On Thursday, Forbes.com launched a new blog page utilizing the platform first developed by the blog network True/Slant, which it recently acquired. News last week that True/Slant was being shut down was met with a bevy of nostalgic posts and comments on the True/Slant site and elsewhere. But it is now evident that the experiment is not over, and that site founder Lewis Dvorkin is merely testing its guiding principles on a “bigger stage.”
True/Slant was a loose organization of individual writers, a range of voices who covered the political spectrum and had the freedom to write whatever they liked, from Winona Ryder’s film career to David Foster Wallace’s posthumous book sales. It was a model similar to The Huffington Post, in that the goal was to attract as much content as possible, but with a wider range of political viewpoints and a higher barrier to entry. The site explored the idea that online readers were more likely to respond to individual writers than to an institution.
Writers on True/Slant were paid stipends for their pieces, but they were also free to solicit advertisers that would match up to their content, if they liked, and share in the revenue they brought to the site. Dvorkin calls this model “entrepreneurial journalism.”
Forbes Media—one of the original investors of the project in 2008—was intrigued with the results. In April, the company brought Dvorkin on as a consultant to their own site redesign. (Soon thereafter, they hired him full time as chief product officer.) As Peter Kafka at All Things Digital wrote at the time,
Employees there say COO Tim Forbes has been particularly enamored of True/Slant’s low-cost, high-frequency approach to content generation, so you can read into this move what you will.
Following that move, Forbes bought True/Slant, and just as quickly shut it down. Some True/Slant writers stayed on to contribute to the new Forbes.com blog and some did not. The clean layout, heavy emphasis on social media, and prominent page-view rankings were all transferred to the new Forbes blog. The bloggers (some, not all of whom are Forbes staff writers) post their own content as well as “headline grabs” showing what they’re reading online at the time. Parts of the blog page are similar in feel to a Facebook feed, which jives with Dvorkin’s own description of the page as “a blogging platform that puts news…at the center of social media.”
It being Forbes, the blogs’ content is business-focused, but in general Dvorkin seems guided by a “more is more, faster is better” content philosophy. Shortly after he arrived at Forbes.com, Dvorkin explained his overarching strategy for the future of the site in an interview with New York Observer reporter Zeke Turner:
“Moving forward, when I look at an operation like Forbes, I look at a mixture of a full-time staff base and hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of freelance contributors. It’s that blend,” Mr. D’Vorkin said.
“That’s what we did at True/Slant,” Mr. D’Vorkin continued. “We let the reporter self-publish-boom! We’re working through that at Forbes: How do you create a less layered process at the magazine?”
As it turns out, Dvorkin is not just allowing Forbes writers to run their own blogs, he is requiring it. Earlier this week, when news of the re-launch reached Business Insider, Joe Pompeo reported: “We also hear that every reporter will now be required to have his or her own blog, and that most are starting from scratch.”
It will be interesting to see how this transition goes. True/Slant writers who wrote, voluntarily, as little or as often as they wished, about whatever struck their fancy, are not necessarily the same breed of writer who reports business news for Forbes on deadline, and presumably have other responsibilities at the magazine. Still, early signs are promising. Judging from the day of their launch, the blogs are filled with substantial, original content, rather than “story behind the story” introversions that news sites sometimes use to beef up online content.
As of the first day, examples include a brief post on the news that dozens of billionaires were pledging half of their fortunes to charity, an interview with the creator of an app that can hack iPhones, and an update on rumors about who could be the next editor of Newsweek. Each post also involves a roundup of links to news and opinion elsewhere, its author pointing to a discussion on the Internet and inviting comment from the reader without necessarily taking a particular stand.