SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA — Just because Salon is the oldest general interest publication on the Internet doesn’t mean that it’s been standing still. Founded in 1995 as a web journalism alternative, producing articles as intelligent and well-written as its peers in print, the website’s path has been bumpy, but it is still recognizably the same outlet that first appeared over fifteen years ago. The difference today is that it’s no longer competing to be the web’s largest general interest publication. With the plethora of magazines and newspapers now dumping all of their content on the Internet, Salon is instead focusing upon its strongest sections rather than trying to do everything at once.
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“I think probably the biggest shift we’ve made, and are probably going to continue to make, is moving our key editorial staff towards really specific sites or areas of content that are really popular with our readers and crucial to our identity,” says editor-in-chief Kerry Lauerman. Salon currently focuses on four distinct areas: politics, arts, lifestyle (in specific personal narratives), and food. Supplementing these four broad verticals is a flexible aggregation staff which compiles and comments on breaking news.
“What we’ve stopped doing is taking the really traditional newspaper/magazine approach where we say we have to have somebody doing sports coverage, or we have to do a certain kind of national news, or we need an environmental reporter,” says Lauerman. “Our approach moving forward is to throw our energy at the areas we know our readers really care about, and then maintaining a staff of flexible general interest experts who can jump in and make the most of what’s breaking on a given day.”
Salon’s approach to its community of readers is also changing. The hallmark of this shift is href=”http://open.salon.com/cover.php”>Open Salon, a come-one-come-all blogging network set up to focus on the same sections as the rest of the publication. The advantage for bloggers using Open Salon is that the network’s best content is promoted onto Salon proper. “It’s a way of opening the doors to our readers and using their content to help expand our discussion and our point of view,” says Lauerman. “I think we’re kind of elevating something like 100 pieces a month from Open Salon into Salon the magazine.” The network has grown to more than 25,000 people who have contributed at least half a dozen times.
The site’s changing focus hasn’t been limited to its content, however. Although still nominally headquartered in San Francisco, most of its editorial operations are now based out of New York. Likewise, Salon has scrapped its efforts to establish a subscription-based business model. “We did go through a period where some of our hottest daily content, especially our political content, was behind a paywall, which kills me to a degree because I was the political editor,” says Lauerman. According to Lauerman, future subscription-based experiments are all off the table. “Advertising is really what we’re counting on,” she says.
Salon isn’t as large as it once was, but it has maintained its relevance by shifting gears without changing its identity. “The truth is that, like what’s happening on the newsstand, the general interest magazine is really failing to be pivotal or important to people’s lives on a day-to-day basis,” says Lauerman. “People often are looking for exactly what they’re interested in, and we’re identifying those areas on Salon that have consistently been successful through the years.”
City: San Francisco, Calif. (with additional offices in New York, N.Y.)
Revenue Sources, other: Memberships: Salon Premium.
Principal Staff: Kerry Lauerman, editor-in-chief; Richard Gingrass, CEO.
Affiliations: Salon staff contributions to Barnes and Noble Reader; content from Open Salon, a fully owned blog that includes reader contributions.
CMS: Proprietary in-house CMS
CJR on Salon:
02/04/11: Salon and Slate in the Way-Back Machine - What The Daily can learn from an earlier “digital renaissance” - Lauren Kirchner
11/29/10: Salon’s Top 30 Hacks List Hits Hard - Joel Meares
02/09/10: Unforced Error at Salon - “O’Keefe’s race problem” story goes astray on key detail - Greg Marx
10/03/08: Community Media - Everybody’s a journalist at Open Salon - Joshua Young
06/22/06: Salon Gives Us More Questions than Answers - Salon provides an interesting look into a secret room at an AT&T building in St. Louis, but what it can’t provide is exactly what’s going on - Paul McLeary