Hold the Dad Jokes—Media Organizations Are Pursuing Parents

It's another way publishers are getting into niche content

A man reading a newspaper and a boy reading a book
Publisher are launching new products related to parenting. Getty Images
Headshot of Sara Jerde

Key insights:

Parenting looks different these days than it used to (at least for some and at least in a certain tax bracket).

There are parents vetting babysitters based on their ability to give their children a leg up in school. Others are hiring personal coaches in middle school to build up their kids’ college applications.

“This is the craziness of the push and the competitiveness and idea that all we want is our children to be successful, successful, successful,” said Dafna Lemish, associate dean for programs and distinguished professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University.

Parents want what’s best for their kids, and that’s nothing new, but the internet has provided their anxieties and insomnia bottomless rabbit holes to fall into chock full of “advice” on how best to parent. Not all of that content is based on science or is even factual.

The internet gave way to a flood of mom and dad bloggers who took to the web to write about their personal lives in tandem with their social media feeds. It also made way for a host of websites to take on publishing listicle after listicle on how to parent without any actual scientists weighing in.

One can easily stumble on such pieces, Jessica Grose, the lead editor for parenting at The New York Times, noted, jokingly citing as an example a messaging board that swears crystals can cure a child’s leprosy.

“There is so much bad information out there and it’s hard even if you are an educated consumer to parse the information,” Grose said, later adding, “There’s an endless appetite for us to explain complicated, thorny things; a Google search engine isn’t going to cut it.”

So news organizations, once loath to be prescriptive, have started to fill the void.

The New York Times, HuffPost and The Week, have each ramped up their investments in parenting coverage. Others, like Fatherly, have built whole businesses around it. They’re all “catering to the thirst parents have for somebody to give them some clear instructions, expert information,” Lemish said.

The New York Times announced in May 2018 that it would create a new parenting section, noting the success of standalone products like Cooking and Crosswords.

Ahead of the website going live, the Times created a newsletter to ease readers into this new vertical, knowing it might be a challenge to navigate readers towards parenting content. It also hired a team of five to work on the vertical, with editors and reporters who have experience in science reporting to offer readers properly vetted information. It’s since found that coverage in areas like burnout and emotional health (of the mother and child) are of particular interest, Grose said.

The vertical’s reporting mirrors the news outlet’s rigorous standards, as see in a piece about making hard choices when you have a premature baby, for example, and one about getting a picky eater to eat, each of which relies on expert sources.

“All these news organizations are expanding because traditional news doesn’t do it anymore in terms of digital advertising. They’re trying to get as many eyeballs as they can,” said Joel Kaplan, associate dean for professional graduate studies and professor of magazine, newspaper and digital journalism at Syracuse University.

When HuffPost announced membership programs, it led with a special newsletter centered around parenting and a corresponding, daylong event. (HuffPost did not comment for this story.)

NPR, for example, has released a podcast centered around the topic called Life Kit: Parenting.

“Podcasting has provided a platform for individuals to document their journey through these major life events and share it with others. I think that this vertical is nowhere close to saturated and has a lot of room for growth,” said Hilary Ross, VP of podcast media at Veritone One.

The Week has extensive coverage on the topic and has ramped up its parenting coverage increasing to up to four additional parenting pieces up per week as it rolls out a new magazine next month geared toward kids, called The Week Junior.

With a newsletter and designated vertical, The Week’s parenting coverage targets parents raising tweens.

“Parenting is an extremely controversial topic. Everyone has an opinion and we have, for a long time, tried to cut through the news and tried to highlight insightful opinions and helpful advice,” said Jessica Hullinger, deputy editor at The Week.

Media publishers have long chased ad dollars by creating specific content verticals. Media orgs like Bloomberg are creating specific sites that offer specialized content to advertisers. Overall, niche content can be a way for large media organizations to “increase opportunities for contextual targeting,” said April Weeks, evp of media services and operations at Centro.

Targeting will mature as the industry moves to become less reliant on third-party cookies, as Google Chrome will phase them out by 2022. And publishers’ niche content will be judged.

“How this resonates with ad buyers and consumers will depend on the quality of the content and the effectiveness in reaching desired audiences to drive performance outcomes,” Weeks said.

Other companies have built their business model centered around parenting, like Fatherly, which started in 2015 because it saw a need to provide fact-based advice to dads.

“It’s more of a mission and less of a business development opportunity,” said Michael Rothman, co-founder and CEO of Fatherly.

The company has expanded beyond just articles geared toward advice for fathers and is releasing its first book, a collection of essays by the children of famous fathers like Pablo Escobar. It’s also further diversifying into consulting services, including HR programming that provides companies to support its fathers and their partners with advice on everything from language to use to ask for paid leave to accommodating changes in schedules due to child care.

“The edit quality gives us permission to live offline,” Rothman said, later adding, “We get permission from consumers; we don’t get permission from advertisers.”

@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.