, no one’s going to pay attention to you.
But what about for those people working in the communication, marketing or PR space?
It’s essential. For us, we were zero impressions on the page a year ago in August. Maybe 10,000 a month in September to nearly a million today. Without social media, Twitter specifically, we would have never gotten there — full stop.
Some of the most effective PR people that I engage with in the space have fun Twitter accounts. For communications professionals having a social media presence, makes you stand out.
It makes you relatable and you’re not just another email in the journalist’s inbox.
What makes a good pitch?
It has a lot to do with the person behind the pitch and if there’s a relationship there. I think what makes a bad pitch is a much easier question to answer, for example tying things together with news that doesn’t really make sense. At The Block, if it’s an important company that releases a product that’ll impact this large amount of people, yeah, that gets a greenlight for us just because of what our audience is. The best PR professionals can answer every question almost as perfectly as the client themselves.
What does a day in the life of Frank Chaparro look like?
I wake up every day at around 6:00am, and I’ll just read the news for about an hour and a half and tweet whatever I find interesting, ping the team anything that I find. I head to the office at around 10:00am after a jog, breakfast, and a few sourcing calls. I’m always the last one, but I like being able to devote that time to reading the news in the morning!
Then the rest of the day is fairly unpredictable. It could involve prepping for podcast interviews, several calls, coffee meetings or just simply writing for hours straight.
It typically ends with some wine or Italian meat and cheese.
Do you have deadlines each day at The Block?
We commit to our readers a certain amount of content per each of our different products. We have two products, and as a team, we have a quota that we must reach. But we can, for the most part, work together so if people need more time to work on their specific piece, they can have extra time to do that.
What’s your dream interview?
That’s a good question. Jamie Dimon (Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase) or the head of another big bank. That’s still something that I need to check off my list. If any of them are reading, feel free to reach out, right? Maybe the Pope too, that’d be pretty cool.
Where do you see crypto in five years?
We will see the space continue to grow up and shake out of some of the bad actors. We’ll see some of these fabled use cases come to fruition. Hopefully, we’ll see scaling and further development in market structure.
We’re getting to a point where, from my perspective as a journalist, things are kind of stalling a little bit on the institutional side. But what’s happened in the past 10 years has been phenomenal in terms of capturing the attention and awe of the public.
The education around the space will grow, and people will become more familiar with it as an alternative to current stores of value, payment systems, and many internet-based systems.
The Block has a job to sit in the middle of that and sort of pull and draw from the smartest voices as opposed to just being its cheerleader or its worst enemy.
And I think that’s where we sit. That’s where I sit at least.