Jason Seiken

Jason Seiken is a British-American media executive known for launching The Washington Post on the web, PBS' digital output, and a short but controversial period at the Telegraph Media Group.

A dual citizen of the United States and United Kingdom, he also was the first American to run the newsroom of a major British newspaper, though his short tenure as editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph was considered controversial.[1]

Early life

Seiken attended Stanford University Graduate School of Business.


Seiken began his career as a newspaper reporter, columnist, and editor at the Schenectady Gazette (New York) and then at the Quincy Patriot Ledger (Massachusetts).

In 1993, Seiken was one of 12 US journalists awarded the highly competitive John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University. Seiken serves on the Knight Fellowship Board of Visitors.[2]

The Washington Post

In 1994, Seiken was hired to lead The Washington Post’s nascent digital team and rose to become editor-in-chief of The Post’s digital subsidiary. Seiken subsequently hired and led the team that launched washingtonpost.com.

At launch, the site was hailed by the rival Philadelphia Inquirer as “startlingly good” and a “tour de force” that outshined Michael Kinsley’s new high-profile digital magazine Slate.[3]

The original washingtonpost.com included several industry innovations. It was the first newspaper site to update around the clock; the first to include significant non-newspaper content such as the first chapters of books; and the first to devote significant resources to creating online community that gave users a voice. . [4]


In 1997, Seiken joined AOL,[5] where he led the 18 AOL content channels, including News, Sports, and Entertainment, during the time of their greatest growth as AOL become the dominant online service internationally with more than 34 million subscribers.

In early 2001, he transferred to London to head programming for AOL UK and, later, AOL Europe.


In 2006, Seiken returned to the United States as Senior Vice President and General Manager for Digital at the Public Broadcasting Service. The Guardian later wrote that Seiken “reinvented PBS” and “transformed the video and mobile fortunes of PBS … changing it from a conventional broadcaster to one with an edgy mobile and web service.”[6]

Under Seiken, PBS Digital launched a series of critically acclaimed products. These included an iPad app that won the 2011 Webby Award for best tablet app and which CNET called “a true gift from TV heaven”[7] and a video platform that Daily Variety said was "... arguably the most innovative and well designed [video site] on the market.”[8]

In 2012 Seiken recalled how users said the products changed their perception of PBS, from stuffy to innovative. Esquire writing: "Suddenly, PBS has become a totally different animal ... It is fantastic. Easy to use. Modern. Flashy."[9]

Seiken also succeeded in moving PBS out of its traditional style of video production. In a 2012 speech to 850 top executives from PBS stations, Seiken warned that PBS was in danger of being disrupted by YouTube studios such as Maker Studios. In the speech, later described as a “seminal moment” for public television,[10] he laid out his vision for a new style of PBS digital video production. Station leadership rallied around his vision and Seiken formed PBS Digital Studios, which began producing educational but edgy videos, something Seiken called “PBS-quality with a YouTube sensibility.”[11]

The studio’s first hit, an auto-tuned version of the TV classic Mr Roger’s Neighborhood, was YouTube’s 10th most viral video of 2012 having been shared 1,045,039 times.[12]

By Seiken's final year at PBS, monthly video views on PBS.org had risen from 2 million to 225 million views per month and PBS had won more 2013 Webby Awards than any other media company in the world.[13]

The Daily Telegraph

In October 2013, Seiken became the digital executive and editor-in-chief of The Telegraph in its London office. Seiken's appointment as a digital executive and editor was controversial. Coverage in other Fleet Street newspapers emphasized that Seiken was an American with no previous experience at British newspapers. The Financial Times called him a "hoodie-wearing former US television executive."[14]

In early 2014, Seiken laid out his vision for The Telegraph in a series of speeches to staff that were well-received by a section of staff responding anonymously [15] and external audiences. He told staff that he would dismantle the top-down, command-and-control culture of the newsroom and replace it with a “digital-native” culture that empowered employees at all levels.

In public speeches and interviews, Seiken said journalism was entering a “golden age”[16] of better newsgathering tools, such as databases and drones, and emerging technologies to present news, such as virtual reality.[17] These speeches became the subject of derision in rival British newspapers, for “talking about drones" and Private Eye afforded him the name 'Psycho Seiken'[18]

Seiken had early success in boosting The Telegraph's web and mobile traffic.[19] By the middle of his first year, traffic growth, commonly referred to as click-bait, had outstripped rival newspaper sites.[20]

He presided over a controversial series of staff reductions and was criticized by some who said he was laying off experienced print journalists[21]

A year after his appointment, Seiken moved to a role to develop new revenue streams and an overarching company strategy.[22] He stepped down the following year.[23]

Leadership philosophy

In speeches and articles, Seiken has emphasized cultural change as the key to positioning an established brand for digital success. Specifically, he advocates that companies create a “left brain, right brain” culture – one that is entrepreneurial yet highly disciplined.

“When we set out to change (the PBS) culture, we established a goal of being the most freewheeling group in the building but also the most buttoned-down group this side of the finance department,” he said in a 2012 TEDx talk. [24]

He expanded on this in a 2013 piece for the Harvard Business Review website titled How I Got My Team to Fail More.[25] Seiken wrote that he unlocked innovation in the risk-averse PBS organization by telling employees they would be marked down in annual performance reviews if they didn’t fail enough during the year.


  1. Preston, Peter (5 April 2015). "Jason Seiken's digital wizardry didn't boost the Telegraph's numbers". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  2. "Jason Seiken". Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  3. "Washington Post's Web Site a Tour de Force Compared to Slate.(Originated from The Philadelphia Inquirer)". 30 June 1996. Archived from the original on 8 October 2016. Retrieved 20 September 2018. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. "Transcript - High Stakes In Cyberspace - FRONTLINE - PBS". www.pbs.org. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  5. "American Journalism Review". ajrarchive.org. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  6. O'Carroll, Lisa (11 September 2013). "How Jason Seiken, new Telegraph editor-in-chief, reinvented PBS". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  7. "PBS for iPad streams prime-time shows for free". 27 October 2010. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  8. "PBS takes a big leap forward in online video and reaches a much younger audience". 22 April 2009. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  9. "PBS.org's New Video Page: Hulu for the Tote-Bag Set". 23 April 2009. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  10. "GMs take up PBS plan to expand web video output". Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  11. "Why PBS Autotuned Mr. Rogers". Digiday. 23 October 2012. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  12. "The 10 Most Viral Ads Of 2012". Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  13. "How PBS Won at Digital - Digiday". 18 June 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  14. "Subscribe to read". Financial Times. Retrieved 20 September 2018. Cite uses generic title (help)
  15. Greenslade, Roy (6 February 2014). "Seiken wins over Telegraph journalists as he plots its digital future". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  16. Lambert, Harry. "The Big Question: 'How will gaming change in the next ten years?'". Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  17. Newsworks (11 April 2014). "Jason Seiken - Where we are heading". Retrieved 20 September 2018 via YouTube.
  18. Media Monkey (14 December 2014). "Media Monkey looks ahead to what's in store for the industry in 2015". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  19. Sweney, Mark (1 August 2014). "Facebook and fewer stories behind rise in web traffic, says Telegraph chief". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  20. Greenslade, Roy (15 September 2014). "Telegraph's Jason Seiken finds online reasons to be cheerful". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  21. Greenslade, Roy; Halliday, Josh (18 June 2014). "Telegraph axes former deputy editor in shift towards digital". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  22. Burrell, Ian (27 October 2014). "High sales. Big profits. Rising user numbers. So why the turmoil at the Telegraph?". The Independent. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  23. "Editor-in-chief leaves Daily Telegraph after 18 months". Financial Times. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  24. TEDx Talks (20 December 2012). "Making PBS Cool Once Again: Jason Seiken at TEDxMidAtlantic 2012". Retrieved 20 September 2018 via YouTube.
  25. "How I Got My Team To Fail More". 13 September 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
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