SBJ/June 24-30, 2013/Media

Fox’s hire Gerst: Teamwork key to interactive success

Fox Sports last week hired Ben Gerst, formerly of The New York Times, as its senior vice president of platform development for Fox Sports Digital. In the newly created position, Gerst will play a prominent role in a redesign and relaunch of FoxSports.com slated to occur in concert with the planned August start of Fox Sports 1 on cable
TV.

Gerst is new to the sports industry, having spent the last eight years at the Times as executive director of platform technologies. There, he helped that outlet become a thought leader in developing new forms of digital content presentation, including the creation of its verified commenter program and aggressive embrace of user-generated content to create new, interactive forms of storytelling such as its notable “The Lives They Lived” feature. He spoke last week with staff writer Eric Fisher.

What attracted you to the position, and at this time?

GERST: What attracted me most is that this is a transformative time for Fox Sports with the launch of the new network, the opportunity to come into a new role and help lead the technology organization here, and help Fox become more of a technology company.

“The Lives They Lived” was among Gerst’s projects for The New York Times.
When you say you want Fox Sports to be more of a technology company, what does that mean?

GERST:
I spent a lot of time at The New York Times, which had this image as a 160-year-old media company, as the Grey Lady, trying to build ourselves as more of a technology company. So we put together an open [application programming interface] program, a developer outreach program, speaker events, hack days, that sort of thing, just to show the developer community and the technology community the kinds of things we were doing at the Times. It was good [developer] recruiting, but it was also good for developer retention. That’s the sort of thing that I’m bringing from the Times that I expect to instill here at Fox Sports.

What do you think Fox Sports, and digital sports in general, can learn from news and your news background?

GERST:
A lot of the things we’ve done at the Times were based around teams of developers that were working in the newsroom, sitting side by side with editors, producers and reporters who were available to work on stories as they were happening. That’s a lot of what you saw in the interactive stories that came from the Times, that interactivity came from the team [of developers] in the newsroom. That kind of cross-platform approach would be amazing and is something I’ll be talking to people about here.

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