Dvorkin writes on his own blog on Forbes.com about the redesign:
These are ambitious times at Forbes, one of the most storied brands in American media. We recognize and embrace the need for an all-inclusive conversation. Consumers want their voices to heard on an equal playing field with content creators. Marketers want to get their message across in new ways that enable them to form relationships with both the audience and journalists.
These dual visions of journalist-as-brand and news-as-conversation have gained a lot of traction in recent years. In a broad sense, encouraging journalists to develop and individualize their voices as well as their beats seems like a good idea. Putting focus on those voices rather than on a magazine’s overall brand does too. But it’s unclear whether these models will work with Forbes.com’s particular audience. (It’s the exact opposite of the Economist style, where the pieces are all written in a consistent voice and its writers don’t even get bylines.) The casual, individualized tone of a True/Slant blog won’t necessarily translate to a staid Forbes story about oil markets, for instance. So what reason will Forbes.com readers have to “follow” or “friend” (or whatever) a particular reporter over another? Perhaps readers will be “fans” of particular beats, rather than reading columnists for their unique writing styles.
Another important difference, though, between the original True/Slant experiment and this new iteration of Forbes.com is that True/Slant was a completely blank slate, but Forbes is a well established news institution. Forbes is already its own brand, already has a readership, and that readership has certain expectations.
The danger of an “everyone blogs” edict is that it might dilute that brand, which can play out in at least two ways. One, reporters may find themselves distracted by the hungry beast of the blog and less able to report and write the other, longer stories they had previously devoted their time to. If the quality of the writing goes down, that can counteract the benefits presumed by an uptick in the quantity of the writing. Two, the aforementioned combination of “thousands [of] freelance contributors” and a “less layered process” will loosen editorial control, and, potentially, lessen the quality of the content coming into the site from the outside.
The latter does not seem to be a concern of Dvorkin’s, however. In an April True/Slant post on the occasion of its first anniversary, when the site’s founders wrote about what they had learned in the first year, Dvorkin wrote: “Editorial command and control is a relic of the past and has no place in a Web world. It will slow you down, cost you and stifle the upheaval you want to unleash.” And in his interview with the Observer, he emphasized that stories should be thought of as products. Specifically, print products are about quality; online products are about speed:
‘The editing process online is vastly different than in print,’ he said. ‘There is a fit and finish that you must have in print. Online, it’s not about fit and finish; it’s about the flow of information, the updates of information. It’s about relevance and timeliness. It’s not about craftsmanship. Quality online does not equal craftsmanship.’
So what is it we are unleashing here? And how will the upheaval be received? Web site redesigns and corporate rebranding efforts are always a bit of a crapshoot. You can invest money in a new logo, a new Web platform, and new consultants, but you can’t guarantee that that ethereal brand transformation will necessarily take hold in the minds of your audience. Indeed, even if your company succeeds in redefining your brand, you might alienate your old loyal audience in the attempt to win yourself a new one.
On the other hand, if the “old” audience isn’t doing you any good, then you might not have much to lose anyway. One can argue that, given the state of the online news industry, upheaval is good, and the time for Hail Mary passes is upon us. But it has to be someone’s job to ask the nagging question, how should we define success? A site can be deemed successful if it attracts enough page views to sell enough ads to stick around to die another day. Or we could define success in journalistic terms alone; in that case, quantity will never trump quality.