WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — Structurally speaking, DoD Buzz is little more than a personal blog dressed up as a full-on news publication. The remarkable thing is that, were it not for more than three-quarters of the stories on the site having the same byline, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. That’s true in terms of volume and quality of content, anyway. In other ways, DoDB does have the voice and personality of a one-person product, at least to the extent that that’s possible covering the Department of Defense.
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Colin Clark is the site’s editor as well as its sole dedicated reporter. He works to produce two to three original stories a day, check for typos in his own copy, pick the accompanying photos, and then post the final product into one of the site’s ten verticals (policy, intelligence, cyber security, and so on). When DoDB won a Webby in April of 2009 after just nine months of existence, Clark filed a self-congratulatory post, the accompanying Webby logo pixilated and slightly askew. “You can see that I was still learning how to crop the photos then,” he says.
When Clark was tapped to be the founding editor of what became DoDB by Military.com editor Ward Carroll, he had three ideas for distinguishing the site among the already crowded field of trade publications covering the Pentagon and the defense industry. According to Clark, “One was voice, providing [people] with a lighter touch that allowed them access to the material more easily.” The second was to provide context on the Pentagon by focusing on Capitol Hill, where the spending decisions impacting defense are ultimately made. The third was to provide multimedia content. The site produces video interviews, and also posts the kind of high testosterone marketing videos that defense companies use to showcase their products.
“We put those videos up as soon as they come in,” Clark says. “They’re very popular.” Those videos, and the op-ed pieces Clark publishes from defense industry insiders, are the farthest DoDB strays from a strictly journalistic product. “I am not a blogger, nor do I represent myself as one,” Clark says. “I am a journalist and we produce an online journal. It’s basically a magazine.”
Like so many web publications, DoDB is a hybrid of old and new journalistic practices. Clark writes original, well-sourced stories about topics such as the ongoing debate over funding for the second engine on the joint strike fighter, but gives his run-downs with quirky, jargon filled headlines like “Omnibus NDAA CR F136 - Sing It!”
In the end, the most uniquely web aspect of DoDB is its business model. The site is “presented” by Military.com, a huge site primarily devoted to providing benefits information to active duty soldiers, veterans, and their families (just about the biggest niche audience one could thing of). Military.com is in turn owned by Monster. The entire monolithic enterprise sells ads against DoDB’s content.
It seems inevitable that the DoD Buzz model of a low-overhead news site with a blue-chip audience will be replicated elsewhere, and even more inevitable that many of those sites will be found somewhat lacking (not many reporters could cover Congress, spy satellites, weapons systems, and have final responsibility for their content, after all). The experiment very much worked out this time, however. “As far as I know, we’re the first online defense news website that was primarily built for reporting the news to come into creation and survive,” Clark says. “We’re thriving, actually.”
DoD Buzz Data
Name: DoD Buzz
City: Washington, D.C.
Revenue Sources, other: Direct ad sales, including advertisements by the CIA recruiting for its clandestine service.
Principal Staff: Colin Clark, editor.
Affiliations: Military.com; Monster; occasional content sharing with sister publications Military.com and Defense Tech.