Jon Steinberg on The MailOnline’s Plans for World Domination, New Hire Piers Morgan

Lunch At Michaels

LunchAtMichaelsIt was a true media mashup at Michael’s today as the joint was jam-packed with famous faces (Katie Couric and Barbara Walters at separate tables; Natalie Morales) and moguls (David Zinczenko), while the usual suspects upped the volume to near ear-splitting levels. I had to lean in to catch every word uttered by Jon Steinberg, who joined me for lunch to dish about his new-ish gig as CEO of the Daily Mail’s MailOnline.com, yesterday’s announcement that Piers Morgan was joining the site and his old guard inspirations in this new-media world.

Diane Clehane and Jon Steinberg
Diane Clehane and Jon Steinberg
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I suggested Jon and I do “Lunch” after I interviewed him earlier this year for a Gotham cover story I was doing on New York City’s most powerful millennials, for which he talked about his role in creating  BuzzFeed as its president and chief operating officer. During Steinberg’s tenure, BuzzFeed became a global brand and went from a staff of 15 to more than 500. Turns out our chat was fortuitously timed. Days before the story was set to go to press in May, Jon announced that after four years at the helm of the social news and entertainment site, he was stepping down to pursue his next big adventure.

“Having built this place with Jonah [Peretti, BuzzFeed’s founder and CEO] and the rest of the team, I want to go through that rush again, and there is a certain amount of freedom that I want,” he said at the time. Since when we spoke for the Gotham piece, he’d told me he believed “freedom and independence are the new status symbols,” I was eager to see what his next move would be. A short time later, he announced he was joining MailOnline as chief executive officer of North America. Today he arrived fresh off the set of CNBC, where he appears three times a week as a contributor on Squawk on the Street. Said Jon of his television gig: “I love it because they operate it like a startup. They had the idea for it and just weeks later, it was on the air. It’s a great team.” But clearly, he’s even more enthusiastic about his top spot at MailOnline. “I wasn’t the CEO before and that’s something I’ve always wanted. I get to make a lot more decisions now,” he told me today, between bites of chicken paillard. And he’s making plenty.

Just yesterday it was announced Morgan has been hired as editor-at-large here in the states. Jon told me he met with Morgan before he was tapped for his new gig, but the idea to hire the former CNN host was “the brainchild” of editor Martin Clarke. “It’s a brilliant idea. He’s the perfect fit,” said Jon. “MailOnline is a British crossover and Piers is the ultimate British crossover.” Morgan had been writing for the print edition of the paper and will now be a regular online contributor penning a column as well as doing original reporting and interviews. When I commented that the move also seemed to capitalize on the site’s British pedigree, Jon agreed, adding, “Americans seem to be intrigued by all things British and its history.”

While the current MailOnline is a mere seven years old, its roots date back 120 years, when the paper was first published by Lord Northcliffe who, said Jon, is credited with creating the editors’ credo: When a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news. “There’s a lot of rich history there. That People magazine style is something we’ve been doing for 120 years.” While the site’s celebrity coverage is icing on the very dishy cake, Jon points to its hard news coverage of ISIS and the ebola crisis as something “he’s very proud of” and said, “We have an amazing science section.” It’s the celebrity coverage that provides “small relief” to the relentless onslaught of terrifying and sobering news stories that assault us on a daily basis. “Our real readers know we cover everything and it all fits together.”