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August 06 2010

22:20

Six reasons to watch local news project TBD’s launch next week

I don’t know if it’s eavesdropping since I was invited, but this afternoon I listened in by phone on a preview of the much anticipated new local news project in Washington, D.C., TBD. They’re set to launch sometime next week that will integrate with a local television station, WJLA. In the past few months, parent company Allbritton Communications has hired about 50 people for the project’s editorial and sales teams. They joined another 50 people working on the project but already employed at existing Allbritton properties Politico and News Channel 8.

We’ve known the newsroom will pump out content for the web and television, but despite blogging much of its development some of the details of the project have been pretty hazy. Today I got a better sense of what TBD is going to look like and what it’s going to cover — look for lots of news-you-can-use, like weather and traffic, on multiple platforms. Editor Erik Wemple, formerly of the Washington City Paper, explained that a handful of reporters will work geographic beats, starting with densely-populated neighborhoods, while the rest will cover beats like the D.C. mayor’s race, plus sports and breaking news (thunderstorms!). There’ll also be a special emphasis on arts and entertainment.

Oh, and there will be lists. Lots of SEO-friendly lists. Everyday. One reporter will crank out about three of ‘em a day for a section called, you guessed it, The List. In honor of TBD’s adopted format, I’m going to stop here and give you six reasons why the project is worth watching for those who care about the future of local news.

1. Symbiotic ad sales

Most local news stations have a website, but in general they’re either just a home to stories aired on TV or a promotional tool for the broadcast. TBD’s newsroom will be platform-neutral, with content heading both online and on-air, side by side. From a business perspective, there’s potential to bring traditional television advertisers online. And, in the case of TBD, there’s already a strong sales team in place at News Channel 8 to go after local advertisers.

2. Coverage and revenue sharing

TBD admits it can’t cover everything. But what it can do is cover a few things well (weather, traffic, sports, entertainment) and rely on other outlets for the rest. This means aggressively linking out to other outlets. Four TBD staffers will be responsible for monitoring coverage in the region, particularly news coming from the 127 blogs now officially part of TBD’s blog network. Those sites will can participate in a revenue ad share. TBD’s sales team sells the ads and takes 65 percent of the gross. The minimum CPM is $8.

3. Mobile from the get go

TBD won’t just put its website on your phone. Android and iPhone apps are designed to give users the kind of information they might want from a local news site on-the-go, like weather or traffic reports (noticing lots of weather?), in a handy format.

4. Social media on the brain

TBD is obsessed with social media because they want to create an obsessive following online, with readers checking in multiple times a day. Months before launch, TBD was already active on Twitter, as were individual members of the editorial team. This spring I noted that their director of social media, Steve Buttry, would have a seven-person engagement team in place before reporters had even been hired.

5. Interactive strategy

Comment policies are a topic we’ve written about here plenty of times. Should they be unbridled free-for-all zones or curated? TBD plans to rank comments; users with the best reputations on the site will get to appear higher. The idea is to create an audience excited to participate in the site. They’re also trying a few new tricks, like a pre-written tweet for each article (something snappier and more Twitter-friendly than the headline) and an area that encourages users to help figure out unanswered questions the reporter couldn’t get.

6. TBD

Why else? Well, as they like to joke, that’s TBD.

May 19 2010

14:00

Huffington talks convergence, and “monetizeable free”

We wrote yesterday about The Washington Post taking a page from The Huffington Post in building blog networks on the content-for-exposure-not-cash model. But the borrowing isn’t all going in one direction. In this conversation with Texas Tribune boss Evan Smith, HuffPo founder Arianna Huffington says she sees a broader narrative of convergence, where “legacy media” (her term) and the startups are moving in similar directions. The Washington Post might be looking to leverage free content, but she’s hired reporters and launched a non-profit investigative unit — decisions that look more traditional than new.

Smith interviewed Huffington in honor of the political site’s fifth anniversary last week. The site recently hit 13 million monthly unique visitors, pushing it ahead of The Washington Post and USA Today and within shouting distance of The New York Times. Here’s what Huffington had to say about changes in media, particularly the difference between mainstream media and bloggers in the last five years:

Well, first of all, I think what’s happening now is more of a convergence. When we launched The Huffington Post, we were worlds apart. There was the legacy media that were very, very skeptical about blogging, or the future of online media. And there were the startups like The Huffington Post. Now The New York Times is doing a lot online. They’re doing a lot of great things online. And we are hiring more and more reporters. And we have launched The Huffington Post Investigative Fund, which is a not-for-profit operation that does many of the long-form, more traditional journalistic investigative pieces. So I think we’re moving toward a hybrid model, where those who recognize we are living in a brave new world — it’s about the link economy, it’s not about paywalls — are going to actually survive and thrive. And those of us who recognize that the traditional tenets of journalism — fairness, accuracy, fact checking — need to prevail and be supplemented by all the new technical tools and the new citizen engagement are also going to survive and thrive.

The Huffington Post has a clear interest in making sure the link economy thrives and paywalls aren’t erected. Aside from its countless bloggers, the biggest draw of her site is the aggregation the site’s editors do on each vertical, which have expanded from a single front page to more than 20.

Smith also quizzed Huffington on keeping HuffPo a free site. She was quick to point out that “the culture of free” is “monetizable free.” The site is expected to become profitable this year.

We are, as I said, paying all our reporters and all our editors. People who want to write, in the same way you would write an op-ed for The New York Times or The Washington Post, do it whenever they want. They are not our employees. They have no obligation to us. We have no expectations. It’s they who want to post, because they want to disseminate what they’re thinking. Whether it’s on politics or food, we have thousands of requests to post, thousands more than we have the opportunity and ability to process — beyond the 6,000 bloggers who have a password and can post whenever they want. And then our editors decide what they’re going to feature on the home section or the other sections…

We pay them in visibility. We pay them in that we provide the infrastructure, the community, the civil environment into which their work appears. The traffic. And then also the fact that many in the media have the site bookmarked means that they’re going to be seen, not just by many people, but many of the people they may want to reach to go on TV, to get a book contract. We love it. We all love it on the site when we get a call from an agent saying “Can you get us in touch with so-and-so blogger?” In many ways, it becomes like an addition platform.

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